Introduction to Design

Samsung Galaxy S7
Samsung Galaxy S7

“It’s the wild colour scheme that freaks me,” said Zaphod whose love affair with this ship had lasted almost three minutes into the flight, “Every time you try to operate on of these weird black controls that are labelled in black on a black background, a little black light lights up black to let you know you’ve done it. ”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

We’ve been here before.   “Restaurant” was released in 1980 and is almost 40 years old.

I was helping someone remotely ‘learn’ how to use their upgraded phone today. It was someone older that hasn’t used a smartphone before. They were finally making the transition from a much more ‘phone-like’ mobile to something a little more up to date. They couldn’t find the buttons.

Black buttons on a black phone are hard to see.   Don’t get me wrong, for someone the right age and in good lighting and with some attention, they can be found. But eliminate just one or two of those variables and it’s not as obvious.

Do you know what else they call all that black on black?   Stylish.   F’n stylish.   See Item 2 below.

Computers used to be fast, efficient and responsive.   We built more power into them so they ran commands faster and were quicker to return to that welcoming blinking cursor at the command prompt.    Do you remember the “Ready” prompt?  The computer raced off to do your bidding and return as quickly as possible to do more.   The faster the “Ready” returned, the more progress we were making.

Today computers and phones (being the most likely computer humans will own going forward) are not designed that way.  

They are designed for a population that largely wants a box they can learn to push the buttons on. “I push this, it does this. Why isn’t really important as long as it’s consistent and I can learn over time.”

So what passes for modern design criteria?

1.  Functions should meet ‘mass expectations.’   If your device avoids a basic level of not-working and you can convince a large enough group that it works ‘acceptably’, then it is ‘good design.’   Most functional design goals can be brushed away with ‘good enough’ design. Maybe we can thank the MBAs for that.    See 3.

2.  It must look pretty.   It must have style.  While holding the product, other people must think you are a “good human”.   “Better than” the observer is optional but we must certainly avoid “less than” the observer.   If a celebrity will hold your device, all the better.   People frequently think celebrities are ‘better humans’ and will seek to emulate them through product acquisition.   See 4.

3.  Try not to make the users feel dumb unless you can convince them to blame themselves.   See point 1.  

4.  Owning the product should also make a person feel better about themselves personally.   In a post-Nietzsche world self-esteem is harder than many predicted. That’s where ‘feel good’ products come in.   If you feel better about yourself by owning the specific clothing, car, phone, jewelry, etc. that is an acceptable esteem foundation.   It has a high decay rate and requires additional purchases to maintain, but that works for the producers so all is well.   See 1 and 3.

There’s a corollary to 4, that involves ‘selling NEWness’ otherwise people could locate and acquire truly excellent products with low decay rates and hold them for extended periods while enjoying them.   Some still try. Silly humans.

It’s also somewhat necessary to drive society toward more and more ephemeral forms of meaning like Hollywood, television, the formula driven music industry as well as scripted and well story-arc’d pseudo-news.   All of this helps sell repeated consumption.

All of this erodes good engineering, but then again I am completely biased.   People originally looked at what engineers came up with and said, “It’s too complex and I don’t understand it.   I feel dumb and it’s the engineer’s fault (see 3).”   Your product makes me feel bad about myself and I don’t think it’s my fault.  That is quite bad for sales, so we avoid that.

That’s in some way where Steve Jobs came in.   He’s not the start of this particular story, but is one of it’s most celebrated Cardinals in the Church of Design. Hell, maybe he was pope?  

Can I Speak with You for a few Minutes?

nightmare-recruiterI won’t call it a mistake, but it wasn’t exactly what I intended. I updated my resume on Dice the other day in an effort to uncover midwest firms looking for information security help. To some extent, that effort has been successful. However, I also seemed to “poke the beehive” in the online-job market.

Within hours my phone’s been ringing with recruiters wanting “just a few minutes of my time.” Now before you accuse me of a humble-brag, hear me out.

1. None of these callers have bothered to look at my resume, work history, or even managed to figure out that I run a consulting company (a real one).

2. The majority seem to be Indian or at least sound like they are Indian and primarily use VoIP phone systems. In short, I can barely hear some of these callers and even when I can hear them, there are language barriers. Most do follow up by email, but the messages are clearly hacked together (cut/paste) and unprofessional.

3. Those that are not Indian, are attractive women. These usually attempt to connect on LinkedIn first. I understand social engineering when I see it and knowing the I/T field is primarily geeky men means this probably works.

So, it is with some self-admitted bias I’ll claim there is something very wrong in this business. The linked article at Dice.com provides a hint. Their embedded link to Nick Corcodilos does a better job (“Why do recruiters suck so bad?”).

My guess is simple, there are too many people chasing commissions and they’ve essentially broken the recruiting business for real employers.

It’s the only explanation I have for the influx of unqualified buck-chasers. It reminds me of pharmaceutical sales or mortgage lending a few years back. It seemed like everywhere I turned, a friend or connection was suddenly in that business (having no prior background). The difference here is that I/T recruiting offers something for both the attractive and social as well as the back-office database miner. You can do this job from half way around the world.

Please don’t misunderstand, I don’t mind people making a living, but I am particularly sensitive to any that don’t add economic value or that rely on deception.

As of right now, this system reeks of anti-competitive practices, including but not limited to recruiters padding candidate resumes and bringing in over/under qualified candidates just to appear like there’s a choice.

From that I can see, they essentially make money in two ways:

1. If they “place” you somewhere, they get an immediate or delayed payout of 20-25% of your annual salary. This seems to be the big draw as this can mean a five-figure payday. If they are a cog in a recruiting machine, I’m sure they get less, but if they are independent it only takes a few good candidates a year to cover the rent.

2. Many act as a ‘shell company’ that will hire you directly and then sell your time to another business with anywhere from 30-50% mark-up. Not the big payday up front, but they take a huge margin on your time for what is essentially general business admin work (that many just outsource).

My experience over the last two weeks:

1. They claim to be in the “consulting business” but are clearly lying. They are in the labor sourcing business.

2. Most know little about technology other than the minimum necessary to identify candidates and talk to clients.

3. They know most people are looking for a full time job with some stability. That’s why they describe every opportunity as ‘contact to hire.’ They want you to believe it may convert to full time.

4. Since their service doesn’t actually add any significant or differentiated value, they operate with a higher than normal level of secrecy, rely on asymmetric information, and a employ subtle forms of intimidation and bullying. Watch out for fine print with unenforceable non-competes and intellectual property ownership claims. Even those that claim to do this well seem to be the “best of the worst” although they’d not say it that way.

5. Unless the need is so specific and the candidate pool is so small, they really don’t care if you get the job or not as long as “they place the final candidate.” It’s like the realtor that doesn’t really care if you get that extra $10 for your house. It just doesn’t change their commission as long as they get the sale.

Damn Near a Decade of Warcraft

wowlogo-small-white

 

I don’t recall how much I wrote about Warcraft in the past, but it feels safe to discuss now. Not that there was ever any risk to others from discussing it, but for a time it was a huge part of my life. Big enough that I didn’t consider changing my involvement and my defenses were up when someone would mention it.

“Sure, I play every day. Some people watch TV every day.”

At some point a few years ago I totaled my ‘playtime’ output and discovered I had over 5,000 hours in the course of a few years. That hit home. A full time equivalent work year is 2,080 hours minus vacation and holidays so I had put in the equivalent almost three years of a vocational equivalent PLAYING A GAME.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. My time on Oblivion was pretty high before I found Warcraft and that was single player. Warcraft was so much more immersive and with the added factor of making friends online it was even more addictive. I also new a few other players in real life.

Yes, I consider it addictive and to some extent myself to have been an addict. I didn’t run off to a twelve step program for Warcraft players, but I thought quite a bit about those 5,000 hours.

I suppose it would be logical if I said I quit immediately. Recoiled in horror at the wasted time. But I didn’t. I didn’t think it was wasted time then and I still don’t. My reaction was more practical. I started hunting for the root cause of my unusual interest.

Honestly, I wasn’t that good at the game beyond a certain point. Long before “looking for dungeon / raid” features were in the game I played with a guild. I ran in 5-man pick-up-groups (PUGs) and just leveled multiple classes, races, and factions. I raided with my guild, but never really got the bug for high end gear. I leveled professions (including fishing WTF?) and experimented with different play styles. But other than my pursue time committment, I was pretty casual. No schedules or weekly raids (well few).

Ultimately I discovered it was merely an escape from work. It’s not like I’m an air traffic controller or 911 dispatcher. My work isn’t exactly stressful, but it was boring and I really wasn’t passionate about it. So I escaped into Azeroth. I quit my job a few years ago and started my own company. I quit playing Warcraft almost immediately and rarely felt compelled to log in and ‘waste’ any more time.

I maintained my account (and those of my family members that still played, the kids), but the only times I logged in were to do something with them. Even then it was usually around a new expansion. I’d play for a month, hit the level cap, see a few new instances and then move on.

I logged in again tonight, but only because they offered a 7 day free pass. I visited 3-4 of my old characters, patiently parked in their garrisons. I even ran one of them through some new questline to build a harbor. Not sure what that leads to, but I’m unlikely to be back again within the next seven days to advance that line. Draenor just isn’t that compelling. I might come back to fly over Stormwind and Orgrimmar. That’d be cool. Maybe grab a few screen shots and throw them in a folder somewhere.

Edit: Well damn, now over 10.

He’s dead, Jim.

I think I’ve finally killed InksEnd. The last migration seems to have unlinked all my previous blog posts. I suspect that means I’ll have to do some work on it. Oh, well.

Update: Changed permalinks to default. It’s back.

Facebook Ticker Trick

    I wouldn’t call it love-hate.  My relationship with the worlds most ubiquitous social network is a bit more complex.  I consider Facebook’s history around data privacy and Mark Zuckerberg’s public statements about online identity to be a warning.  In short, anything you or I expose on Facebook is inventory and Facebook has a history of changing the rules about who gets inside the warehouse, how easy it is to find our information, and which doors are well or poorly locked.

As long as you understand that, it’s a great tool.    

It’s within this context, I occasionally find friends and family posting things like this:

I’d like to keep my FB private except to those I am "friends with". So if you all would do the following, I’d really appreciate it. With the new FB timeline on its way this week for EVERYONE, please do both of us a favor!

Hover over my name above. In a few seconds you’ll see a box that says : "Subscribed". Hover over that, then go to "comments and likes" and UNCLICK it. That will stop my posts and yours to me from showing up on the bar side for everyone to see, but most importantly it limits hackers from invading our profiles.

If you re-post this I will do the same for you. You’ll know I’ve acknowledged you because if you tell me that you’ve done it I’ll "like" it …. Thank you.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it when someone takes the initiative to consider how their personal information is shared online.   It’s especially important to me since the very nature of Facebook means that my privacy is in the hands of every one of my friends (or specifically those I grant access to with lists), it’s a good sign when someone thinks about and takes action to secure their data online.   It takes one friend with a stolen password and anything I’ve shared is at risk.

However, this particular warning is misleading and the steps taken don’t change your effective privacy.   

The key feature of the Ticker is that you see things you can already see on Facebook, but in real time.

In the example below, Rob is a friend of Shawn, but Clair is only friends with Rob.   Rob notices that Shawn’s updated his status earlier with a funny quote and "Likes" it.   If Shawn has NOT restricted access to his wall and left it open to the public, anyone on Facebook can see that Rob Likes Shawn’s comment.  

It’s under these circumstances that Clair will see her friend Rob’s activity.   If she’s looking at Facebook when the event happens (remember the Ticker is real time) then she’ll see an update "Rob Liked Shawn’s Status" with a link that she can follow.  

Keep in mind, Shawn has left his Wall open to the public and Clair could have gone there on her own and seen Rob’s activity.   For that matter, I can go to Shawn’s Facebook page and view the same update and I’ll see that Rob Likes the update. 

If Shawn is a bit more cautious and has restricted access to his updates to Friends Only (or even specific Lists), then only Shawn’s friends will see his update.    Clair will not be notified that Rob Likes Shawn’s update.

It all goes back to the original source restrictions.   From Facebook help: 

Remember: People can only see the posts, comments and likes that you share with them. So if you share something with friends, only they will see it in ticker

….

Remember, your comments and likes are only visible to people who can see the original post. For example, you might comment on a photo one of your family members posts just to family. A friend of yours who cannot already view the photo will not see a story in ticker about your comment.

So the post I keep seeing can be rewritten:

I’d like to keep my Facebook "Comments and Likes" private.  Unfortunately some of my Friends leave their pages open to the Public and you might see some of my activity on  these Public pages.  

I’d prefer you not see that so I’m asking you to unsubscribe from my "Comments and Likes" in your Ticker.   This won’t change the visibility my activities on these pages, it just means you won’t see it unless you go directly to the page.

So, if you’re tired of seeing what I’m up to in your Ticker, hover over my name above. In a few seconds you’ll see a box that says : "Subscribed". Hover over that, then go to "comments and likes" and UNCLICK it.

That will stop my posts and yours to me from showing up on the bar side for everyone to see, but most importantly it limits hackers from invading our profiles.

If you re-post this I will do the same for you. You’ll know I’ve acknowledged you because if you tell me that you’ve done it I’ll "like" it …. Thank you.

I’ve struck the second to last line as well.   I can’t find a way to re-interpret it accurately.   This isn’t about keeping hackers off your profile, but more of an attempt to compensate for pages left too Publically exposed or perhaps the desire to separate activity between groups of friends.   I’ll discuss the later in a separate post on using Facebook Lists.

Powered by Qumana

Tanking Ego

Zahraah at Pugnacious Priest asks,

“Do you need an ego to tank? Should I roll a ‘tank’ and see?”

Lao Tzu is credited with the following quote –

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

I love that quote and its variations and forgive its author for a 600BC gender bias.

To have or not have an ego isn’t an option. By classical definition, our sense of self is our ego. However, if I read the question as “Do I need an inflated ego to tank?” I can have some fun. Now our answer revolves around whether an inflated ‘sense of self’ manifested (occasionally?) as arrogance helps a successful tank. I’d say at times “yes” but in the long run absolutely not.

However, what we’re talking about here isn’t exclusively about tanking. It’s leadership. As a tank, the [simplified] job is to make sure everybody wants to smack you around more than they do your generally more squishy compatriots. Do that and stay alive and you get the cookie. I think that’s trainable through research (EJ) and class mentoring.

Leadership is much more complex and not the exclusive domain of tanks. I’ve seen some great dungeon/raid leaders that were confident, patient, knowledgeable and most importantly aware of the need to work as a team to be successful. I’ve also seen plenty of groups with poor or no leadership. In my experience, that leadership role seems to more commonly fall on tanks, but I have seen great leaders in the DPS and heals spots too.

So what about this ego issue? Here’s it in a nutshell: Leaders see the success of the group as part of the value they add. If you’re a tank and find yourself as the defacto leader AND you accept that responsibility then confidence (in the form of appropriate self esteem / healthy ego) balanced with humility (it’s not the “Mr. Tank and scrubs” show) can get even a mediocre group through difficult content. That’s not an inflated ego.

On the other hand, tanks relied upon to lead that don’t accept or understand the role can easily become arrogant (“oh it’s all up to me”), hostile (“what the hell are you thinking with that gem?”), and or just disengaged (“pulling w/o watching mana levels or group proximity”). They might be proficient tanks, but lousy leaders.

Personally, I don’t know if I’m good at either. I’ve been druid tanking for about two months as I moved from 75-80. I’ve tanked most of the Northrend 5-mans but no raids. Some people have been very complimentary of my ‘tanking skills’ and others have offered good suggestions about gear/gems/etc. I have occasionally pulled a boss too early and to my amazement, I’ve pulled before my healer is ready. I heal as Resto too and have an 80 holy priest I’ve healed on for over a year /facepalm.

I start most instances with an honest statement about how many times I’ve tanked it (either reg or heroic). Most people seem to respond very well after that. In my approach, I’ve also had to step up my game and read more about bosses and fight strategies. I also feel I need to understand what all classes bring to fights and how to best use them. Many of those skills I learned as a healer, e.g. raid wide resistances make healing so much easier.

Does any of that make me an effective leader? Only time will tell, but I suspect that the better I get at bringing out the best in the rest of the group the closer I’ll get.

Fairly Free Internet Security

Rarely does a month go by before someone I know asks me about basic security software for their home PC. Usually it’s at the right after their pre-installed anti-virus expires or when their college age children bring the laptop home.

In the past I’ve purchased McAfee and Symantec products (usually to extend my own pre-installed version), but for the last several years I’ve relied almost exclusively on free software. There are hundreds of articles from experts on the relative benefits of one package over another, but I tend to rely on millions of my closest friends, “the crowd“, and Cnet’s download site. A quick trip to Cnet and a search on “anti-virus” quickly takes me to a list I can sort by “Most Popular.” At time of this post, roughly 230 million people have downloaded “AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition.” There are several other very good free tools there as well. I like SpyBot for its scanning tool as well as the ability to tweak startup settings withing Windows.

(not) Tweeting the Day Away

From InformationWeek

Update – September 2009: John Swainson has announced his retirement from CA. I wonder if he’ll pick up twitter next year.

John Swainson, CEO of CA, says he uses Facebook and LinkedIn but communicates mostly by E-mail (much of it on his BlackBerry) and IM and hasn’t felt compelled to jump into Twitter. “I don’t need to publish my position daily or hourly or minutely,” Swainson said in an interview, “though I’m sure my staff would consider ways for me to.”

I originally posted this quote to highlight what I saw as a growing first impression of Twitter.