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Lockjaw

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Dogs Chilling in the Park

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These three dogs were chilling in the park near the Cloisters one day.

These three dogs were chilling in the park near the Cloisters one day.

Washington Square Park Dancer 2

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Dancers in the Park

Dancers in the Park

Washington Square Park Musician

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Musicians in Washington Square Park

Musicians in Washington Square Park

Dancers in Washington Square Park

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Dancers in the Park

Dancers in the Park

Post-Sandy Photos from Upper Manhattan

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Trees down, some damage, evidence of the high-water mark by the river, and the George Washington Bridge devoid of cars.

Lunchtime in New York Before Hurricane Sandy Rolls In

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The Buffy Project is Over. I Tried

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I tried. I really did. My plan was to watch, and blog about watching, the entire series of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Unfortunately, the process of blogging it was the most interesting part of the process. Watching the actual show was pretty darned boring.

No offense meant if you’re a fan. Me? I’m not. At least this means I don’t need to watch “Angel” too.

What’s Wrong With Facebook (and TimeLine Ain’t It)

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Once upon a time there was a website called MySpace. Myspace was popular, and got invited to all the parties. You never knew what MySpace would show up wearing, but it was usually something crazy and flash, designed to make it stand out. MySpace also had a habit of getting drunk and taking over the music, randomly switching from genre to genre, and from today’s hits to that one song that sounds like someone took a chainsaw to a sick horse. Sure, MySpace was fun to have around, but after the party the whole place seemed to have been redecorated. Why is the paint on the back wall flashing again?

The bottom line is, MySpace became so annoying that its users started to hate it, and Facebook came along to save the day.  MySpace is still out there, and nobody cares.

Facebook learned a lot from the MySpace failure. They locked down the design to keep the feel of the site uniform from space to space. They offered more features, while paying close attention to MySpace’s annoyances for what to avoid.  It was easy.  MySpace was on top, and Facebook positioned itself as the “better” version.  It was true.  Facebook was the best full-featured social media service. This is no longer true.

Sure, Facebook is the biggest. When you’re the biggest, you can do what you want. This, at its root, is what’s wrong with Facebook. With the largest user-base, no real competition, and plenty of money to invest, Facebook can move quickly to implement new features and strategies. Ideas can be designs, which can become tests, which can then become finished code in a short timeframe, and with that ability the features backlog starts to grow.

This is how TimeLine comes into being. Someone decided that the individual users’ pages on Facebook needed improvement. Ideas were tossed around.  How do you put more content on the visible page, yet keep a good flow? Someone had the idea of drawing a timeline, and then pointing each post at its spot on the timeline.  Users will still have a visual cue, but they can go left and right to read all the content.  It’s BRILLIANT!

The problem is, it is not brilliant. Timeline forces a bad workflow on the reader. It clutters the design of the page.  It makes it harder to find information you need, when you’re visiting someone else’s page.  What’s worse, it makes it MUCH harder to follow the flow of a person’s output through time, which is exactly the problem Timeline is supposed to solve.

It’s not just Timeline, though. The main page sort defaults to an “important people first” methodology, which always puts my Mother-In-Law in my first-read position. There’s a little “sort” link attached to the “write something” box, which apparently doesn’t affect the “write something” box at all but sorts the content below it either in “important people first” or “in order by time) which is the proper way.  Of course, it defaults to the wrong way.

It’s easy enough to change the sort, once you’ve discovered it Be careful, though.  There’s a little “down arrow” beside the sort that looks like a sort button. It’s lined up just right at the top of the  column.  That’s actually a post-specific options menu. Most designers put something like this along with the other actions for that object, but Facebook’s UI people decided that intuitive just wasn’t good enough this time.

Aside from changing it every time you visit the site (it is at least sticky within that session, or until I close my browser) there are two options you have.  One is to train it, and the other is to go into your settings and change the default sort.  Try as I might, I couldn’t find an option to set the default sort. It’s a stupid feature to force on your users, but if that’s the game they want to play I’ll just start training the algorithm.

I spent weeks telling Facebook that my Mother-In-Law wasn’t important enough to be at the top of my feed.  Nothing personal against my Mother-In-Law, but there are really only three people I care to see at the top.  My wife, my son, and my Mother are the only three people I care to see out of series.

That sweet lady who worked a few seats from me at an old job?  Not that important. The high-school friends that I haven’t seen in years?  They don’t go to the top. My best friends don’t go to the top. Every time I saw the wrong person sorted to the top, I’d use the little menu to try to tell Facebook that they aren’t THAT important.  Facebook isn’t a very good learner, though.  It never worked.

Let me repeat that one more time.

FACEBOOK IS NOT A VERY GOOD LEARNER.

Facebook keeps making features that de-hance the user experience of the site.  The site has grown more cluttered, more ugly, and more confusing as time has passed.  Controversial features are revealed, reviled, avoided, accidentally turned on, complained about, and finally forced on the users that have worked so hard to keep it at bay. They take weeks, or months to go through the process of taking a feature from “announced” to “forced on the users.” Don’t you worry, though, Facebook friends, that feature will be forced on you one day.

How could this be fixed?

Facebook needs some “No Men.”  Something tells me that “No” isn’t something that goes over well at Facebook.  This could have something to do with the recent exodus of major developers from the site. Either the UI Design Team(s) do as they are told and make the best of bad ideas, or they’re hiring some bad talent.  Something tells me that feature requests come from the executive level, and the UI teams do what they can to fit the ideas into the site.

Did someone sit in a meeting and say, “Timeline is a bad idea that will make navigation harder, comprehension harder still, destroys workflow, breaks the design of the overall site, and totally piss off a major percentage of our user-base?” Did anyone care if they did?

What’s wrong with Facebook isn’t Timeline, or sorting, or lack of configurability, security concerns, the hiding of the personal options menu, or any of the other niggling little things that drive its users crazy.  The problem with Facebook is that it doesn’t care what the users think or want. It’s a common thing in software development.  It usually comes from the top, and it is usually up to the ones with the skills to make up for the bad executive decisions such as Timeline.

I like Facebook well enough. I like being able to stay in touch with family and friends, especially now that I’m living in New York City. Facebook gives me a way to share my life in my new city with my family back home. Because Facebook has had so many bad features forced on me, it takes longer for me to get started and handle my social business. In order to use Facebook the way I want, I have to spend more time on the site doing non-useful things.  Instead, I spend MUCH less time on the site.

Let me make that much clearer, just-in-case Mark Zuckerberg reads this. I spend FAR less time on Facebook these days.  The primary reason for this is that new features are making it harder for me to “facebook.” Between bad sorting (first fix each session), slow scripts, auto-refreshing while I’m reading down-page, the inability to block content re-shared from groups, the silly right-side trying to get me to use yet another stupid feature (best friends now?  Really?  Don’t we have friend grouping for that?), and the inability to change much of anything to improve personal workflow, I’ve started actively disliking the site. It’s not Facebook I despise.  It’s the Facebook website I despise.

So, Facebook, want to learn how to fix all this?  Want to know what you can do to make your users like you again?

How about, for once, giving a damn what they think?

Edit: Here is a great article about someone that’s decided to quit Facebook, and why. It’s a familiar pattern.

The Buffy Project: Two Bad Seasons Down but Things Are Looking Up

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No, I haven’t forgotten about the Buffy Project. The quest continues to watch the entire “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV show from start to finish, and blog the experience. I knew that it was a bad idea going in.  No, not a bad idea to watch the show.  The bad idea was to start at the beginning.

If you’ve read my previous Buffy Project posts, you know that the show has been meeting my rather low expectations. Now that I’ve finished season two, not much has changed.  It’s not a bad show, mind you. It’s just that they’re seasons one and two.

The second season came in fits.  I’d watch an episode or two, and then none for a while. Since starting season two I’ve watched the entire Netflix runs of Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Black Books, Spaced, Archer, and Bob’s Burgers. I’ve watched parts of the original Star Trek, Nikita, Top Gear, Doctor Who, Psych, Greg the Bunny, The Good Guys, and Darker than Black. I’ve read all three Hunger Games novels, the Harry Potter series (and the movies), one James Patterson, a Terry Pratchet, and Andrew Breitbart’s excellent, but last book. I’m currently working my way through Cryptonomicon. You might say that I’ve done everything but the Buffy Project.

I buckled down again lately, and started catching an episode or two at a time again. I began to dread the end of the season, because that would mean the end of procrastination.  How do you blog about watching a show which isn’t good enough to love, but isn’t bad enough to abandon once blog-honor is on the line?

Luckily, the final two-parter happened.  Everything gets twisted.  She admits to her Mom that she’s a Vampire-slayer. One friend (albeit a short-lived one) dies, another kidnapped, and the third hurt. At the end it’s Buffy, teamed with her worst enemy in a fight to defeat her boyfriend.

I realized why I haven’t been able to enjoy the show, as I watched the last episode of the season. At no point have I felt emotionally invested in the characters.  They’ve grown.  Interesting things have happened.  Still, though, these people on my screen are just characters.  No big deal.

At the end of season two, however, that’s starting to change.  I’m starting to get a connection with the characters. This is a good thing, because I’ve believed all along that season three is where the show really starts. I won’t repeat the theory here as it is not unique, terribly insightful, nor short.  See previous posts.

Next up?  Season three.  If it lives up to expectations, I don’t expect to wait until the end of the season to post.

Thoughts?

How to Communicate With Geeks

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A lot of “normal people” tend to have trouble understanding geeks. In companies around the world, IT departments are avoided, because the people there have such a different method of communication. Marketing and Sales departments, in particular, tend to see the geeks down in IT or Development departments as an alien race.

I will postulate that the problem isn’t that geeks are seen as alien. The problem is that they aren’t treated that way. The “normal people” think the best way to communicate is by following “normal people” rules. Instead, they should treat their interactions with geeks as they would first contact with an alien race. This alien race happens to be able to speak the same language, but underneath they draw from a completely different set of memories and experiences.

When approaching this alien race known as geeks, it is important that one not make wild, unpredictable movements or noises. This can cause hostility or wariness, and is not conducive to effective communication. When approaching, carefully observe the geek’s actions. If the geek is busy on a task, quietly move into peripheral vision, six to ten feet away if possible. This may not be possible in a common urban geek lair known as the cubicle. In this case, stand quietly on one side of the door and wait to be noticed.

If you are noticed, but not acknowledged, it is safe to say something at this point. Choose your words carefully. Safe things to say at this point include the following:

“When you have a moment…” There is no continuation to this incomplete sentence. This is interpreted as either the start or end of a sentence. Allow the geek to complete the sentence mentally if they wish, but do not complete it yourself. Anything you use to complete the sentence may cause this contact to go horribly wrong.

“I can wait.” This simply conveys that you value the geek’s time, and that you are willing to trade a bit of your own time unproductively waiting while the geek produces. Underlying this is an understanding that geeks, throughout history, are the ones who brought us the greatest improvements from the wheel to the Internet. Who knows what this geek will accomplish with the time you value?

“I have an emergency.” This says to the geek that something very horrible is going wrong, and that the specific geek skills needed to avert complete disaster are being requested. This can greatly reduce or eliminate the wait time while the geek finds a stopping point in their current activity. I should also note the importance that this only be used in real emergencies. Your reliability in judging what constitutes an emergency will be a major factor in whether you will eventually be accepted in heavily-populated geek communities.

Once you have been acknowledged by the geek, you may approach. Step closer, but no closer than three feet. A submissive posture is also important if you are in the geek’s home environment, so stooping to be closer to eye-level is a perfectly acceptable posture. In a cubicle-home, you may ask if you can sit in the second chair, if there is one.

Now it is time to present your gift. If this is your first interaction with this particular geek, you might use an opening line at this point before getting into the business you came for. An acceptable opening line is, “You’re exactly the person I need for this stuff.” This is a show of great respect. You are acknowledging the superior abilities of the geek in an as-yet-unnamed area. There is also a promise of a puzzle that needs to be solved. Perhaps, if the geek is very lucky, the puzzle will be a new one.

If this is not the first time meeting this particular geek, then your gift needs no wrapping. It is time to state your problem. State it clearly and concisely. Context is good, if relevant. If the explanation is complicated, then reduce it to simple bullet-points and give those first, fleshing them out with detail afterward. The geek needs a simple overall picture to be presented, followed by the details. Following your presentation comes the Q&A.

Expect questions. Don’t expect many questions, but do expect them to go into details that had never occurred to you. Answer honestly, even if you do not know. In some environments, the geek may be able to find your answers for you. If not, do not forget the questions. Write them down if you cannot immediately commit them to memory.

Some research time may be required. If there is quiet time during the research phase of this contact, then social small-talk is acceptable. Neutral subjects are best, though it may not always be possible to know what is neutral. Mentioning the weather may result in an analysis of the cumulonimbus cloud formations, and the likelihood of stormy weather further East in an hour. You want to avoid deeper subjects that might be distracting, sticking to subjects which require little thought. This allows the geek to keep the conversation within the automated portions of their mindspace. A non-automated response requires a shift in concentration. Like a car, concentration is much easier to stop than to get back up to speed.

Geeks have compartmentalized brains, you see. There are three major portions that matter. There is the main processing center, where active thought occurs. There is the background processing center, where great ideas go to work while the main processing center is in “play” mode. Third is the automation center. The automation center of the brain handles everything that doesn’t require much thought. Most “normal people” use quite a bit of the automation center’s capacity for social interactions. Social interactions a highly-complex application, and true success requires that most of it be automated. A geek uses the automation center of the brain for other things, and processes more advanced social behavior in the main processing center. It’s a trade-off, but a geek never loses his keys.

At the end of the research time comes the conclusion of the contact. You will receive your answer. The answer may be complete. It may be a set of options, each with its own tests that you can perform to determine which is true. It may be a request for more information.

If you need to get more information, then you should be able to prove that you understand what information you are gathering. Say, “I need to get for you,:” followed by a concise list of the questions you need to answer. The geek may clarify. Take notes. This is a test.

Similarly, if you are given a range of options, you should be prepared to repeat those options along with the test that accompanies each option. I hope you wrote all this down.

Got your answer? Great! Now for the closer. You must close with yet another acknowledgment of the geek’s superiority. “I don’t know where I’d be without you,” in this context is considered to be high praise. Do not be offended if the response seems derisive, but we all know the geek is correct in saying, “You’d be screwed.”

Given the proper preparation and understanding of geek society, it is possible for “normal people” to navigate. I hope that this lesson has been helpful.

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