Monthly Archives: September 2005

A Year at the Pages

Is that like the Yellow Pages online? (I’ve been asked this more than once) No. It’s more like the WHITE Pages online. Today marks my 1 year anniversary working at WhitePages.com. When I started, there were about 50 people in the company, and now as of the end of September, we’ve broken 100 employees. I’ve been in 2 different departments (QA and Product Management), and I’ve had 3 job titles (Advertising Systems Analyst, and Product Manager, recently modified to be Program Manager), and I’ve changed desks 5 times. The most common question I get after people try to figure out exactly what WhitePages.com is, is: “So, what exactly do you do?”

To date, I’ve filed exactly 200 bugs (creepy that it’s such a round number)

I’ve found some strange city names and amusing people names in our database. (And although it wasn’t my doing, there’s also an easter egg on the site.)

I’ve documented, and overseen the releases of a number of partner sites such as these, and a redesign for our largest Canadian partner, Canada411.

I’ve worked on a lot of other projects, but my biggest focus has really been advertising, and trying to find a (moderately) happy balance with usability. I’ve built a lot of the custom ad placements for companies like Vonage, and Match.com, on display here, and alas, some of the sneaky public search ads on no results pages.

Seem boring to you? Well, I’ve quite enjoyed it, so far. It’s exciting to be on the edge of the enormous internet search space, and I get to work with some incredibly smart and talented people. Could the WhitePages.com product be better? It sure could, and we’re working on it.

826 Valencia

Skyler recommended I check out the 826 Valencia, Pirate Supply store before I left San Francisco, so we headed down on Sunday. 826 is the young writers and tutoring workshop started by David Eggers of McSweeney’s fame (and AHWOSG infamy). The pirate store, which is merely a commercial and fund-raising front for the workshop, was pure McSweeeney’s humor. The signs covering the walls were probably the highlight. “When in doubt. Swab.”

826 Valencia

The top half of the building was also covered by a huge comic mural by Chris Ware. The full-size original I posted on Flickr is nearly big enough to read the whole thing.

I wish I’d remembered about 826 NYC and the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. when I was there.

Best of (What I Saw of) Resfest

I took a long weekend this past weekend and went down to San Francisco for a bit of a change of pace. Friday night I went to a couple of the screenings that were part of Resfest. One screening of short videos, and one of electroncic music videos (preview clips at both of those links).

The shorts ranged from heavy CG and animation to basic hand-held documentary style video. By far, the most moving was Dimmer, a video portrait of a blind teenager and other outcasts growing up in a decaying suburb.

The shorts screening the next day (which we didn’t get to) had the heavily buzzed new Chris Cunningham short, “Rubber Johnny” lined up. It was easy to find online and quickly creeped the hell out of me.

Some (definitely not all) of the music videos had higher production values, and bigger names powering them, but they still ranged from ragged animations to CG compositing with live-action footage (that seemed to be a big theme across all of the videos). Since music videos are essentially promotional tools for the artists and musicians, they’re pretty easy to find online. Here are some of the better videos from the screening…

Alias “Sixes Last” (40mb QT) – Eerie, but beautiful combination of nature video footage and CG.

Basement Jaxx “U Don’t Know Me” – This one got a good laugh out of the crowd.

Chemical Brothers “Believe” and “Galvanize” – A more paranoid blend of CG and live action, and then kids that just want to krump, respectively.

Fredo Viola “The Sad Song” – Beautiful song and a creatively simple video shot with the short video feature of a cheap digital still camera.

Faithless “I Want More” – Awe inspiring (and rather frightening) footage of North Korean stage and stadium performances. I had to give this my vote for audience choice music video

With a bit more Googling and checking the Resfest lineup, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a lot of the other mainstream stuff.

Keep the Old, In With the New

Canon PowerShot S230
meet
Canon EOS 350D Rebel XT

Today I brought a new member into my digital imaging family, the Canon Digital Rebel XT. I will keep taking plenty of photos over the next weeks and months as I learn the ins and outs of the camera. I’ll post some of my successes on Flickr, and try to share some of what I learn. My cousin, and my father (I’m still trying to convince his retired, photo-taking butt that Flickr is cool) also recently made the same choices, so I can’t wait to see what they get out of the camera.

Please don’t feel neglected, Elph, you’ll still fit in my pocket when I can’t lug your new big brother around.

A Few Things and a Question

Here are a couple funny TV spots for the LA County Fair (via).

I have to admit I find some of the Andy Milonakis show funny (he’s the kid from the Superbowl is Gay (.wmv) meme), but most of the time it’s just sad. This Anti-Milonakis Show parody sums it up quite well.

My completely non-sequitur question is this… Why do Asian restaurants (yup, I’m making a big generalization here) typically feel the need to use photographs of their food in nearly every piece of advertising on their store? There are a few large American restaurant chains that use food photos prominently on menus and advertising, such as Denny’s and Friendlys* not to mention the fast food chains like McDonalds. Why is it so common at Asian places? Do similar restaurants in their native China and Japan also use photos on their food (I could use some input here from people who have recently been to said countries)? Can anyone come up with a good explanation? My guess is that it’s partially mimicking an American aesthetic, and partially a cultural gap (because the majority of the time, these photos do not make the food look any more appetizing).

After a couple fruitless attempts at Googling an answer to the above, I came across this amusing phone prank.

* Do any of you West-coasters know what Friendly’s is?

Designing Emotional, Everyday Things

Design of Everyday Things Originally published in 1988 as The Psychology of Everyday Things, Donald Norman’s book is still every bit as relevant today. Technology has come a long way in 17 years, but we’re still struggling with many of the same fundamental design and interaction challenges (plus a ton more). This book is still considered a “Bible” to many people in fields that even remotely border on design. It was especially interesting reading many of his thoughts on early computers. He predicted almost every challenge in human-computer interaction that designers wrestled (and still wrestle) with, even as computers and software have now become “everyday” things to most people. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has some interest in design, psychology, human behavior, or door handles. Trust me, after reading this book, you’ll never look at a door handle (or water faucet, or telephone) the same again.

Emotional Design The unofficial “sequel” to The Design of Everyday Things, this book, published in 2004, answers many of the questions left over from before. The most prominent of these is simply, “Do aesthetics matter?” They certainly do, and there are many other aspects of everyday things that can greatly affect our perceptions of them. Norman dives into a number of different types of emotional responses that people have to objects. How do we connect with the things we use, and why do we take pleasure in using certain things? I actually started this book before I finished the other (I tend to do that a lot), and in this case it worked quite nice. It was almost as if present-day Norman was having a conversation with his 16-year-ago self, discussing what he had learned, and extrapolating on the strict “usability” subject of his older book. In addition to the case studies and examples in Emotional Design, there is a lot more theorizing and predicting than in Everyday Things. In my opinion, this didn’t work quite so well, and the book jumps around quite a bit between things such as bottled water, teapots, videogames and robots. In particular, I think his videogame section really missed the mark. There was a great opportunity to explore the psychology of “play” and the different emotional investment involved in games. In a lot of ways, my problems with this book were the same as with Freakonomics. There are so many different case studies, and examples, and ideas that are explored around the loose theme of “emotional design” that they rarely went as in-depth as I would have liked. Norman, still has a lot of interesting thoughts, and maybe the ideas that seem far-fetched or off-base in this book, are how his predictions in Everyday Things would have seemed to the audience at that time. I would still heartily recommend this book, especially to anyone who enjoyed The Design of Everyday Things. Donald Norman also has an excellent website full of essays and articles he’s written, and a fun section titled In Praise of Good Design listing products he’s found with memorable and useful designs.