Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye Zeros

Good bye Zeros. As a decade you sucked. You started off with a great personal loss for me, and turned into a big financial zero really quickly. Seemed like most of the decade was hijacked by backward, political & ideological systems that drove this country to the brink of collapse. Only good thing about you was the lessons you dealt forcing me to rely on myself more. I'm ready to forget about you now.

* mom died of cancer, lost all my savings in the tech bubble, 9/11, hurricanes and tsunamis, and a painful realization of how corrupt all the "systems" are that I'm supposed to depend on to live.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Nothing Says Merry Christmas Like HOT Artichoke Dip

I make this Hot Artichoke Dip every Christmas Eve... This year I'm trying it with an added teaspoon of habanero paste for extra hotness. I'll add a photo here very soon!

Ingredients
- 2 (13 3/4-ounce) cans artichoke hearts (drained & broken into smaller chunks)
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup packed freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
- 2-3 tablespoons habanero pepper paste (more or less to taste)
- 1 large garlic clove, mashed
- A few dashes of tobasco sauce
- A few cranks of fresh black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, stir well. Scrape into an oven proof dish, cover and bake for 40 minutes. Serve this savory dip HOT, with bagel chips, corn chips, crackers, bread... anything! Enjoy!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stop and Think Before Crowdsourcing Your Design Work

Crowdsourcing is this new way to get really cheap design work done. By using the internet to 'source' a large group of people to check out your project, you can get designers to propose ideas to you in a 'contest' like system. Effectively, crowdsourcing creates a 'marketplace' for design work, but since one designer 'wins' a job, many more designers loose...

Here's a Wired magazine post explaining crowdsourcing and some issue facing designers (note, the comments are great):
Is Crowdsourcing Evil? The Design Community Weighs In

I DO think these sites are disruptively evil, and it's not because I don't think other organizations deserve affordable design. Crowdsourcing encourages cheapness and impatience from potential clients. These websites imply to clients that they'll get Saks like quality design work at Walmart prices, all at internet speed... but the design process doesn't actually work that way. Worse than marginalizing the design process, there are some huge intellectual property issues with these sites. If somebody were to create some artwork, and this artwork ended up being extremely profitable a few years later, what's to stop that artist from suiing that client to recoup the IP gains from his work? I can see intellectual property lawyers just waiting, like vultures, to dive into this in the near future.

The main reason that crowdsourcing is evil is the same reason that it's successful, Ideas. As all these ideas are propagated around these sites, it's just a matter of time before the designers (who aren't making enough $) get their own entrepreneurial ideas ... It's not difficult to launch your own online store (especially if you already have the software). It's not hard to set up your own blog (especially if you're creative). It certainly is not hard to set up any web business of your own, especially if you're half way there already, and all you need is an idea to base it on.

Crowdsourcing is bad for me because it undermines my investments in my own career, investments of time, money, and relationships. It's harder to promote my unique style & process when people's expectations have been set by a crowdsourcing websites. I've seen rates for design work drop, while at the same time the costs of maintaining a professional practice (expenses like education, rent, software, hardware, hosting, and broadband) don't go down at all. Why bother working with clients who assume your business is less valuable than their business?

I personally think anybody using a crowd sourcing site is going to get poor results, and no good designer participates on these sites anyway. The work we do at Studioroom includes planning, project management, writing, and development - ALL of our work is design-to-build, with SEO and usability baked right in. We want relationships with people, not popularity contests.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dear Spam

We've known each other for a while, even though you haven't seen me in years. I've been getting thousands of emails from you since 1999, please don't be angry with me that I haven't replied. I simply don't need my penis to be any bigger, nor do I need any pharmaceutical help in the bedroom, or bathroom, or anywhere. I'm not going bald, there's nothing in my life which needs fixing.

I've been ignoring your treaties of "help" so much now you are trying to find new ways to get at me. Through facebook, and twitter, and now my blog... The thing is, I have a spam proof wall around me, it's called Google. More precisely, it's called 'cloud computing'. You simply cannot reach me. You're just wasting your time. Give up.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Trying To Save All The Thanksgiving's To Come

Happy Thanksgiving!

Please help Food Democracy Now fight Islam Siddiqui’s confirmation to the USDA. His Senate confirmation hearing is set for next week.

About Islam Siddiqui...
During his career, Siddiqui spent over 3 years as a pesticide lobbyist, an Undersecretary at the USDA and a VP at CropLife. In defending Siddiqui, the White House has stated that he played a key role in helping establish the country’s first organic standards.6 What they neglect to mention, though, is that those original organic standards would have allowed irradiation, sewage sludge and GMOs to undermine organic integrity! The standards were so watered down that 230,000 people signed a petition for them to be changed, which they eventually were.7

Fortunately, the organic community stopped Siddiqui and his cronies then, and we need your help now to do it again. If Siddiqui’s nomination is allowed to go through, then agribusiness will continue to control the seeds, the science, and the distribution of global food and agriculture.

Please join Food Democracy Now! and a broad coalition of other groups, in calling on President Obama to keep his campaign promise of closing the revolving door between agribusiness and his administration.


Why is this bad? Here is why:

If you go to You Tube and search for "Monsanto" you'll find a lot more information.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Online Thanksgiving Recipe Round-Up

I'm one of those people who thinks, "if Thanksgiving dinner isn't amazing, then there's just no point!". So over the years I've roasted a few birds and made enough stuffings & sauces to be able to know a good recipe when I see it. Here I've compiled a list of my favorite recipes & sites for your Thanksgiving enjoyment.

1. Here is the recipe from Fine Cooking I've been making for the past 8 years (It's excellent):
A Thanksgiving Feast for Twelve By Michael Brisson
There are a lot of other great recipes on Fine Cooking.com.

2. We all love Jamie Oliver, and these holiday recipes are already making my mouth water:

3. Other good recipe sites are:
Saveur Magazine promises the "Ultimate Thanksgiving" - lots of options
Gourmet magazine's recipe site (Gourmet is closing, sigh)
Food TV has a stable of celebrity chefs - I love Emeril & Bobby Flay
La Cucina Italiana Magazine - I cannot understate how excellent this cooking magazine is
Martha Stewart.com - The best all around hostessing resource

4. Why not breakaway this Thanksgiving?
My friend Eric Gower did... He made a breakway turkey last year (you can have the butcher "butterfly" the bird for you & do this on the BBQ!).

Here is Eric's "Breakaway Thanksgiving" from his Yahoo! Food blog (which he does not contribute to anymore).

Also, I've pick a few thanksgiving ingredient oriented recipes out of his fantastic blog:
Ginger Sweet potatoes
A cranberry chutney
Star anise Turkey soup
An insanely delicious Pumpkin curry

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Font Freedom - Typekit A Simple Type Solution for Websites

At first, when I heard about Typekit I was skeptical. I've practically made a career around being able to "optimize" text for the web. Now I can unlearn all of the technical, CSS rules I've been compelled to follow for over a decade! Now I have more freedom to focus on design! Typekit.com is one of these web based tools which is very simple and very useful for every designer. I just signed up for an account, and got a snippet of code which I can add to my web pages (I added the code to my blogger template).

Typekit works with your HTML & CSS. The service simplifies a coding technique which has already been around for years but probably isn't really accessible to graphic designers (because let's face it, what programmer is ever going to think about more than 4 fonts?). Best of all, it's reasonably priced starting at $25/year for 10GB of bandwidth (which should be plenty). In contrast, Adobe sells an enterprise level solution which is completely too expensive for small design studios.

I'm still trying this out & I'll post examples when I have them. My biggest criticism with typekit so far is that it's easier to try out fonts in CODE than in the design process - which is kind of a time suck if you prefer to vet out a design in Photoshop.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Get Out of Jury Duty - More Info

Following up on my most popular post, here's how you can prevent yourself from even being called for jury duty in the 1st place. Over a year ago I moved from California to the east coast. But my CA driver's license doesn't expire until 2012, and I don't need to renew it. Since I'm planning on moving again I simply don't want to go through the hassle of going to the DMV. I did, however register to vote in my new state so I could vote for Obama. I thought registering to vote would trigger jury duty harassment, but so far I haven't heard from my local court, and I think I'm in the clear.

If you're like me, an independent contractor who never really gets paid for jury time, then you might want to make sure you never get called. So here's the scoop, but you may need to coordinate this with a move. (I'm not sure if you have to move out of state or just to a different locality, probably depends on how modern your state & localities are).

1. A month or more leading up to a move, go renew your driver's license. You'll probably get a new license good for at least several years. You need to do this ahead of your move since the DMV has to mail your new license to your "home" address.

2. Move & change your address with the post office, your bank & credit cards, etc.

After this your credit profiles will state your new address, and most bureaucracies use your credit report to establish your home address. But your new, local court system does not look through credit data to mine for jury victims.

OPINION: I personally think it's wrong that the court system cannot compensate jurors for their time. This set-up predisposes juries to be made up of mostly affluent people (retirees & housewives) who can afford to serve, and does not make available a true "jury of ones peers". Ironically, it will probably take several major class action lawsuits in different states just to reform this system.

What I Really Want to Tell United in Their Online Survey

Online surveys a good, but they are over-used as a cheap way to get user feedback. These surveys cannot be accurate simply by the "one size fit's all" type of design they utilize. There's never an opportunity in these multiple choice surveys for users to give details about their unique experience with a business. Why not actually talk to your customers?

What I really want to tell United in this survey which I found in my inbox this morning is... DON'T spam all your customers with a survey disguised as a contest. I would much rather have a guaranteed, small, mileage grant for completing a survey, than have the carrot of 100,000 frequent flier miles dangled in my face. The way I look at this, is there is no actual reason for me to complete this survey for United because there's no guarantee that I'll get anything for my time & thoughts. Not to mention the fact that every other airline conducts their surveys with similar contests. And on top of all of this, "contest websites" are starting to proliferate on the web, it's getting to be contest overload for consumers.

So what about my flight? Well, it was really weird that the "economy plus" section on my flight was nearly empty while plain ole economy was packed. It was also kinda weird that United had to announce to customers not to spread into Economy Plus without first paying for it. Nobody wanted to cough up the extra $50 for 5 more inches. I remember the good old days when if a flight wasn't full, folks were welcome to make themselves more comfortable without being taxed.

My only other criticism about my recent travel is about the check-in kiosk at the airport. It's difficult to use and puts way too much emphasis on 'up-selling' instead of expedient check-in. United, please contact me for some usability help with your software!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Very Easy Content Management with Cushy CMS

I think I just found what could be the most ridiculously easy tool for web designers or anybody looking for a simple CMS solution to add to their site, Cushy CMS.

All you need to do is watch the short video of how it works on their home page which is very strait forward. I've already tested it out and I can't wait to share this with some clients.

Now if those geniuses at Cushy could make some easy RSS hooks into their Cushy CMS they can have a perfect product for web publishers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cheap Customer Feedback (Gavin Newsom)

There's a researcher's goldmine in the comments of news articles. Here's a screen grab of the top comments in the Gavin Newsom story on SFgate.com. It's better than reading the article.


Monday, October 12, 2009

How Do You Answer The Passion Question?

Help me get the word Passion out of the office and back into the bedroom where it belongs!

Have you ever been in a job interview, which you thought was going great, only to get sidelined with the question, "What are you really passionate about?!" Perhaps it's because I'm a designer (I can't imagine an Doctor ever being asked this question) and people expect my brain to be overflowing with creativity. Or perhaps because I'm a designer people expect me to communicate in little sketches, who knows. One really stressful interview at a silicon valley giant, I was sidelined with the Passion Question right in the middle of talking about software design. I think I let it slip that I wasn't really that passionate about an email application I had worked on. (Please, nobody, nobody is ever passionate about email software design, let alone email, or especially software). I almost blurted out "money" in response to that question - I mean hello! interview!?! But instead of yelling out "money" (to a small group stock option lottery winners) I froze up.

I think the passion question is stupid because it's usually totally inappropriate. Does it make sense to ask a civil engineer if he's passionate about fixing sewers? Remember our friend the doctor? Nobody would ask her what she's passionate about because... a doctor is obviously all about curing the sick... so it goes without saying that I am passionate about design.

So let me ask the Blogger Community - How have you dealt with the Passion Question in your interviews? Do you think asking people this question is a good idea?

Monday, October 5, 2009

How Are You Doing? Looking at Your Data

I can tell how your website is doing. I can tell if this past year has been good for your site, or bad. Don't be offended, this info is freely available online. I'm talking about Alexa. With a little bit of analysis, I could make recommendations for fixing your site, or improving your web products, so that your business connects with more people and does better.

Massify.com vs. Cute Overload.com
Compare the past month of Alexa data for the blog Cute Overload with the professional networking site Massify.com*. What's interesting is Cute Overload is managed primarily by a single individual (a Designer) with a separate full time job. Massify is a small company and run by a team of professionals. Cute Overload had very little start-up costs and has very little overhead. Massify had a lot more start-up costs, and maintains much more overhead, more than a blog like Cute Overload. Still, Cute Overload is growing, and Massify is not.

Cute Overload.com

Massify.com

So what's going on here? Could it be that a simple blog is the way to go with a web business, something which can easily be maintained by an army of one? There could be a lot of explanations for the lower performing site... They could be suffering from; A fundamentally poor idea, over-complication, poor planning & implementation, poor customer support, or perhaps no clear design strategy. The good news is there is HOPE. Change is good and websites are good at reinventing themselves.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A GOOD Online Survey from Best Western

Yesterday when I got the email from Adobe asking me to participate in their survey, I also got an email survey from Best Western.

Not only did the survey from Best Western actually work, but the manager from the hotel I recently stayed at emailed me directly to follow-up. This is how an online survey should work! The hotel manager thanked me for submitting the survey and she reassured me that they read and appreciate my comments.

I wish Adobe would get a clue that the internet is best for two or three-way CONVERSATIONS, and not one-way talk which creates the illusion of caring but doesn't actually do anything.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bad Experience With Adobe Products

If anybody reading this wants to recommend an alternative to Photoshop & Dreamweaver, I'm listening....

I don't know how else to try to communicate to Adobe that their products are messed up and I'm starting to think about dropping Creative Suite. Their customer support is nonexistent and frankly it's impossible to log bugs through their site because they make you do so much work to log those bugs. I have about two dozen different bugs and complaints about various Adobe Creative suite applications, it would take me all day to break out each individual complaint into the neat little categories for the Adobe site. And I have to agree to terms and conditions to log a bug about their products? Its retarded. I normally get PAID to report bugs with software so this is just insulting to me.

Today I go another email from Adobe asking me to participate in another survey (the 3rd since I bought CS4 last year). The survey is BROKEN.

All I want is for Adobe to stop wasting my time. If they are going to take my money, they mine as well deliver software that works. Hanging and crashing should not be a normal operating mode.

I shouldn't have to tell people at Adobe how to design & create software, they ought to know how to do that. Asking their customers to complete web surveys (several of them) just shows that they are unclear. We all know web surveys are nothing more than expensive executive appeasement. It's frustrating to depend on a software company who doesn't even know the best way to support their products.

Finally, here it is, 10 months after my purchase & I still have not received my 2 free copies of Layers magazine as promised. I am annoyed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I can not afford to wait

I don't get it. How could you look any of these people in the eye and say that they should wait for health care. Wait for what? I simply don't understand why our health system is the way it is. It's stupid.


A New Updated Studioroom.com

Wow, how difficult is it to update one's own portfolio? That only took about um... a year! Well I launched something, and it's not even done!

At least some of my more interesting and newest projects are now represented in my portfolio. Projects like Veggie Trader, Path 101, & Alaska Urological. Samples for older work, like Massify and Bounty Jobs are still available for anybody wanting to see more IA and interaction design, but you have to ask to see this work.

In the next couple of weeks I'll be fleshing out Studioroom and adding more details to the portfolio and to my process. Since Studioroom does different types of design work there's more than one process. Right now we're emphasizing the User Experience Design process which is for software products more than for simple websites. If you or your organization is trying to design a web application and are strugging with the User Experience Design, please contact me.

My UX process is illustrated below, and outlined in more detail on my site.

The Experience Design Process

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Call me an elitist snob but I just don't want to hear your whining about food in 20 years

I had more than a good laugh at this insightful LA Times editorial Keep your self-righteous fingers off my processed food -- latimes.com. I guess I am an elitist food snob.

Charlotte Allen does have a very good point about artisinal products being too expensive. I definitely do not want people's food to become more expensive. I simply want the federal government to stop subsidizing the same crops that are contributing to the obesity epidemic (among other things) in this country.

Here are my thoughts as a product designer...
It's great that we have a lot of affordable products to choose from. The problem with too many cheap goods is that there are just too many of them and it's spreading this culture of cheapness. Living life cheaply, especially if you don't have a choice about it, is sad and demeaning and worst of all, it's infectious. You would never want to be hired by somebody just because your cheap? So why is it OK for China to exploit their population for cheap labor? I HATE that armies of overseas workers are wasting their lives toiling in factories to make loads of cheap crap for me. I wish they had more fulfilling work to do!

As a manager...
looking at the landscape of America right now, there is absolutely no reason why more states can't have more thriving, sustainable agriculture. This argument that people like Alice Waters are elitist is silly. One shouldn't need to live in Berkley, CA to enjoy perfect produce. It just takes planning. There is no reason that New jersey cannot truly be the Garden State. The real problem, I think, is that most people don't care about their food. If they stopped fixating on being cheap then then we can start talking about real sustainability for their health and the environment. I think Michael Pollan & Alice Waters are visionary.

Personally...
Asking me to accept without criticism the bounty of cheap food in the US right now is like asking a lung cancer patient to breathe second hand smoke simply because he is the minority. Not to mention it would be ignorant of any educated person to ignore the environmental impact of our agricultural system right now. I don't want to eat cheap food. Especially because I know better but mostly because I like feeling good thanks. I've never been on a diet in my life and I still get carded because I look about 18 years younger than I am. Cooking for me *is* entertainment, I do it better than most professional cooks, and I don't need some cheap-ass company cutting costs on my meals! My burgers & fries are hands down better than any restaurant burger, anywhere, and made from scratch are almost as inexpensive as Mac Donalds.

Call me an elitist snob but I don't want to hear your whining about food in 20 years when it's no longer feasible to export dinner from thousands of miles away. At the very least people like Charlotte Allen won't get invited to my fabulous dinner parties any time soon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mini Site Review - WhiteHouse.gov Reality Check

I am completely impressed by the Obama White House's approach to communications. Not only is the White House website beautiful, it's also very useful and informative. Whitehouse.gov is a case study for how businesses and agencies should use the web to connect with their audience.

The key is to:
1. Communicate clearly
Notice you don't see vague or ambiguous links that are designed to entice clicks - just strait forward, easy to read content.

2. Create relevancy by focusing on your content
The interface is elegant, it does not get in the way of the important messages and it's easy to find the information that is most important to you.

3. Make it a three way conversation
It's so easy these days to communicate with everyone. Sites that employ conversational methods engage people and create a positive experience. Using channels like email, facebook and twitter grow the conversation to a larger audience.

Here's my mini review...
(click to see my larger comments)

Monday, August 3, 2009

I Wish There Was Better, More Sustainably Raised Food Here...

Oh wait, there IS!
Swap your homegrown produce on Veggie Trader


One of the painful things about moving from San Francisco to Baltimore is the lack of good food sources here in Baltimore. Healthy local foods of all kind flood San Francisco and the result is a food paradise for everybody. Shoppers have hundreds of choices, from great small stores, abundantly rich farmer's markets, and of course all those epic restaurants. SF has SO MUCH local bounty, you take it for granted. Here in Baltimore I'm actually shocked and appalled by the lack of good produce and variety.

The thing that frustrates me about the food situation here in the Mid Atlantic is that it simply does not have to be this way. Plants grow well here, there's plenty of sun and rain. Spring, summer & fall are all good growing climates here. There's NO EXCUSE for bad food and certainly for lack of choice!

Why can't the Mid Atlantic experience an Alice Waters/Michael Pollan inspired food renaissance? Aren't we decades overdue?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hey Web Developers! Do You Think About Online Safety In Your Work?

Are you in the business of developing websites? Do you think about online safety when developing your site? You should. If you don't care about the safety and happiness of your entire audience then law or government might step in... If I was a web entrepreneur, a developer, or any type of investor with a stake in any web business, then online safety (a great user experience) would be my #1 priority.

What do I mean about online safety? Its more than identity theft, phishing, or cyber bullying. I'm talking about the entire world of the internet and all of your particpation in that world, and how this affects everybody else. Online safety includes things like; ease of use, clear simple communication, effective customer support, and avoiding over commercialization. (If Jonathan Adelstein is complainging about "relentless and excessive commercialization" on the web then you know it's already a problem which is getting addressed)

This past month I had the privilege to design an online report for the NCTA. There is a good amount of free user research to be found here in the PointSmart.ClickSafe. Task Force Recommendations for best practices for child online safety. Both in these 2008 task force summit videos, and in the Best Practice Reccomendations report itself.


Here's what it's about:
Google, Verizon, Others in New Child Safety Push
By Kenneth Corbin - Internetnews.com

WASHINGTON -- A far-ranging coalition of IT and telecom firms, advocacy organizations and other stakeholders this morning unveiled a broad set of recommendations for how to protect children online. The new report from the Point Safe, Click Smart task force calls for a lax regulatory approach, emphasizing the importance of educating children and their parents about online safety. The task force, which was spearheaded by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), drew on a diverse group of participants, including Yahoo, Symantec and the National Parent Teacher Association.
- - -

My complaint about the internet industry - Too many times I've worked in too many offices which were more like a frat house than an office. In these web workplaces, I've sat around idly while managers & clients alike have made assumptions about their audiences, assumptions that all their users are most likely a bunch of guys like themselves. I have seen some hilariously wrong thinking get pushed into mainstream websites all erroneously in the name of "more pageviews". Worst of all, a lot of web developers harbor a lazy attitude that creating products that work for everyone is just not a priority. Please, guys, no more lazy, narrow assumptions.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Smartphone Trend is Dumb

Do you have an iPhone yet? According to this New York Times article there has been a lot of growth in the smartphone market as job seekers try to look competitive to potential employers. This seems like backwards logic to me, just having a smartphone does not deem you a good job candidate. This article I feel is such a misrepresentation of the smartphone experience that I feel I need to blog about it. I also deeply question the New York time's bias here since they are clearly advertising lots of smartphones in their paper. Is this news? Or is this a big ole ad?

If somebody genuinely wants a Blackberry, Palm, or iPhone then of course they should have one, but they are all quite expensive and each of them require a $30 monthly commitment just for the data plan alone. That's $360 a year in addition to the expense of the phone, and on top of your regular monthly calling plan. Who remembers the good old days when the phone was cheap? This looks like a "bubble" to me, if I were a business analyst I would watch out.

Of course the iPhone is fun to use, but being able to send and receive emails at any time, is not so fun. Are we going to wake up in a few years to a world where everybody expects you to reply to them RIGHT AWAY!? If you're job hunting this might make a good first impression, but then you get known as the person who's really good at replying to messages quickly, you're passively committing to being on call all of the time. This doesn't prove anything about your ability to problem solve or make decisions.

I would never hire somebody simply because they have a smartphone. I view these devices to be an encroachment into the workplace and I can picture a coworkers texting their friends, or posting remarks online, activities that have nothing to do with work. Cognitive research has taught me that one little "alert" message, a 1 second distraction of your attention, can cause a fifteen minute loss of productive workflow. I am careful as an interaction designer not to allow such distractions to creep in to my designs.

Finally, there's the show-off factor. Yes the iPhone is sexy (I do own an ipod touch). Yes Apple knows how to design products. But I would judge a colleague on the body of their work as opposed to the possessions they own. I hope the world doesn't judge me because of what I do, or do not own.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Working on Vacation (and it's alright)

I just got back from a week long trip to Asheville and the Great Smokey Mountains. It was fantastic. North Carolina has it all; beauty, culture, and natural wonder. I drove from Washington DC, my goal simply to explore and relax over a long Memorial weekend. On the drive I heard a few radio shows talking about the work vacation. Because of the economy, it sounds like people are afraid to step away from the office for fear that it will make them look bad, and then (maybe) they'll be targeted for layoffs. Some folks must be really stressed out about their jobs! So the work around, of course, is more technology and connectivity. The radio shows spoke to all the usual stuff like checking email all the time from your mobile phone.

I'm pleased to report that MY personal experience with the work vacation was good! I brought my laptop which was already set-up with the files I needed. I made sure that I got as much work done as I could before I left. I communicated to everyone that I was going away, and how I could be contacted... there's plenty of connectivity in North Carolina. During my trip, I needed about six hours to make sure that my client was happy. Some design details on the project got refined and I was able to spend most of my trip relaxing without a single worry.

Now that I've got my vacation workflow in place I'm ready for summer. I can't wait to check out the beaches later this summer. Now, I'm contemplating sending my resume to Carolina companies. Let's see what happens.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Great Online Video Research on Obesity

The internet and video go really well together. The internet and research goes really well together. Put it all together and you get... an easy way to distribute great content to a broad audience.

Here IDEO has shared their research video about Obesity. It does a very good job at illustrating the complexities of making healthy food choices. Helping people make well informed choices is a design problem.

A Lens on Obesity, a Short Documentary from IDEO on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Margaret Wertheim's Crazy Sexy Geometry

This TED presentation reveals some ideas about design patterns that I always knew, but aren't taken seriously by "academia" (or other, similar establishments). Note to UI designers, forget 2D, imagine the internet as spherical space!

Margaret Wertheim: The beautiful math that links coral, crochet and hyperbolic geometry

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Drupal and Toolkits Like Drupal Suck

This software time-sucubus needs to STOP. I had a Drupal project last summer and it was a complete, miserable failure in so many retarded ways. The client was convinced that all I need to do was customize this already available code. They felt like the work was pretty simple (and hence cheap). There are glaring, obvious limitations to many of the pre-packaged UI elements, the "modules" in Drupal. You can't just customize the look of some module, if the UI is inappropriate, and it's not usable for your website. What's the point of changing the type and other visual styles in a template if people look at it but don't find it usable?

The worst thing about Drupal is that if gives non tech people this attitude that it's OK to cut corners and not think about User Experience or any of the practical realities of developing and managing a website. It lets people think that they can have some workable website in a day. At best you end up with a prototype of what you want, just a half rate design that doesn't connect with people. At worst, you can go down some tedious road of endless, costly iterations, just trying to make the software fit your need.

The other thing I hate about Drupal (and all freeware in general) is the fact that it undermines the entire design profession. Design IS A PROCESS. It's about thinking through your idea really thoroughly, testing assumptions, making sure something really works for the end user. I don't think that any product developer, or any entrepreneur for that matter, should inflict the world with their invention until they've really thought it out first. Drupal really just confuses and limits a lot of people who are new to the web. It enables tightwadishness. It allows people to think they can get away with being lazy. In reality all software, every single website, needs a fairly high degree of planning, budgeting, & ongoing maintenance. Always.

Strictly as a user, a consumer of websites and media, I freaking hate visiting a Drupal site. They are sooooo ghetto. They look bad. They read bad. They are usually not interesting. The cheap Drupal approach to web development just screams AMERATEUR! It's very insulting to ask the world to use half baked software products. I don't WANT to try out the next cool website. I have better things to do with my time.

I don't mean to sound bitchy, I can code very well. But I am a much better designer than a coder. Seriously, it would be better if folks just design something, and then go on rent-a-coder and get somebody overseas to implement a finished spec.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Green Dilema / The Omnivore's Dilema (A Book Review)

Happy Earth Day! I have been trying to wrap my brain around the Green trend for the past few years. I care very much about lasting sustainability. Indeed my entire career as a UX designer is all about trying to make the interfaces of software work well, for people, over a long period of time. When I look at the world around me I see a lot of UNsustainable systems which shout to me how obviously unusable they are, and suddenly I feel an urge to log a bug somewhere to get it fixed... before the software crashes... but there's no good place to log those bugs...

The truth about being green is that it's not very easy being green. Trying to be green is like trying to use Microsoft Word to edit a photograph. The world around me is just not set up to let me be green. Think about it, how many excuses can you come up with to NOT be green? Do you Recycle? Drive less? Compost? Use compact fluorescent light bulbs? Buy local? Fertilize your lawn organically? Save water? Purchase electricity from 'renewable' sources? Remodel with green building materials? Blah blah blah...

It took me, a foodie, a long time to figure out that being green starts with what you eat. The book, The Omnivore's Dilemma has brought to light for me the complete picture of how food is interconnected with the American environment. In the book Michael Pollan explores one simple question, "What should we have for dinner?", really extensively. I had no idea that the former Soviet Union had an underground black market for home grown produce, because their "highly efficient" industrial agricultural system just did not work. I never knew that spring mix salad was so resource expensive. I did not know that mushrooms live underground for decades. Nor did I know that pasture (grass) raised beef (and milk) literally has more nutrients in it than industrialized corn fed cattle. I feel like I've woken up after eating the fruit from the tree of knowlege!

The Omnivore's Dilemma is a fun, interesting read, but it does have some scary moments. The entire first section alone, the part about industrialized agriculture, is enlightening in a depressing kind of way. You are corn. Later in the book, Pollan describes a 100% sustainable, highly productive farm, Polyface Farms, in Virginia. I don't know why ALL American farms aren't like Polyface? Well, yes I do, Wall Street can't profit from farms like this.

Being green is way more than just what you eat, of course. It's really about economics and how one chooses to spend their money. The next time you hand over your money for something, you might consider where your food comes from, who gets your food dollars (Monsanto executives?), how food is produced, how far it travels, how it's stored, plus how and why it's marketed to the many. Everybody, the entire Earth, has to eat every single day. An entire economy built around ignorance of food is... unsustainable.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I am Dreaming of a Real Kitchen - A Pure Kitchen


The worst thing about being a renter locked out of the housing market in San Francisco was that I had no control over my own "home". I couldn't garden, I couldn't have pets, and I certainly couldn't remodel a kitchen. Now, I'm able to have all of this in BaltiMORE.

Studioroom just launched a new version of Pure Kitchen.com. It's like porn for people like me.

Brooklyn, NY based Pure Kitchen specializes in modern, eco friendly kitchens. Unlike traditional construction, Pure Kitchen products use NO formaldehyde or other harmful agents. Did you know that you can get cabinet panels made entirely out of wheat? They utilize local fabricators, so if your in the North East that means your helping the local economy simply by remodeling your home.

When I finally buy my place, and am able to create the kitchen I've always been dreaming of, it will be a Pure Kitchen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Salad Lover's Dilema (1 calorie = 57 petro-calories)

What's not to love about a good, fresh salad? I love eating my veggies in all forms, but there's nothing like a crunchy, tangy, sweetly dressed salad - which must occupy my lunch and dinner table on a regular basis. Until last week, I used to love the spring mix salad so conveniently available at every super market, until I read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. I was amazed to learn that for every one calorie in spring mix lettuce, it takes fifty seven calories worth of "energy" to get it to my plate. That's right, for every ONE calorie of lettuce you eat, it took FIFTY SEVEN petro-calories just to get it in your front door. A typical spring mix salad serving has about 250 calories, but costs a whopping 14,250 calories of fuel (in gas, transportation, refrigeration, and automation).

This is exactly the problem that Veggie Trader (my newest site) is trying to address, sustainability.

It seems like a no-brainer to me, a foodie. Lettuce is lettuce and all I need to do is source some local leaf. Or, better yet, all I need to do is grow my own salads (and while I'm at it, I might as well grow a lot and trade with my neighbors who are growing tomatoes, flowers, & other stuff).

But I am a gardening virgin. I'm an eater, not a grower. So I've taken my first tentative steps into the mystical world of gardening the easiest way I know how - by following a recipe. I trotted into my local garden center, Valley View Farms, in Hunt Valley, MD. I simply purchased a Jiffy Greenhouse and some lettuce seeds. The Jiffy Greenhouse is a little kit for germinating seeds in convenient little peat pellets. It comes with instructions and a special tray. So far, so good, I've got some happy sprouts eager for more sun, soon to be replanted!

Check out my photo album, The Salad Chronicles, which I'll be adding photos to over the coming weeks. (it will automagically update here in this blog). Please, if you live in the Mid-Atlantic region and want to share your lettuce growing experiences, feel free to leave a comment below. Also, let's make the Veggie Trader blog a resource for foodies and gardeners alike.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dear Sellers - A House is a HOME (Not just an investment)

I am the elusive first time home buyer. I have perfect credit and a cash downpayment, and I am NOT buying...

There are a lot of lovely properties offered for sale all over Baltimore. Yesterday I went to a couple open houses in north Baltimore's Lake Walker neighborhood. I wish I could buy one right now, but they are all too expensive. The agent I spoke to at one house on Highwood street spoke about the new 1st time home buyer tax credit, $8,000.00. It would seem that sellers all of a sudden think their house went UP in value by $8k!!!

The problem with all real estate is that people are expecting a lot of something for nothing, just like the stock market. Too many people are treating homes as if they are equities, something which is just going to be traded around, profiting mainly on the transaction.

As far as I can tell, about %98 of the homes you go and look at need at least, AT LEAST, $20,000 worth of maintenance and repair work. I've also seen properties that need over $200,000 or maintenence and upgrades. It looks like none of this obvious disrepair is factored into the prices of these homes. Why?

FYI people! A house is a home! and I'm not spending money to go live in slum-like building. I don't care if you bought your money trap back in 2007. Why should us first time buyers have to pay for your bad timing?

I want to LIVE in a house, it's NOT just an investment for me. Open your eyes, look at your property before you list it. If if needs work, new systems, new roof, new windows, then acknowlege these facts in your price.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Usability - Do You Believe in the Users?

Human beings are at the very core of User Experience Design. In my line of work (designing websites and software) there is an almost constant conflict between engineers & designers. The tech industry is constantly trying to streamline the way it operates, trading programming efficiency directly for User Experience.

I think everybody in tech is already aware of this imbalance and I was amused to see Google offering some user centered design lectures at their upcoming developer's conference. Here's a funny description of one session;

Do You Believe in the Users?
Too many programmers have forgotten about the lost art of customer service. All software has users, though most developers have forgotten how to respect them, trust them, or “sell” their software to them in an exciting (but honest!) manner. This talk will focus on anecdotes and strategies for keeping software design uncomplicated, making software fast, and putting usability above programming convenience. We’ll also focus on the importance of keeping a healthy illusion of simplicity, while allowing abstractions to deliberately leak for power-users.

Wow. Things must be really bad if Google has to start lecturing a bunch of programmers about usability. I'm almost tempted to attend the conference just so I can see how many people show up for these sessions!

I'm not sure that targeting developers is the most effective way to send this message. The tech industry doesn't need Google to remind them of the obvious. Business leaders in tech simply need to be strategic and invest in design. HIRE A DESIGNER. Work with them. Foster some collaboration. I'm calling for a culture shift in how software is made. Let's end the unhappy marriage of programing and design.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Looking for a Career Path?

Check out Path 101 & their blog. There's some of my latest work and some valuable info here for job seekers too!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Obama Visiting Baltimore on His Whistlestop Tour

We all braved 15 degree temps to see and hear Obama in Baltimore. Onward to History on Tuesday!

From Obama in Baltimore


Really, it's all about the people...
From Obama in Baltimore

Monday, January 5, 2009

Blog in 2009 - 5 Motivating Tips

So you started blogging, or you want to start, but you need motivation. After plugging away at this blog for the past 2 years here are my motivating tips.

1. Find a Muse and just write a lot
Do you have a business? Do you have a lot of clients and contacts? Do you have an interesting hobby or project? A baby? Do you travel a lot? Are you into the news or politics? Do you shop a lot? Pick a topic and don't be shy. The more you post, the more you'll think about blogging, and the more you'll get into the flow.

2. See who reads your blog, add Google Analytics
It's really easy, you cut and paste a small snippet of code from Analytics into your blog template and voila! See who visits your blog, where they are from, and which posts are their favorites. See how search engines connect you to your readers. Get Analytics here.

3. Talk about your blog, old school style promotion
I've found that I can use my blog as a conversation topic at parties, with friends, at work etc. Now instead of talking about a TV show over the water cooler I'm sharing blogs of interest, and my own blog with people. Believe me, you'll post more often when you know you've told all your friends about your blog.

4. Keep the conversation going, comment and link to other people and websites
Don't be a selfish blogger, give a little quid pro quo. Read other peoples blogs and comment as well as you can (don't just drop comments so you can get links back to you). Keep relevant conversations going and make friends you've never met. Link to your blog in Facebook or LinkedIn. Register you blog on Outside.in so your neighbors can find you. More = more online. Have you seen my friend's blog The Breakaway Cook?

5. Turn your snapshots into blog posts
Do you like to take a lot of photos? Are you constantly scouring the web for interesting pictures? You actually don't need so write anything. There are a lot of very successful blogs which are more photos than words. Cute Overload is an awesome example of this.

Now, any questions?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Years Resolutions for Growth

I don't need to loose weight or quit smoking. I don't need to get a job. I don't need a man. I don't really Neeeeed anything! But I want the following in 2009

Learn to play music and DJ

Grow my own veggies and then cook them or can them. Even make booze outta them.

Grow Studioroom

Draw and paint a lot and get that work out there

Travel more, perhaps drive to Talkeetna in May :)

HAPPY 2009!