Stuff and nonsense

I just posted this to my UI design class discussion board:

Awe-inspiring info design…though the current menu is now only 6 pages :(

“Two years ago, Calvin Trillin wrote an article for the New Yorker about Shopsin’s, an eccentric eatery in the West Village with about 9 billion menu items… Shopsin’s has moved to another Village location since the article came out, but they’ve still got that big old menu. If you dare, feast your eyes on a tour de force of outsider information design, all 11 pages of the Shopsin’s General Store menu…”

via xblog

This link, however, will NEVER find its way to Blackboard (turn the volume up REAL LOUD):

I laughed out loud

“So the governor of New York is just another big-spending liberal. Imagine, $4,300 for one night with a lady. Any self-respecting fiscal conservative would find a willing partner in an airport…

I laughed out loud

"Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth."

Stephen Fry » Blog Archive » Bored of the dance

The problem we always return to is bandwidth. Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. Who would not prefer to pootle along the country lanes in a flowered gypsy caravan, rather than blast down the motorway in a colossal juggernaut? Trouble is, when you’ve a certain number of deliveries to make a van just isn’t big enough. Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. I sound like a 30s schoolgirl with a lisp. Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. What is she saying? Something to do with sandwiches perhaps? Or bandits. Bandits eating sandwiches and wearing bandages? We’ll never know.

Halving, doubling, and Virginia Woolf

When I am asked, "Why did you decide to go back to school?" or "How in the world can you work a full-time job and take two classes at the same time?", I can often provide at least 43 separate answers. That is the blessing and curse of my loquacious gift, which makes essay-writing easy but a succinct answer impossible.

I have a couple of good reasons I toss out about why I prefer taking two classes at a time: I often find points of unexpected connection between the classes, which I wouldn't find were I taking them one at a time; I'm going to be old by the time I get this degree, so let's hurry it up; I find the pressure of the second class provides time/energy constraints that force me to think creatively about my schedule, priorities; and so on.

Those are all nice, quantitative answers. But there's another, bigger reason that also goes to the heart of why I came back to school in the first place. I can't remember where I read it, but it's a quote by Virginia Woolf that goes approximately thusly:

After the age of forty, a novelist must either halve her output or double it.

For whatever reason, that quote and its idea has stuck with me. If you've published or written a lot in your early career, Woolf's advice is to slow the output and create fewer, denser works. But if you've thought more than you've written, then you need to use your remaining time to better advantage.

When I look at my last 25 years or so, I see that my output has been low. Others who look at my life may disagree, but for me, emotionally, I think I could have done more. Probably lots of people feel that way about their own lives.

So, one of my reasons for going back to school was to boost my output and make as much of the time and energy left to me as I can. Yes, I'm racing around like a maniac, I'm frequently overwhelmed, and my task diary is a paper-based super-collider of conflicting tasks, projects, and personal obligations. But--and here's the punchline-- I'm learning, writing, and producing a quantity and variety of material that, in my opinion, dwarfs what I have tried to attempt to do on my own over the last 10 years. And since I have the energy and the stamina now to take it all on, I want to make the most of this time and this opportunity.

Speed Networking

The SILS Alumni Association held a speed networking event earlier this week. It’s the second one I attended and, although fewer students showed up this year than last year, I thought it went very well.The “mentors” – either SILS alums or local folks working in the IS/LS domains who have ties to SILS – sat inside a U-shaped line of tables, while the students moved from chair to chair every 3 minutes at the ring of Pavlov’s bell. Here are some thoughts on what I liked about it and why I think the experience was valuable.

  • It gets you talking to people. We’re not, after all, the business or performing arts school. We’re mostly a group of introverts, some of us more sociable than others, granted, but it’s tough to get us talking to strangers. A 3-minute speed-networking event with the emphasis on communication and fact-finding levels the playing field wonderfully and I think gets people talking with an urgency they wouldn’t have at a polite meet’n’greet.
  • You learn to start marketing yourself. With only 3 minutes total, I had to hone my spiel to something quick so that we could actually discover whether we had much to say to each other. It took me about 4 or 5 tries to get this right, and even then, I tweaked it based on the feedback I received. Unnatural, perhaps, but is a job interview more natural? The only way to get better is to practice, and this event provided that.
  • You learn some basic chat skills. See “talking to people” above. Because I’m IS (Information Science), and the majority of mentors there were LS (Library Science), I’d sometimes fall back to standard questions: “Tell me about your library,” “What kind of work do you do,” that kind of thing, to make them feel OK about talking to to an obvious interloper. Alas, I was flummoxed when, just as I was finishing my screed, the young woman I was talking to smiled and asked, “Do you like working with children?” Ah, a children’s librarian! We both laughed but I’m embarrassed to say I never recovered my aplomb and fum-fuh’d till the bell rang.
  • Overview of the local field and the profession generally. By talking to lots of people working at different places, it’s possible to gauge the health of the local market and get peoples’ takes on the profession as a whole. Will there be jobs available when I eventually graduate? Where’s the demand? What are some of the problems they’re having to figure out? You can absorb very quickly a range of job descriptions and experiences. I also could feel myself, as I talked to folks, get excited or a little bored by the subject matter of the conversation. With no time to indulge in the deep thinking we INTJs like to wallow in, I reacted honestly to the subjects I’m more naturally interested in. (And yes, I am separating the message from the messenger here, not confusing one with the other.)
  • It’s encouraging to be encouraged. I do feel doubt occasionally about why I’m at school sometimes, as I entered it on a leap of faith, with no assurance of what I’d be doing with this degree when I finally got it. But several people reassured me that the skills I’ve acquired over the last 20 years, added to my education and interests, will help me when I eventually move into whatever field I choose. Made me feel much better about my choice.

Prototyping; GUIdebook

Found some interesting or otherwise time-passable things on the web related to prototyping and our discussion on Wednesday. A List Apart runs deep-dish articles on web design. This article shows how paper is good for tabbed interfaces, widgets, and usability testing. He also suggests keeping a glue stick handy.

Pen-based low-fi vs hi-fi; use while keeping the above paper prototypes in mind.

  • Sketching with a Sharpie - (37signals) - “Ballpoints and fine tips just don’t fill the page like a Sharpie does. Fine tips invite you to draw while Sharpies invite you to just to get your concepts out into big bold shapes and lines. When you sketch with a thin tip you tend to draw at a higher resolution and worry a bit too much about making things look good. Sharpies encourage you to ignore details early on.”

A neat idea if you want to keep your prototypes looking rough.

  • Napkin Look & Feel - “The Napkin Look & Feel is a pluggable Java look and feel that looks like it was scrawled on a napkin. … Often when people see a GUI mock-up, or a complete GUI without full functionality, they assume that the code behind it is working. … So the idea is to create a complete look and feel that can be used while the thing is not done which will convey an emotional message to match the rational one. As pieces of the work are done, the GUI for those pieces can be switched to use the “formal” (final) look and feel, allowing someone looking at demos over time to see the progress of the entire system reflected in the expression of the GUI.”

This is a really good post that links to Napkin and other sources to express what we heard in class, namely, the more “done” the prototype looks, the more finished the client expects the entire application it to.

The SILK project grew out of someone’s dissertation research. The current public release of Denim runs on Mac, Win, and *nix.

  • DUB - DENIM and SILK - Research - “Through a study of web site design practice, we observed that web site designers design sites at different levels of refinement – site map, storyboard, and individual page – and that designers sketch at all levels during the early stages of design. However, existing web design tools do not support these tasks very well. Informed by these observations, we created DENIM, a system that helps web site designers in the early stages of design. DENIM supports sketching input, allows design at different refinement levels, and unifies the levels through zooming.”

Referred to in the List Apart article, this is a neat site that shows the evolution of OS and application GUIs from their inception to today. It has sections for splash screens, icons, the tutorials that were included to help us learn how to click with a mouse, and a timeline showing the slow progress of GUIs from the Lisa and GEOS on up to Leopard. The site appears to have run out of gas around 2005 or so. I have personal experience of GEOS (Commodore 64 & PC), Amiga, DOS 3-5, Windows 3.x, Mac (mid-80s-early 90s), and OS/2.

The Bush Tragedy, US and UK

329 days until the end of the Bush presidency; who knows how long to fix the damage. I wish I could appreciate the attempt at humor in the UK edition (the second image), but I can’t. To be honest, it sorta pisses me off. Weisberg’s book has been described as “compassionate” and largely sympathetic to Bush, arguing that all this isn’t his fault but rather can be set at the feet of Rove, Cheney, Rumsfield and Rice. Thus, the imagery of a puppet show in the UK version, which seems appropriate.

The Bush Tragedy, US and UK