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I went to a development talk the other day and it was not what I was expecting. While it certainly was enlightening, it was enlightening in all the ways that have nothing to do with technology except that’s the context of the people involved. So, in any business you have people with attitudes that they are the master’s of their field. Whether or not they are masters isn’t the issue: it is how they approach others either wanting to learn from them or wanting to debate with them.

Generally they fall into 2 camps: those that will listen and discuss things intelligently and those that either talk down or refuse to talk to people they consider inferior. My problem is with the people that will not hear people out and make no attempt to actually communicate with people. This is commonly referred to as “people who talk at you, not to you.”

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I got a letter from Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO of Netflix,
today. It was an abbreviated form of what is here: http://blog.netflix.com/2011/09/explanation-and-some-reflections.html So, even though I don’t have his real email address I replied. I cancelled my membership months ago. I thought about pulling apart each argument, but I’m tired of writing today, so I thought I’d just sum up my feelings about where Netflix went wrong.

Reed,

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Hey, I’m not always goofing off on the internet. That’s not why I’m not getting article 2 out the door. No, to preface the content and explain my lack of article 2 I’ll explain (and hopefully wordpress won’t lose my text this time).

I take part in about 5 forums where the focus is on various things from games to tech support, to tech trends, etc. It’s one of the first things I do in the morning: I check my email for replies in the forums I’m watching, then reply if warranted. So this guy says that when they were first introduced GUIs were crap because they were unreliable and hard to understand and navigate.

I disagree, and write the following which I thought would be good to include here:

Actual events that took place in 1984 in a little computer store in San Jose/Santa Clara between my father and the salesman:
Salesman (S) to my Father: “Yes, that’s the new Apple Macintosh. We only have a few….”
(I sit down in front of it, look at the mouse and the black and white 9″ screen.)
S to me: “That’s called a mouse. you move it to move the pointer on screen.”
(move the pointer to a picture of something labeled “MacPaint.” and click on it. The picture inverts.)
S to me: “Oh, to start the program you cli-”
(I double click and MacPaint Launches.)
“ck the button twice…”
(I start drawing…)
S: “Oh, I see he’s got it.”
(He shuts up while I play with the new toy, and then after a few minutes he and my father start talking price.)

So, I’ve had Lion installed for less than a week and there’s some good/great things about it and some really frustrating changes. Now, there’s a lot of articles that cover the same ground and mention the same problems or improvements. I’m going to try to add new information about Lion’s new capabilities and steps backwards. To qualify my statements, let me give you a bit of my background. (Below the main article due to length.*)

Pros: Snappier Performance, Resume on relaunch after quit, Graphic changes/improvements, Finder Toolbar additions, Window resize from any edge, Focus shortcuts, Spelling/Thesaurus/Wikipedia popup, Mail link HTML preview/popup, iCal feature additions, Address Book feature additions, Safari downloads popup and rendering boost, Quicklook improvements.

Cons: Apple applications are immovable, App folder requires admin privileges to move applications, Launchpad not easily organizable & limited configurability, Library hidden by default. Mail lost its “bounce” feature. iCal “hard lock” crash wasn’t easily fixed.

Bottom Line: The improvements to the UI and new features and customizability make for not only a more pleasurable experience that also allows you to save time with fewer clicks and faster responses. The Cons are easily outweighed by the Pros list, and $29 or $69 makes it an even more compelling upgrade.

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Ah, the Web, what would we do without it. It allows us instant access to information and instant communication with anyone else with access. But aside from the dark corners where viruses aplenty lurk, there’s another downside: sloppy content writers and coders.

When the web was new it appealed to just the computer savvy programmers, scientists and the bleeding edge. These people in general were very literate and very concerned with doing things right (they spell checked, lurked until they knew how others interacted and consciously learned the ropes of how things worked). Netiquette was born, and newbies were instructed to learn it or face derision. But like all societies, a second wave, came in (bleeding edge computer users and technical people) and were also taught netiquette. It was the third wave of people (the average computer user) that discovered the web that came in and changed all of that. Netiquette was an unknown term, and people didn’t know what to say and what not to say, nor how to say it. Seldom learning to use their programs (Thus “RTFM” became common response to newbies) or the ways of the culture, ignorance reared its ugly head and has never put it down since.

People who held fast to Netiquette were suddenly the ones to make fun of, their attempts to clue in people were derided. Top posting email replies, all caps, massive amounts of typos and plain old misspellings (even after browsers evolved to include spell check) all became accepted. So, us old timers learned to let that stuff go, ignore it or simply left those areas of the web that became overcrowded with ignorance.

Then publishing became a lot easier with things like wordpress, livejournal, myspace and facebook. Suddenly the ignorant had a way to voice their opinion easily and without fear of reprisal — and often labeled those few people that didn’t learn to tolerate their sloppiness as “spelling nazis” or “grammar nazis.” And the floodgates opened: TMI and other bad behavior became the norm among some groups. But even that is tolerable: defriending and blocking takes care of that.

What’s happened lately is that this infestation of sloppiness has hit the makers of commercial sites now: journalists, coders, etc. I can forgive the growing number of typos in commercial web publications that range from CNN to Cracked.com. But what I cannot forgive is people who don’t do their damnedest to check every link and every interface to make sure they work as intended. If I click a link that is supposed to take me to a page, make sure it works for people that don’t have an account with the site, or make sure it lands in the right place.

Worse is feedback forms. What should be a 5 second process, becomes a headache as you try to enter information on the form that has a problem or requires logging in after the fact and redirects you to a sign up sheet, thus losing the missive you spent 10-20 minutes writing. What is even more unforgivable is the tone the copy on sites have taken (from polite to demanding), and the user experience that has degraded over time as more and more sites go “2.0” with little testing on how people want to interact.

For instance: I use aggregate news sites like digg.com and others to see outside of my “bubble” of tech and science news. Because of this I know that the Kardashians are LA plastic women with a TV show and not Lizard Like Humanoids bent on taking over the Alpha quadrant. I also know that Monster Truck rallies, Nascar Events and their fans are everything I figured they would be. I also know the internet is not only for porn, but for cats.

But I digress: the 2.0 experience is being polluted by people making marketing and profit-making decisions that impact the usability of their sites. Now I click a link to a news story and am presented with an advertisement either on an intercepting landing page or a popover/floating window that obscures the article asking me to either subscribe or watch a flash video or chat with a rep that can answer my questions. All of these encourage me to leave the site. If I WANT to talk to an agent, put a small chat bubble icon in the upper right corner next to the search box. If I want to watch an ad. place the ad next to the content, and for pete’s sake, don’t make it a 1+ MB flash movie. If I want to sign up, place that where the login and search boxes are. Do not use a popover unless I click something which has its content in the popover.

In another vein, I go to many commercial sites a day for technical information, and I am increasingly finding it takes more and more clicks to get to the information I seek — if it is available online at all. Stop burying technical information further and further in the site or worse in PDFs or .DOCs and online manuals. Advanced users are usually people that know exactly what they want and are not being served by pages of marketing material trying to sell them something they’ve already bought. EVERY page should have a support link and a search box if you have a product you’re selling that might require tech support. Product “datasheets” should not be glossy PDF brochures, they should be labeled “product brochure” and not in PDF format in the first place (except as an optional downloadable link on said datasheet). Specsheet links with all technical specifications should be included next to the product’s sales/info page. And the specsheet should be a table or bullet list of features with hyperlinks explaining what something like “hyper-threading” is. (Note: I know what hyper-threading is.)

I kind of laughed when I heard Steve Jobs’ declaration that you should be able to get to any configuration setting or program option in three clicks. I laughed because I thought it was obvious that you want to reduce the amount of time to get to something, and that 3 could be too little for very esoteric settings. But then I thought about it and used other systems and sites for a bit. And I realized a lot of people think of sites and apps not as tools that should be designed to be used as efficiently as possible, but as either places to make more money in ads (see the broken up article with 3 paragraphs per page) or where GUI design is left up to programmers who don’t know a thing about UI design, or know the program so well they don’t look at it from the perspective of a novice.

I find myself writing sites and shareware makers who I like with feedback alerting them to this on a weekly basis. And I find myself leaving sites who’s designers screwed up or whose products I could care less about when I’m evaluating products for purchasing decisions.

Also, I’m in the middle of a job search right now, and I’m reading a lot of want ads. suffering from either too much or too little info, typos and other gaffs (such as listing 5-7 years experience with OS 10.6 or Windows 7 required, talking down to potential applicants, or technical and/or grammatical errors). And worse, I see the company’s website linked in the ad. and find typos, confusing navigation or lack of information or contact and feedback info. Needless to say, if a potential employer’s site is messed up, or a product’s UI is bad, I’m not going to apply for that job unless it involves fixing those things.

Who am I to make all these proclamations? Am I a seasoned designer or coder or marketing person? Nope. While I’ve written a bit of code in PHP, compiled applications I wrote, designed a few web sites and worked as a graphic designer, I am not an expert in any one of these topics, but I know enough about all of these things to be dangerous. While I am currently looking for work, I am constantly helping people fix their computers, recommending and evaluating products or designing systems, and keeping busy. I’ve also seen enough to know when it’s done right and when it’s done wrong. Take what you will from this rant

That’s3

A friend of mine committed suicide yesterday. And I am still in shock. I didn’t know him long, but we spent hours and hours together talking and getting to know each other. I saw no signs of depression, no outward feeling or signs that he was headed to where he went.

He was young, seemed full of optimism, and was getting his shit together. I’m not sure if he had a mental illness — he never mentioned one, but suicide or even attempts are one of the markers. It’s a shame that in our society mental illness is treated like a personal failing. It’s a shame on the person, not a recognition that something is amiss that should be treated with compassion or as a broken wrist or chronic disease such as cancer or diabetes is. There is no stigma attached to having cancer or diabetes as there is with mental illness. Some people’s “answer” to those with the disease is “Shake it off,” “Toughen up,” or, worse, “Stop pretending.”

But mental illness can be fatal and rear its ugly head at anytime. There is no known preventative medicine or cure for chemical imbalances in the brain — just a lifelong of pills that can alleviate some symptoms.

If you take away anything from this blog, take away this: mental illness is not something to look down on or be ashamed of if you have it. Friends help immensely, as does communication of your problems and companionship in general.

If you know of someone with mental illness, diagnosed or not, or worse, if you suffer from symptoms learn the signs of what I call a distorted world view. Learn that some behavior patterns and erratic actions by some is a cry for help whether they know it or not. If you suspect a friend or yourself has symptoms of depression or mania, choose a time to sit down talk to them about your concerns and that they could benefit greatly from therapy — be it simply going in to a psychologist once every week or two and talking about what’s been happening in their life or going to a psychiatrist for medication in cases where a chemical imbalance is suspected. (Or both if symptoms warrant it.)

It is a matter of life and death. If you saw a person lying on the ground bleeding slowly you wouldn’t crack a joke and keep walking, or ignore it. You would act if you are any sort of human being. Be it, informing the authorities or giving them aid and an ear.

And on a personal note, this is the third friend of mine that has died since September. Two to other more “accepted” diseases/problems that were being treated. One was a very close friend long ago and the other was a good friend for the past 17 years who was one of the kindest people I have ever known, and wished I knew better.

I’ve been going through my own problems and now they seem insignificant compared to the permanence that is death. While very sobering, it’s also a wake up call for me to set my houses in order and take better care of myself. It’s a reminder that suicide causes more problems than it fixes. Friends are left in shock and grief. Family is neglected and those left in its wake are forever changed.

Any sudden death is hard, but preventable ones, ones where the person chose to do it, are the biggest tragedy.

“We lose one and their light goes out of the physical world and we are all diminished by it.”

That is all.

Well, In my last post I thought I was pretty much done with the comic site, but then I got an idea…. It requires the rescripting of some bits here and there to work. I’m regretting early design decisions I made for the sake of speed realizing I’m going to have to go back and scrap/rewrite/modify/refactor perfectly working code for somethings that’s — gulp, hate the buzz word — “Scalable.”

It was a really early data format decision that led to this, but luckily I didn’t affect the database structure. I just have to go back and insert a new value. That’s all…. gulp!

What I’m really worried about is that by “patching” this: I’ll see a better way to do the whole thing and “BAM!” 10 more things are added to “THE LIST.” THE LIST I’ve found never is finished because as I examine past novice mistakes and rewrite them I come up with another way to do the same thing more efficiently. For example: Affiliations List and Directory Addition with the Artist List could have been the template for the Powers List. And the Powers List is the elephant in the room no one will acknowledge.

from THE LIST: *Refactor the Powers List (priority medium/complexity medium) Purpose: Neither Anthony nor I are actually using it because it’s too unweildy. I need to make powers something that has a list of basic powers, then have expansions upon it where you can create new sub-powers or powers specifics.

What we did was try to think of all the powers characters have, then categorize them and list them. Instead what we should have done is develop all the categories: Physical, Mental, Magical, etc., then allow us to fill in the blanks with real world examples of those powers on-the-fly.

But I’m getting too specific for a blog post. Suffice it to say, I need to learn design patterns and how to think more like an Object Oriented Programmer.

UPDATE: in case you’re wondering why it hasn’t been updated, my colleague now has a baby boy to take care of, and I have bigger fish to fry. So, the site will probably be a cobweb site, and an example of what I can do.

While sitting at a coffee house, it hits me: I haven’t updated in a while. So here I am working on my next playlist for reVOLTing, GearHead and my Guest spot at Surgery this month.

So, what’s been happening. Well, first off I have to find a new place to live in the next few months. Meanwhile on the job front, still no solid bites. So, with the prodding of a friend, I’m working on creating a giant database for him to fill with his knowledge of all things comics. It’s been slow going considering I’ve never built anything with more than a few tables that interfaced with MySQL from PHP. I had forgotten about half my PHP/MySQL knowledge, and I’m used to working with frameworks that do all the heavy lifting for me. Thing is these all have a ton of overhead, that I don’t want. So, from scratch it is. I have to worry about things such as SQL injection attacks and cross site scripting, so I’m brushing up on security too. That’s going slowly since I’m relearning stuff in addition to learning new stuff.

Other than that things are going good. Despite the death of a good friend a few weeks back, I’m holding up pretty well. I have a fairly diverse set of friends — some of which are enjoying the dust and the heat on the playa that is Black Rock City: Burning Man.

“Everything’s fine, how are you?”

My Mom just got a brand new iMac as a Xmas present and it kicks ass. There’s one problem though: The Magic mouse, while cool, has one fatal flaw: Its wireless is fine, even the trackpad top is fine, arguably. The problem? The optical sensor is almost at the very front edge of the mouse. It makes “the claw” with nudges left or right not work. Once more it makes mouse ups to the edge of the mouse pad not work when the optical sensor goes over the edge of the mouse pad! Boo on Apple for getting so much right and utterly failing at optical sensor placement. :(