Category Archives: Thoughts

Bowling advertising on lopolis

I clearly sold out my blog a while ago, but it still caught me by surprise when I checked my last post and saw this big honkin’ thing at the bottom:

Google has done display ads for a while, and it’s also no secret that my most-traffic-getting popular blog post on bowling team names is what brings in all the dough1. At the same time, there are a couple things that struck me about this ad. First off, that’s a giant AT&T logo! My first thought when I saw the ad was actually, “Wow, it’s a new AT&T online advertising network,” followed by, “Or maybe AT&T is trying a viral campaign of fake sites based around non-sequitur hobby-site domain squatting.” Yikes, my mind has gone web geek.

After reconsidering my initial surprise, I think I’m going to leave the ads there. I figure that the loyal readers(?) out there either come to the home page, or read me by RSS, so I’m only bugging the random visitors. Not an ideal customer acquisition strategy, but I’m not exactly screaming for attention here anyway. I’ll take what I can get.

1And by dough, I mean, in one year now I get maybe two of the checks mentioned in the first link of this post instead of one. If you look at Google’s minimum check allowance policy thingy, you can figure how little it is. Almost covers hosting.

High School Reunions are Weird

A little late on the posting here, but a couple weekends ago I flew back to Connecticut to attend my 10-year high school reunion in a whirlwind of a trip. It was the shortest trip back East I’ve done (flew out Friday, flew back Sunday), and I don’t think I want to do it again any time soon. With everything else going on during those two days, it was just exhausting.

A lot of people asked me why I was bothering to go back to the reunion, and honestly, I kind of liked highschool and a lot of the people I went to school with. I knew I’d have regrets if I missed it, so I decided to go for it. The weekend consisted of an informal gathering at the (only) local bar on Friday night, a tour of the highschool Saturday morning, and then the reunion party/cocktails/gathering on Saturday night.

I’ve heard that the 10-year reunion is supposed to be the most fun, but also mostly about bragging and showing off. I did get a sense of this from a lot of people and probably did a good bit of it myself. But equally so, I heard a lot of people almost discontent with their jobs or where they’re at, and not spending much time blabbing about it. Overall, it seemed like everyone was genuinely (surprisingly) interested in just chatting and hanging out with each other.

There was plenty of standard reunion gossip too. Who got fatter, who got skinnier, who looked exactly the same, married, kids, and so on… There were only a couple people that I had a really hard time recognizing. I think somewhere around 80 people showed up out of our class of about 150.

Long story short, I had a great time. My only complaint was that the reunion itself was a little too short. Trying to catch up with so many people within the 3 hour time block was impossible. A lot of people stuck around for an extra hour afterwards, or went to various after-parties, but a little more variety to the reunion event itself might have been nice. And c’mon, no cheesy DJ playing our old high school favorites?

5 years in Seattle

Seattle Sunset

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living in Seattle for 5 years now. I drove out here from Connecticut in July of 2002 without much of a plan, but it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. In my time here, I’ve worked a few different odd jobs but now feel like I’ve found a great niche in the web/technology industry that I hardly knew existed back when I was in school.

I originally intended to stay for just a year or two and then move back East, but I caught the Northwest bug pretty bad and the years have just flown past. I’m still feeling quite happy about the city and the surrounding area, and I know there’s a ton more that I have yet to discover. Am I going to stay here forever? Probably not, but when I’m asked that question now it’s harder and harder to say exactly when I might think of leaving.

Who knows what the next 5 years will hold.

Interaction Design of a Wedding Invitation RSVP

I received a lovely invitation to a friend’s wedding the other day. It was very formal, as expected, with the typical “Mr. and Mrs. so-and-so request your presence at…” language. And then I came to this RSVP card:

Wedding RSVP

What’s the correct way to fill this out? I figured out that the “M____” line is to put my name, so that was clear enough. Just using an “M” at the start of the line lets you put “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Ms.” as your title, to keep with the original formal language. But what about the “will ___ attend”?

Well, if I’m not attending I simply write: “will not attend”. OK, that’s easy. But I am attending. Now what? Some options:

  1. will X attend – An “X” or a checkmark might do it, but looks really tacky. It’d be more appropriate to use these if there was in fact a checkbox for the “will not attend” option too. So that’s not going to work.
  2. will yes attend – Now that’s some bad grammar. Writing “not” keeps the sentence correct, but “yes” isn’t an effective opposite and it breaks the sentence.
  3. will definitely attend – There we go, we’ve made a sentence that makes sense. We could also use, “absolutely”, “positively”, “certainly” or any number of other affirmative words. But that little line doesn’t really give you enough space. I’m guessing this is wrong.
  4. will probably attend – Line space issue aside, this has got to be a major wedding RSVP faux pas. You generally don’t plan for “maybe” guests at a wedding, so that’s right out.
  5. will ___ attend – Leave it blank. Grammatically and formally, this seems best since it forms a nice sentence, “Mr. C. Taylor will attend.” But leaving it blank makes me a little uneasy. Is simply mailing this back enough to positively confirm that I’ll be there?
  6. will ___ attend your wedding to the best of his ability. – Ah ha, leaving it blank but writing something afterwards! I mean, what if some catastrophe happens on that day and I can’t make it even though I’ve said yes. This option covers my bases. But alas, scribbling in the rest of the sentence might not be too classy (then again, there’s no period after “attend” so maybe it’s open for expansion).

A quick Google search confirmed that option 5 is indeed the proper etiquette for replying on this type of invitation. Couldn’t this be less of a nerve-wracking choice? I mean, the proper way to answer the question is to not answer it. Checkboxes, while uglier, would be more reassuring since I’ve got a clear yes/no choice.

But actually, checkboxes aren’t even the best choice for this type of one-or-the-other decision. We need invitation response cards with radio buttons.

How do you describe what you do?

This is an actual conversation I’ve had a couple times:

Them: “What do you do for work?”
Me: “I’m a Program Manager at a web company.”
Them: “Oh, so you’re a Manager.”
Me: “No, not exactly.”
Them: “Then you’re a Programmer.”
Me: “Not exactly. I’m actually more like a…”

At that point I’d often try a variety of metaphors, none of which really conveyed the true sense of what I did (nor were they all that glamorous), “translator”, “middleman”, “interface”, “coordinator”. Somewhat sadly, “middleman” is probably the closest. I’m in between the business folk and the tech folk and I make sure they both understand each other. And then sometimes I throw in the exciting point that I write documentation to achieve this communication from the business to the engineers. I “manage” the “program”. I always hated saying that, but it’s true. We wrangle all the folk together, make sure they’re talking, sticking to the things that the business requested, and figuring out how it’ll all fit with the way the website/product/whatever currently exists. Of course the roles can be drastically different depending on where you are. And that’s without even throwing in the other PMs; Product Management, and Project Management.

And now I have to figure out a whole new awkward spiel about what I do, when I now say, “I’m an Information Architect”. I’ll babble about how it’s organizing the information, and features in a product to best fit the user’s needs, and how it involves user research, testing, and getting inside the mind of the user. I’ll have to borrow some of the explanation from the good Wikipedia entry on Information Architecture. I may not even need a metaphor for what I do, since a pretty good one is already in the title; “Architect.” Reversing the title in the same way and saying that I “architect” the “information” is pretty close to it. But for the sake of confusion, try sorting out the fuzzy lines between: Interaction Design, Interface Design, Product Design, Experience Design, User Experience Design, Usability Engineer and Information Architecture.

There are plenty of common cross-industry jobs that are much easier to understand. A Sales-person is a Sales-person. A General Manager is a General Manager. An Accountant is an Accountant.
Do you find yourself in a position where it’s tough to explain? How does the conversation usually go? Any good metaphors?

Kicking off the Two-Double-Oh-Seven

Space Needle Fireworks Happy belated New Year! I had a great holiday back home in CT and returned to a busy Seattle, just as I left it. So far, work has been… interesting… There are plenty of people and things to catch up with… an exciting Seahawks playoff game… getting stuck in Snoqualmie Pass traffic trying to go snowboarding… and some crazy Winter weather that’s more suited for New England. And now we’re into the New Year, full force.

Do I have any New Year’s resolutions? No, I don’t really go for those. I think Sam captured my attitude perfectly when she wrote:

I don’t confine my resolutions to this time of year. After all, there’s a whole year in which to neurotically commit myself to making massive changes in my life which I’ll then blow off a week later!

There’s nothing I’d resolve to do now that I haven’t already resolved weeks or months or years ago. So what now? Well, there’s a whole new year of fun to be had and plenty of changes to be made (planned or not). Now to kick myself back into this blogging thing. Watch out, or I’m gonna blog the shit out of this year. Happy 2007!

5 Facts That Not Many People Know About Me

I don’t usually hop on these memes, but I’ve been tagged and certainly don’t want to be the one to break this modern day chain letter. The name of the game is to list 5 interesting/odd/unique things about yourself that most people may not know.

1. I play (or at least know how to play) the bagpipes. I learned at Trinity College, where I joined the Trinity Pipes and Drums in it’s founding year. We performed on campus, hosted a campus Ceilidh, and marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Hartford, CT (in the sleet/freezing rain).

2. I have a 1 inch diameter birthmark on the inside of my left ankle. And even after all these years, I can never remember which ankle it’s on without checking.

3. In highschool I took a series of computer art classes, where I did 3D animation on some old Amiga computers. An animation of mine was accepted into SIGGRAPH 97 as part of the Student Poster and Animation Competition and Exhibition. As the only highschool entry in animation, I guess I “won” my category. I didn’t win anything except the honor of having my animation played as part of the collection loop, on a TV at a small booth just outside the exhibition hall. I attended SIGGRAPH 97 in LA (during a heat wave) that summer, and didn’t even get a free admission, although I still had a great time.

4. My parents own a Christmas tree farm in New Hartford, CT. I think it’s about 5 acres, and I spent many a summer with more than enough yard/farm work to keep me busy if I wanted. Worst job ever: Trimming the white pines in August with a heavy machete, wearing long sleeves and pants for protection.

5. Proudest moment from grade school is when I tripped the neighborhood bully as he was walking down the aisle to get off the school bus. He couldn’t catch himself and fell flat on his face in the middle of the bus, with everyone laughing. He got up, shaken, and then turned and punched me in the top of the head. I’m positive it hurt his hand much more than my head. He didn’t bother us quite as much after that.

Well, there you have it. 5 things you may or may not have known. Now it’s your turn. Tag, suckers:

Pet Peeve: E-mail is not Instantaneous

I just received a phone call from an external party that I’ve been working with on a project. It started off like this:

Him: “Hi Chase, do you have a couple minutes to chat?”
Me: “Yeah, sure.”
Him: “OK, excellent. I have a question for you. Here, I’m sending you an e-mail with a couple URLs in it… and… OK, I just sent it.”
Me: [clicking send/receive… clicking send/receive] “While I’m waiting, can you explain what the question is?”

It turns out the question was dead simple, and really didn’t require the supporting URLs to clarify. I answered his question, wrapped up the conversation, and hung up. 30 seconds later his e-mail finally appeared in my inbox.

Aside from my slight annoyance at starting a phone conversation with: “Do you have a couple minutes to chat?” (if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have answered the phone), or the sending of the e-mail after the phone call is started… what really bugs me is the common misconception that e-mail is instantaneous. Sure, you can send me an e-mail and most of the time it’ll get delivered pretty quick, but “pretty quick” can range from 30 seconds to minutes, to hours (or to days if there are more serious server issues). Because people have become so used to the more common quick deliveries, they come to expect them and rely on them, and in turn they get frustrated when delivery is delayed. This write-up about e-mail from the University of California, is the first result for a search on “email is not instantaneous” and it covers many other realities of e-mail.

This is really a basic case of taking something for granted. We all do it in various ways, and it’s a particularly interesting issue when it comes to delivering products or services. If my product is only designed to realiably do a task in say, 10 minutes, but it regularly does it faster, then how do I address user complaints when it starts taking the full 10 minutes again? That’s a whole different can of worms about controlling user expectations and properly communicating what “normal” behavior should be. Now that e-mail has become so commonplace, and technology has brought it to near-instantaneous speeds, it would be entirely impractical/obnoxious for e-mail clients to start popping up a dialog box each time I send a message, saying: “This could take an hour or more to send.” Even worse, what if e-mail server technology automatically dialed itself down to the more reliable speeds (I know it could never work with the architechture of the internet). Should we design popular products to only perform as promised? No, that’s certainly not an answer either, and designers that purposefully “cripple” their products in these ways are annoying.

With e-mail, it’s clearly too late to manage expectations. The common misconception/expectataion of e-mail being instantaneous can be frustrating, and is a pet-peeve of mine. Keep in mind that things won’t always behave the way you’re used-to, and the last thing I want is to sit on the phone with you while refreshing my inbox.

Personal Finance and Money Blogs

I’ve never been great at saving or managing my money. But in the past couple years I’ve finally settled into a decent job where I’m no longer living month to month, and I have a bit of money to set aside. Last Christmas my father gave me a book titled, The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing. As I opened it, even before I could say anything, my father says, “It’s not that I think you’re lazy…” I laughed it off.

I read the book in the next month and it really does give some solid starting advice for saving and investing. It’s by no means a “how to play the stock market” book. It’s quite the opposite. It clearly lays out a smart, sensible approach to saving, focusing on a well-diversified portfolio. As I read it, I thought, “Woah! Wait a minute. I’ve got nothing that could even resemble a ‘portfolio’ let alone enough money to start a well-diversified one.” But it was simple to start thinking in those terms. It doesn’t take much to move some of your 1.5% yearly interest bank savings to a Vanguard fund that’ll earn you anywhere from a 5% to 10% annualized return over a number of years. It’s a lot less intimidating than it seems.

As a result of some of these new learnings, I’ve started reading some more personal finance and money weblogs. Some good starting points:

  • Paul B. Farrell’s columns on MarketWatch.com. The author of the Lazy Person’s Guide writes regularly with a lot of the same good advice.
  • Get Rich Slowly also gives a lot of great advice on saving, and finding places to cut costs in your life. Frugality isn’t always fun, but seeing the results of savings sure is.
  • Wheaties For Your Wallet is a blog for the upcoming Wesabe.com. It provides some good advice for consumers, investors and the money-conscious, in advance of whatever service Wesabe.com is going to offer in that area.
  • Mutual Improvement is a blog from the 43 Things creators, and is a little more focused on personal improvement along the lines of the classic Lifehacker.com, and has had a number of interesting posts lately.
  • StopBuyingCrap.com is, oddly enough, about crap, that companies try to make you buy. Stop buying it.

And if that’s not enough, Get Rich Slowly just posted this roundup of personal development sites with plenty more options.

Start with the little things. Save a little money. Plan for the future. Yadda, yadda. Turns out there’s some truth to all those things our parents told us when we were younger.

You Know You’re No Longer in the City When

  1. The first people to enter the restaurant after you are all wearing cowboy hats.
  2. The next couple are both wearing black leather biker chaps (non-ironically, and very non-gay).
  3. The next two guys to walk in look 16 years old and they’re in full hunting camouflage.
Three Fingered Jack's

The past two days, I drove up to the North Cascades and around and down to do the full Cascade Loop. The scenery was amazing. The above was from my stop over in Winthrop, which is trying very hard to be a quaint little “authentic” Western town. More on the full trip soon.

Paper or Plastic: Choose Your Environmentally-Conscious Battle

Paper of plastic? When I get to the end of the checkout line at the supermarket, I still find myself struggling with this question. I know the real environmentally friendly answer is: bring your own bag. I would never remember to carry a set of reusable canvas shopping bags with me every time I stop by the grocery store, so I’ve got to discount this option. When given the choice between paper and plastic, which is really better for the environment?

I began thinking to myself… Plastic requires petroleum to produce, and isn’t biodegradeable. Paper degrades nicely, but producing paper requires cutting down trees to produce (assuming the paper bags aren’t made from recycled paper already), but trees are more easily renewable than natural gas or oil. What if I’m extra good about bundling and recycling my plastic bags, or reusing them, does that matter? Common practice seems to suggest paper is the more ethical way to go, but I keep getting hung up on the tree thing again and I really wasn’t sure how much water the argument held.

I’m obviously not the first one to think about this, and a Google search for “paper or plastic” yields some surprising results. Believe it or not, the first result is for this page on plasticbag.com, location of the the Film & Bag Federation, a division of The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc.. Great! I bet they’ll give me all the facts! Their “information” basically consists of, “Look at all these other uses for your extra plastic bags!”

Going through the other results, I was surprised to find even more indecision, and a slight leaning towards plastic. A number of places listed statistics about how the energy required to produce paper bags is actually greater than that of plastic. This article from Bankrate.com (!?) seemed to have some of the best facts and the consensus is a resounding: neither. They’re both pretty bad and there’s no clear winner. I guess that answers my question. Maybe I will start reusing bags like the good ‘ol granola Seattle-ite I pretend to be.

Superman vs. Superman

SupermanBefore seeing Superman Returns this past weekend, I decided to Netflix the original Superman movie last week (Special Edition, actually, with a few extended scenes). Despite the slow pacing of the original, and the primitive effects, I still thought it held up quite well. I was a huge fan of the movies (at least the first two) growing up, and I still got chills when the Superman logo filled the screen, with the John Williams score playing in the background. Christopher Reeve really was perfect in the dual role of Clark Kent and Superman. Every mannerism as the awkward Kent seemed to fit, down to the action of pushing his over-size glasses back up the bridge of his nose every time he bumped into something or fumbled. There was some surprisingly clever dialogue in the original movie, and some jokes I’m sure I never understood as a kid.

Continue reading

Time, Money and Lawyers

Last night, for some unknown reason, my dream contained a little lesson in law and economics:  When it comes to legal matters, time, money and results are all directly proportional.

I suppose it’s mostly true.  The more time and money spent on a case, the better results.  Want better results, spend more money, and your lawyers will take longer.  It’s not exactly the most revolutionary nugget of wisdom, and it applies to almost everything, not just law.  I have no idea why my subconscious was so intent on my tossing and turning in the middle of the night with this thought in my head.  I wish I remembered other specifics from the dream, but this is all I got, over and over.  Hmmm… Is there legal trouble in my future?

The Weird Things That Work Teaches You

As with any job, there is certain knowledge you gain that you never would have gotten anywhere else. It’s part of the never-ending learning process, yadda, yadda… But what about those random bits of trivia that a job trains you with, but are also somewhat useful outside of work? In addition to the acronyms, and industry-specific jargon, I realized a few other random things that my job indirectly teaches me…

Holidays: I’ve never been great at remembering the specific dates of random holidays like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. But now that I work on an ad-supported website, I get plenty of advance warning for each one. Lo and behold there are Mother’s Day ads running on the site! I better look for a gift!

Thursdays: Did you know August 10th is a Thursday? How about October 5th? June 15th? Since all of our production release dates fall on Thursdays, I see these dates float around all the time in scheduling meetings. On rare occasion this random bit of knowledge has been helpful for figuring out dates outside of work.

Division/Multiplication by 1000: OK, so this one is super easy even without help from work. In web advertising everything is calculated by CPC (cost per 1000 clicks) or more commonly CPM (cost per 1000 impressions). This has taught me how to move a decimal point back and forth 3-places in my head like no other. There is little practical use for this in the real world.

I can also list a fairly big number of telephone service providers across the country, but that’s rather industry-specific and especially boring. I’m sure there are plenty of other little things that just aren’t coming to mind at the moment (see how meaningful this knowledge is!).

What kind of strange little talents has your job trained you with?