Monday, December 23, 2002

Usability Matters Redux I'm starting a column for an in-house magazine. The audience consists primarily ofapplication developers, especially Web app devs. As the only in-house editor/writer type, I get to edit, design, solicit for articles, and write for the the magazine.
So I thought, "Hey--a captive audience! I can wax philosophic about usability, user-centered design, and human-computer interaction." Gee...nice to have the forum.
Initially I'm planning on dealing with these topics:
  • Definition of terms such as HCI, usability, information architecture
  • How to differentiate between user and customer
  • Why functionality testing and usability testing differ
Whadya think?

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Whither OZ How stupid can people be? Apparently, pretty stupid. Implications: perhaps we should arrest China because their Internet laws are a violation of the First Amendment.

Anne Galloway corrected my example that I used...but I still maintain that my analogy is appropriate. That is, I remember in the 80s when a county in Texas sued Adam and Eve, Inc., for violating the community standards in Texas. A couple had ordered some soft-core porn from Adam & Eve, received the merchandise, and were then arrested....I'm troubled by this.

Always Apologizing Seems like I'm always saying "I'm sorry" in listservs, blogs, and in person. I'm reminded of John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon saying, "Never apologize, Lieutenant, it's a sign of weakness." Perhaps so...but in the exchange on Peter's blog, I just wanted to highlight the post hoc fallacy that seems so rampant these days. Didn't mean to be politically incorrect...then again, wait a minute--perhaps I did...

Monday, December 02, 2002

Tomorrow Never Comes
I'm mad at for not letting me know they couldn't deliver a present. I sent a housewarming present to Peter more than a week ago. But because he'd moved he hadn't updated his Amazon shipping address. So nothing's gotten from SF across the Bay to Oakland.
What galls me is that the systems should talk to each other somehow. You put a USPS change-of-address form into action, other folks should digitally pick up on least in the area of those who ship stuff.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

It's Right Because I Say It's Right!
Sometimes I get so freakin' tired of justifying my professionalism, my job, my abilities. And I am so godawful tired of hearing, "Oh, well, that's just your opinion."
No, it's not "just my opinion. I say things professionally that I base on education, experience (experientia docet. and the thinking of so many others (rhetoric, information architecture, human-computer interaction, interaction design, and so on).
Now, don't get me started on deadlines....

Thursday, October 31, 2002

New Books Out
I've just ordered Christina's book and Jesse's book from Fountain Bookstore in Richmond. Nice to support folks whom you know.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Social Networks
I've been reading a lot of stuff about social networks. Part of the issue seems to be incredibly common-sensical: we communicate with subsets of people, each of whom also communicates with sets of people. Two questions:
  1. How do we find out definitively who talks to whom?
  2. How do we value instances of communication?

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

September 11
Still too sad...I almost can't work today.

Friday, September 06, 2002

Well, like all bloggers, I find I sometimes hit a brick wall. So that's why I haven't written. Plus, Germar was here...and there. We went to New Orleans for Southern Decadence. Whew! Take a lot outta ya....
More later. I'm tired.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

So, Once Again, What is IA?
Christina has done it again: She leads me to great sources, such as this one from Jeff Lash. He's done a great job of tying in the history of the Web, the backgrounds of people who used to work on it, and how information architecture not only appeared but was [and is] so needed.
Nicely done, Jeff!

Friday, August 16, 2002

Language Changes
Don Norman rules!
Many thanks to Christina for pointing this out.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

The Evils of Visio
I wonder if I have enough time to write this...because Visio has soooo many problems.
I just finished a two-page diagram/drawing (I'm not sure what it is I produce in Visio). Cluttered, silly, ugly, and difficult—that's how I see it. The lack of transparency, blurs, layers, make it a difficult tool to use in illustrating a concept. It's pretty good, I'll grant you, at depicting network diagrams...and it's not too shabby for showing some relationships. But try to get at all abstract and it falls apart.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Sad Movies
Some people like scary movies, watching them late at night while alone. Not me. I don't like to be scared in that terror-filled way of, say, Blair Witch Project (the last 20 minutes of that movie terrified me, despite the three loud assholes behind us who were drinking beer and smoking cigars in the theater). That rush of adrenaline gives me a headache in a different way than a roller-coaster ride would.
Instead, I tend to watch sad movies alone at night. Don't know why...maybe it's the personal nature of sadness, something that's not easily shared like joy or anger or righteous indignation.
Last night I'm watching Waking the Dead. Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly create a realistic love and heartache that's too palpable, too realistic: I found myself almost not able to breathe from the sadness of the movie. The sense of loss, the spin into madness, and the fact that the movie leaves you wondering what's real...and realizing that it doesn't really matter.
whew...gotta go back to editing tech docs now for relief.

Friday, July 26, 2002

Water, Water, Everywhere
When you drive a motorcycle, you run the risk of getting wet. Granted, this summer has been one of unbelievable dryness, even for Virginia...but this morning, right as I started to start my Enfield, the rain began coming down. Thank goodness I'd bought a rain suit last week. But in the haste to get ready, I flung my backpack behind me...and my mobile phone fell out. Sheesh...

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Irritations Part 1
OK, so many blogs are compendia of curmudgeonly crap...I guess I could either avoid the fray or jump right in.
Here goes.
I was listening to a voicemail today. The person who called is leaving me a friendly, chatty message. . . and she's eating something! How do I know? No, it's not the crunchCrunchCRUNCH of chips or chicken. Instead, it's the rounding of her vowels abnormally. Her os are more, well, o-ey. Her as are softer, not as plosive as normal.

Why does this bother me? I dunno. . . I think it's something to do with my family's obsession with people eating with their mouths open—something that drives us crazy.

Please. . . Don't chew with your mouth open, and don't eat while you're talking on the phone.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

New Digs
My folks moved into a new apartment last week. Last night was the first time I'd seen it. After 29 years in the same apartment, they now have light and space, despite the fact that their new place contains significantly less square footage (or meterage). However, their new place has much more efficient use of space.

Monday, July 15, 2002

Under the sea...
This weekend, we went to the National Aquarium. Extremely interesting and well-done aquarium. Rather than simply presenting a bunch of fish in tanks, the exhibit leads you through several different ecologies...but you get to see cool fish, too.
The shark exhibit was neat in that there were about 10 diferent sharks swimming in a pool that ran around the perimeter of the viewing area. The down side is that the lighting is so dim, you can hardly see the monsters well. I guess it's a trade-off--their habitat should be dark, and we want to be able to see 'em (and photograph 'em, too, I suppose). Still, well worth the $17.50 admission...go see it!

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

I Can't Stand the Way He Talks
Just finished reading This Wheel's On Fire, the Levon Helm autobio...and Band bio. What a sad story--despite great, great talent, the Band ended up becoming addicted to heroin, big business, accountants, and the headiness of the rock-star life of the late '60s/early '70s.
So sad. With acrimony between Helm and guitarist Robbie Robertson, with Richard Manuel's suicide and Rick Danko's death from heart attack, the story just bears down on you. When people have that talent, and then they squander it, it's just so sad.

Monday, July 08, 2002

The Anthem as Hymn
Well, yesterday afternoon we went by the park at Meadow and Park (called Meadow Park), to hear Page and Reckless Abandon play a free concert. It was a nice afternoon, with humidity levels decreasing (Gott sei dank). We rode bikes. About sixty people were there, mostly from the surrounding, renovated, multihundred-thousand-dollar homes. It's a nice city neighborhood. You can tell it's nice because the people were drinking surreptitiously...but instead of beer in their coolers, they chilled pinot grigio and bordeaux and corbiéres...and not Boone's Farm, either (the drink of the people in another nearby park).
Page sounded very good, running through his standard set..."Skin Quarter," "I Know You Rider," "Nightrider's Lament," "Swim Nekkid," and so on. Of course, his between-song patter hasn't really changed much (word for word) since 1979. Still, good players with him and, let's face it, the price was right.
Then he began his rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." It's great, really...a bit plaintive, a slower tempo than marching bands play it, and also haunting and evocative. I've always enjoyed it when he plays it at The Diamond. A true highlight of the Richmond baseball season. So when he began, I stopped my conversation with Ellie and Nathanial and Karen and Duffy and Shell to listen. After about eight bars, people started standing up...a few at first, then more and more. You could see it in their eyes: Do I stand or do I sit? What's the protocol?'s not a baseball game, it's not an "official function," but it is the song of the country...I remained sitting...along with (some of) my friends. I could see and also feel eyes directed on us, as if to say, "Who are these hippies? Communists? Taliban? Whut the hell's wrong with them?"
So post-September 11, the freedom not to stand when the SSB is played is in danger. Hey, folks, it's just a song. Context gives it meaning and importance...but it's really

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Times Are Not What They Used To Be
I've been participating in a really good discussion on Christina's site. She brought up the very salient : " Hasn't the web been around long enough that huge million dollar organizations should have no excuse for bad websites?" To me, there's been a retreat from focus on users. Specifically, the effect that HCI (and related disciplines) have had in the past six years seems to be waning post-dot-com-crash.
So I am a technical fact, the only technical writer here. And editor. And visual designer (diagrams, page layout, illustration). And usability expert. Yes, yes, I know, there should be at least one member of each of these competencies. And yes, I might be doing more harm than good...but that's for another discussion. Right now, I'm just interested in the fact that, although I'm supposed to be the authority on writing above all other duties, I'm having to do concensus work. Instead of "Write it this way," I'm having to say, "I think writing it this way would be better, probably, at least in my opinion." Grrr...

Friday, June 28, 2002

Phil Ochs Remembered
Listening to Phil Ochs sing Ewan MacColl's "Ballad of the Carpenter" now, and I'm remembering when I first "met" Phil Ochs.

Actually, I didn't really meet him...but my girlfriend at the time, Suzan Wall (where are you now?), had the A&M double album Chords of Fame (now out of print). Not only did she have a huge effect on my life (her stories about hanging out with the Brigatta Rosa in Italy while her Lieutenant-Colonel father worked at the embassy in Rome kept me in rapt attention), so did Phil Ochs. I loved his voice, his sparse guitar playing , and the power of his words. Songs like "Crucifixion," "Draft Dodger Rag," "Here's to the State of Mississippi" (and its '70s update, "Here's to the State of Richard Nixon"), "The Ringing of Revolution," and on and on touched me both politically and spiritually.

Later, I read Death of a Rebel by Marc Elliot. Some people either love or hate this book (recent search for it shows "Hatchet Job" and "Great Book" as the titles of two reader reviews). Yet at the time, in the mid-Seventies, it was the only biography of Ochs, other than Ed Sanders's lengthy essay/liner notes to the LP. At the time, I was a big Kerouac fan. I'd read Ann Charter's bio of Kerouac and most of the man's books. Reading Death of a Rebel, I was struck by the similarities (in a later post, maybe I'll get around to enumerating them). Suffice it to say, the rebellious spirit of both men combined with their zeal enticed me to know more.

Maybe some of his songs fade...maybe some sentiments are dated. Yet others ring true, especially during these times. Hmm...

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Back on the Chain Gang
Working as a technical writer again, I am struck by how little the field has changed. Instead of reaping some of the user-centered activity of the dot-com era, technical writing seems to have drifted aimlessly back to a late-eighties approach:
  • Non-writers writing documents
  • Developers pushing for less white space
  • Analysts wanting to add numbered headings such as
And on and on. In a way, I'm damned tired of fighting wars I fought at client sites while I was with Whittman-Hart as a technical writing consultant in '92-'94...or earlier as a technical editor for Synoptic Systems. Subscribing again to the Techwhirl mailing list and reading the stuff that people are talking about is like a trip to 1994 for me.