Communication

This is a “quick” recap of my thoughts.

My 1st 3D modeling machine was a Quadra 800

What has been up with me some may wonder. Well, a lot. I moved, decided to pivot & am restarting my career. Oh course whenever you do that, you get a ton of recruiters emailing you with jobs from your old profession, that are no longer suitable to you. Thanks to life events, I can’t work the long hours demanded, and besides that — despite my deceptively younger looks — I’m not a spring chicken anymore. Along with that, I realized that I can’t do repairs of small devices anymore. This is somewhat sad. But considering that my iFixit kit has paid itself off at least 10 times over the years, it’s not that bad of an outcome. Another change is my outlook. Before April of this month, my view on life was that I had to clear my plate of everything put in front of me or let it pile up. However looking at my reading list, there are literally over 100 articles I simply bookmarked after the synopsis or intro that I never got back to. Add to that the countless languages (markup or compiled) I’ve looked at learning and we see a truly daunting list. I’ve decided that things will get my attention as they always have: as needed. The one thing I am putting on my plate over and over until I learn it is 3D. This follows my 2 decade old foray into 3D when I bought some, now defunct, program to run on my Quadra 800. It took hours to ray trace a simple render test. However now it is for modeling objects for 3D printing. While you will never hear me call myself a 3D artist, it is one skill I know I can pickup again. My skills are in a constant state of flux. Last year I spent recuperating from yet another person who overestimated their stopping distance and ended up plowing into my car and injuring me. The more things change…

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Clanning Concept Art

For the unwashed, Clan Lord by Delta Tao Software is an archaic, sorely out-of-date Multi-player Online Role-playing Game  (MORPG) that has been running since the late 90s. The single world (server) and small population make it feel like a small town, thus all of the current players have the same goal (job). Thus, like any small group with common goals, it is a bit like a company: You have your people in it who are on the ball because they work well in teams and independently, those that only work in teams because they need direction, those that lead group of people in a direction, those that specialize in a subset of knowledge about the terrain (market or technology) all of whom trade their time and risk profit (experience) to advance, and finally those that just show up to have fun. These flyby ‘fun’ people are equivalent to the people who just show up for a paycheck. In the game, one seemingly minor mistake can lead to the death of the entire group.  This necessitates departing (experience and time loss) which is a bit like working on a project  and having it fail miserable because Joe Paycheck didn’t know or care that you shouldn’t have done X.

Considering the parallels I noticed about the in game group and the group of people you work with  day-to-day, I have found several commonalities that I have taken from work to game and from game to work that have helped me navigate real life teamwork, leadership and relationships.

(Original Circa 2012; Minor Update: 20170502)

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Practice, Practice, Practice

When I am consulting with a client, and navigating on my machine they are absolutely stunned at the speed of me using just the GUI. I have to remind them: I’ve been using GUIs for 30 years — starting from the very first Macintosh, and using various OSes since then (from BeOS to X-windows and back again). Given my use “cross-training” and approximately 40,000+ hours (conservatively) of using practically every type of app, I’d think I would be an expert at efficiently navigating almost any app. As a side effect, I have also gotten very good at spotting good and bad UI. If I don’t know how to do something: I usually know the magic words and the search terms to use. If even I cannot find info quickly, then something about either your apps and/or your documentation is lacking.

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The commercially available GUI is now over 30 years old. We all know that what was once a paradigm altering way that communications engineers, researchers & computer scientists could interact with their machine has firmly cemented itself in the landscape of interfaces, as the mice and trackpads that came with it. Initially the GUI was called a novelty that would quickly wear out its welcome by companies that have since staked everything on their misunderstanding of how a GUI should act. Now that a more common use paradigm is direct touch. The conventions useful & familiar with the desktop metaphor have been replaced by a graphic icon collection to open an app suited to the task. Again people who’s thinking is still bound by conventions of prior use paradigms that either work poorly or not at all without alteration to fit into new paradigms is hobbling the efficiency of their user base. The base-line of porting UI to a tocuh UI has been accomplished: where it was a double click to open, it is just one tap; where it was a menu bar window, it is now a navbar & bottom “tab/panel/view.”

However, Before this current paradigm shift happened, the GUI had already been mutating between versions & various OS platforms until new conventions were tried & failed or took root. Often multiple ways to interact are allowed in most desktop OSes, & between platforms some interactions are preferred, while other are simply cumbersome. Somewhere along the way the fundamentals of UI design were forgotten & exchanged for the slickest looking UI and usability took a backseat to aesthetics because the people who placed aesthtics fist didn’t realize that aesthetics and usability are tied together.  Thus the interactions needed to perform an advanced task became unnecessarily cumbersome, and furthered the knowledge gap between the novice and the competent.

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Dear all you great companies making awesome products,

For most of you, I like to be informed of new products, and some I already bought your product and really don’t NEED to know about promos for gadgets & software I already have. So, If I were running the communications for the company, I would do what I have done on my blog, but better. Read on for my idea of how to make the most of your communications.

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I’m a freelance IT consultant. I So, get asked a lot of questions. Unfortunately, I wish people would ask me what the last article addressed more, but this is about how I handle calling tech support. Clients pay consultants for answers and output, but often the online knowledge bases for larger companies are labyrinths of outdated dead ends and no way to filter as fine grained as advanced/extendable schema database apps can be — I know, I’ve designed a DB that could reduce and search to one text entry and 2–4 clicks. It’s crazy only a few web apps have this — well, kind of.*

I’ve been a fairly successful consultant who gets most of my business by clients referring me to someone who needs my skill set. My years as a support tech taught me how to quickly sync with a mode of communication the client understands to quickly gather symptoms and explained things in concepts they can grasp. In short, I handle clients at various levels — from SoHo end users to local businesses of various sizes.One skill I have from working in many shops is calling tech support…

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I’ve been at my present address less than 8 years, and for about half of them I’ve been  looking for a ISP that doesn’t throttle, scan packets for the MPAA, nor overcharged for decent internet speeds. Unfortunately, until this past month, I was stuck with a slower connection since dealing with the high price and horrible customer service from a certain very large cable and internet provider was something I didn’t want to deal with both personally and professionally.

Professionally, someone is paying me to call ISPs* and handle setup and outages.

In business paying a $120/month for a monthly business-class ISP is not really that much considering business speeds, but $60–$100 for something they use a few hours a day, mainly for simple communications and entertainment, it’s pretty steep.

So, at home I went with DSL, with its more modest bandwidth (<8Mbps) & $25/month that went up to $35/month. Considering Comcast (now Xfinity) charges $50+equipment rental fees of $7/month–$14/month, and after adding in fees and taxes the bill comes out to being in $60s per month for that speed (despite what it’s introductory pricing says). However, many people want faster speeds such as 50Mbps than DSL can offer. So, they go with Comcast where it’s not uncommon for people to pay at least $70/month for faster speeds.

I signed up with sonic for their introductory DSL package switch over that simply meant paying sonic the same price for faster speeds. AT&T was providing 6mbps as well, but it would have been $35/month (up fro $30) vs. Sonic’s 12 month $10 discount to more up to that speed. So, we saved $60 in a year while upping our speed from 3Mbps to 6Mbps. This is where it stayed until Sonic’s Fusion (up to 50Mbps) bundle became available in my neighborhood this past quarter. Again, I am finally able to switch to a faster connection and bundle in phone service (with 8hr/month long distance free) for ~$45+. The difference: $10/month more. But it got rid of the $36/month AT&T bill. So, we will save $25/month.

So, in total if I had Comcast ($66) & AT&T ($36) instead of Sonic (~45$), I would be spending over twice as much for pretty much the same thing. I just wished I could have gotten this when I heard about it, I could have saved over $1500 by now. My hope is that they continue to expand and reach more people. If you want to save money or like all that sonic wants to do: make internet better in both speeds and money for everyone, vs. what everyone else is doing: increasing rates with each speed boost and slowly over time. (when I first moved in we had a Comcast bill half of what it was when we cancelled them a year and a half ago)

*More about this later…

Disruption, not the tech type that changes industry, but the “hey you got a minute?” or “Hey, this is your gamifying app (or actual game) here, can you stop what you’re doing and use me?” is as fatal to productivity of creative people, be they artists, musicians or engineers.

If you are a creative type, you might already understand that the altered mental state you reach is one of crystalized concentration. If not, then trust us on this: interrupting a person when in the state of creative “flow” (or whatever those of you that have given a name call it) can be devastating to productivity as much as a hard drive that dies without having a backup. I am currently reading a really good book that touches on concentration as a part of it called “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning” by Andy Hunt [@PragmaticAndy]  (More on that later or in some other post…)

If uninterrupted time to focus is known to be such a boon to productivity, then why must every app (and their crappy “lite” version) automatically load itself into the notification center of your platform?

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QualtyNerpFowndThis is actually the first time in a long time I am not taking an iTunes update, given that it doesn’t fix the graphic artifact during scrolling issue, and other users are reporting worse things happening. In retrospect, I should have stuck with 11.x . iTunes 12.x is looking more like Windows Millennium everyday.

Sad.

This was once SoundJam, an app so good that Apple bought it. But this is now another example of an app in the care of a company too big to care to give it the attention to detail, and true UI/UX modernizations and feature enhancements an indie would have. A third party company would have listened to their customers or face declining sales. Apple is too big to truly care about the declining quality of iTunes. Whomever is sitting in charge of shipping product quality control is obviously not paying attention, and this toxic style of management is what can and has brought once great companies down.

Since v4 the only “improvements” have been cosmetic and the addition of the various stores. Apple has never addressed iTunes key failings and has instead focused on bloating it u to the point where once loyal users are looking elsewhere for leading edge features.

But this isn’t really about Apple. Apple is really an example. This is about a mentality epidemic in proportion of people who think that marketing, money or someone else can make up (or take the blame) for subpar products. The logic is as follows:

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