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Journal for 28 March 2007


Well, it’s been a long week so far. I’m still getting over the cold that knocked me out last week, and this week has not been very gentle.

Over the weekend I tried to reschedule my onsite practice test for the GMAT–the “Ultimate Practice Test” I get as a Kaplan customer–but ran into problems with the system run by Pearson, the company that administers the GMAT. I got everything cleared up during a phone call with Pearson on Monday, but by that time there was only one practice test space left before my actual test next week: Tuesday afternoon. I crammed Monday night to shake off some of the test cobwebs–I pretty much stopped studying on a regular basis when I headed to SXSW–and went in about as well-prepared as I could under the circumstances.

For those who haven’t taken the GMAT or a similar test through Pearson, the environment is not the most comfortable. Testers sit in small, wall-facing cubes with partitions between each computer. A Pearson employee sits behind a glass window watching those being tested at all times, and every visitor is videotaped for the entire duration of their stay. If you want to get up, you need to raise your hand to be escorted in and out of the room, and when entering and exiting you need to have your index finger scanned. The testing facility I visited on Tuesday featured bad lighting, a flickering monitor and a dreadfully uncomfortable (and generally unadjustable) chair.

I was able to handle all of that, but what really threw me off was the test fed to me by Kaplan. When you go through their program, you’re fed eight different practice tests, including the onsite test. You’re not supposed to get the same test more than once, but that’s exactly what happened to me on the verbal portion, and it was completely and totally distracting. Despite my best efforts, I found it next to impossible to concentrate on the testing approaches I’d been taught in their program, and instead found myself trying to remember how I’d answered the questions the previous time around. In all, I’d probably previously seen 2/3 of the verbal questions fed to me at Pearson.

It’s disappointing, but I guess I just have to live with it. I have a lot of studying to do the rest of this week, and then on Monday it’s test time for the actual test.

Carlson applications have to be in before the end of April. St. Thomas applications have to be in by the end of May. No rest for the weary.

~ ~ ~

In other news, Lisa got a new pig–Sigrid seemed lonely after Ling had to be put down–and I got a new camera, which I hope will be well-suited for the tens of thousands of baby photos I’m sure I’ll be taking in a few months.

I’m exhausted. I can’t wait for the weekend.

Posted in Journal at 11:26 pm

Quotebook: Benjamin Barber on Consumerism


Benjamin Barber, from an interview on Marketplace, 22 March 2007:

“My problem is we live in a world where shopping and consumerism and advertising are ubiquitous and omnipresent. They’re everywhere we go. I mean, imagine a world in which for every sign you see advertising something, we saw a sign about how wonderful the party or the president was. You know, we call that totalitarianism. But when we have a society totally dominated by consumerism and markets, we say, ‘Oh! That’s liberty.’ I don’t get it.”

Posted in Quotebook at 6:10 pm

Journal for 21 March 2007


Just as I was finally starting to recover from SXSW, I came down with an incredibly nasty cold Monday night. It pretty much knocked me out for two days, and, unfortunately, forced me to reschedule a critical practice test for my upcoming GMAT in the process. I’m feeling better this evening, but Lisa has fallen sick, which means I need to watch out for her health the next couple of days.

There are a couple of busy weeks ahead at work, plus a lot of studying lined up for the weekends. No rest for the weary, I guess.

~ ~ ~

Zicam Cold & Flu has a frightening amount of acetaminophen in it. Even as a long-standing acetaminophen user, I think it’s been rare for me to hit 1000mg in a day, much less in one dose. Crikey.

~ ~ ~

I had to get a note from my doctor to reschedule my GMAT practice exam. While granting that I have a very poor memory, I think this may very well be the first time I’ve had to get a doctor’s note for anything.

As is typical, my doctor has very poor handwriting. He also happens to have horrible spelling. Words misspelled in his letter include suggest (“sugest”), common (“comen”) and Tylenol (“tylanol”).

And with that, I’m off to bed.

Posted in Journal at 10:41 pm

SXSWi Wrap-Up, Part 1 of 200


45 minutes to boarding. I’m sitting here in the airport after a lazy day in Austin, mid-way through a brief respite before throwing myself back into reality early tomorrow morning. Bruce Sterling made a comment during his conference-closing rant that information has finally become free, but when I have to pay $10 to get on the airport WiFi, I’m not sure I’d completely agree with that.

Bruce’s rant wasn’t as much of a rant this year as it was a cautious meditation on the state of technology and information, but it was still good as always. I’ve found his speeches to be a good starting point to tying all that’s SXSW together, a process for me that usually takes a couple weeks if not a full month or so. There’s a lot of great things to take from the conversations, panels and demos, but where things really get interesting is where those ideas start cross-referencing each other, kind of like an absurdly cross-linked mental Wikipedia.

Overall, I thought the conference was pretty good this year, although I ran into many who were disappointed in it. I hit a lot of mobile device panels, all of which were useful. In all, there were only three or four panels I didn’t really find that interesting, and in the end only skipped out of one. (Last year, I skipped out of 1-2 panels each day.) The vibe was less corporate than last year too, while not being stupidly anti-business as some earlier years.

If I had to pick one main problem this year, it was the physical organization of the panels. The Interactive conference was split in half, and you basically had to pack a suitcase to go from one end to the other. Not only did this make it impractical to go to some panel combinations, it made it much more difficult to run into people in the halls. Even with the huge crowd that arrived for last year’s conference, it was still relatively easy to run into people in the halls. This year I had to literally search people out. I was pretty worn out last night, but went to the closing party anyway in hopes of connecting with some of those I missed. (Many of them were there doing the same thing, so at least that worked out.)

Could I have planned ahead? Yes, but in the past it wasn’t necessary. Running into people was just something that happened. Besides, planning too much removes a lot of the wonderous serendipity that makes SXSW so great. This poor organization was basically an all-out assault on the heart and soul of the conference.

It can recover next year, of course. Just make sure all the damn rooms are together.

Well, I’m getting a bit hungry, so I’m going to grab a bite before we have to get onboard. Goodbye Austin, I’ll see you next year.

Posted in SXSW at 5:15 pm

Quality of SXSWi Panel Notes


FYI: I’ll go through and edit all of them later. Lots of link fixing, spelling crap and other issues to resolve.

Posted in SXSW,SXSW Panels,Uncategorized at 2:06 pm

SXSWi Panel: After Bust 2.0


Bianchini (Ning) / Hornik () / Hellweg (Harvard Business Review) / Rocherolle () / Sippey (VP product Six Apart) / Becker

Q: When is it going to fall apart and why?

Bianchini:  I don’t think it’s all going to fall apart.  We have 1.2 billion online.  Lots of opportunity to make money and make a living.  Much better than when building a company only for the future.  Like anything, some will make it, some won’t.  Fundamentally different than seven or eight years ago.

Hellweg:  Kind of agree, but kind of disagree.  Costs are much smaller than they used to be.  Still headed towards a shakup, not a catastrophic one.  Private equity rather than IPOs.

Sippey:  If your’e building a real business with real customers with private equity, that’s a different dynamic than 2000.

Bianchini:  If you can start up something for a couple hunder a month rather than 500 million, you don’t need to make that much to make money.

Sippey:  There is a risk with the number of people spending money on advertising.  If that doesn’t grow, people who’s business is based on advertising may not work.

People now understand that you have to run a metrics-driven busienss and know where the money comes from.  And now hardware is cheaper , software is free, etc.  It’s a different time.

Becker:  One of the best ways to do something today is to go back to 98 or 99, find someting that didn’t work, and do it again.

Bianchini: People are building companies to be good to their customers not to look good to VCs.

Q:  Are big companies going to have a bust when smaller companies steal resources and talent?  How do you see big companies reacting, or overreaching?

Q:  But isn’t the market going to mature and then something else will come along to shake others out of the market?

Bianchini:  There will always be survival of the fittest.

Becker:  Also in the Internet market failure isn’t rewarded, but it’s not necessarily looked down upon either.  People understand it’s a dynamic environment.  Flickr, dogster, and others happened during the bust in 2002 and 03.

Q:  Human resources are getting expensive again.  Are there ways to avoid this cycle better this time around?  Offshore options?

Rocherolle:  Whenever salaries go up, think about value of investing in that salary?  Hold off on hiring, look at offshoring, etc.

Hornik:  Talks to a lot of boards about oursourcing.  But when building and figuring out a company, the worst thing you could do is create a huge distance between you and those doing the work.  Focus has to be on building the best service you can.

Sippey:  look up the “ask the wizard” blog and look for posts on hiring decisions.  Really good series of posts.

Q:  How is the advertisign shift going to go over the next five years around consumer-driven media.

Rocherolle:  Very difficult to monetize.  Google makes money because of search, not content.  (CNET is one of the few that have gotten good at that.)

Side note:  AJAX screwing up page view metrics.

Q:  How long are people willing to wait during online experiences (can’t watch lost on if the ads don’t load.)

Hornik:  Media needs to answer markets where people have more money than time, and those with more time and money, and figure out how to respond to both.

Becker:  If you look at DVDs, Tivo and online, with ABC you have the least control online….  Where you usually have the most control.  ABC is fighting the medium.


usatoday doing some web 2.0 stuff.  panel wondering if it’s going to work.  very interesting to see how it plays out.


Q:  People talk about outsourcing in a very abstract manner.  But if you spend any time in India or China or Russia, you find creative and talented people.  Is all this outsourcing going to come around and kick us?

Hornik:  Didn’t mean to question skill of those overseas…  Really a communication question.  The realy question is the US going to cease to be the creative engine (as it is now).  I think over time there will be increased pressure from groups overseas.

[look at srishti school of art, design and technology]

Sippey on Tuesdays has an 8am videoconference in europe and a 6pm one with japan.

Hellwig:  You’re already starting to see value-based pricing from overseas…  In 10 years, who’s going to be left to do things cheap?

Q: Any specific induststry or company you think will go bust?

Posted in SXSW,SXSW Panels at 1:01 pm

SXSWi Panel: Mobile Application Design Challenges



  • Cheng
  • James
  • Poisson (radar)
  • Wilhelm
  • King

(They changed rooms without telling anyone. I was 10 minutes late, but at least I had company.)

Jones: Does some prototyping by putting post-it notes on blocks of wood.

King: User testing for mobile (while person is texting while driving or whatever) is more difficult than watching someone us a PC.

Wilhelm: Have people walk around with a block and ask them what they’d like to do with that block.

Q: What kind of metrics do you use when designing for mobile?

Poisson: Clicks are gold. Saving an extra click, multiplied millions of customers, is a lot of effort saved. Used instead of .com because .net is easier to type on a mobile device.

King: Does a lot with click tracking as well.

Wilhelm: Assume a lot of upload failure and interruption when dealing with files. Make sure that kind of issue handling is built in from the start.

Poisson: You need to think about about time limits and attention span limits much more than you would on a desktop application.

Jones: Need to think of a three-second attention span. No clicking off rules and conditions screens.

Q: You have all these inputs and outputs… Text, voice, photos, etc… What makes you try to write a custom app rather than shove everything over SMS?

King: Depends on what you need to do? Sending photos over SMS would suck.

Q; At Nokia, how much time do you spend designing beyond the phone?

Jones: It’s more about about the interraction between the cloud and the little thing you’re communicating with. More focus on connections to web services. Mobile makers kind of make the equivalent of a wiki stub asking themselves or others to fill it in later. By doing that pattern of stub-making gets you to open really interesting ideas.

Q: Flash lite is not supported by majority of phones. How does one go about testing one’s app on all these phones when emulators are not that great?

King: Flash Lite is an excellent prototyping tool, but not ready for actual design yet.

Poisson: For applications, you can’t build once and use everywhere. You need to know going in you need to prep for a range of devices. Know the platforms your users use and try to build for them.

Wilhelm: deviceanywhere, etc. You can check out and test other phones online. Not 100% accurate, but better than buying every different model.

Jones: Look at the presentation by Brian Fling yesterday. (My notes from Fling’s presentation.) Get five or so varried phones, and test against them.

Wilhelm: Try to group devices and find similarities and then test against examples in those categories.

Poisson: Join developer networks from mobile manufacturers. Lots of good information from them.

Q: What are your practical strategies on getting people to use your applications? Off-deck or on-deck?

Wilhelm: Off-deck: Distribution not managed by carrier. On-deck: Distribution by carrier. Off deck allows full-control of experience for user. Lots of pain to get on-deck. Some carriers have a lot of rules and regulations about what you can do in your application.

Poisson: Carriers still have some control when you’re off-deck. Just get your app out there, see what people want to do and go from there. If it works, carriers may come to you about tying your tool to their device.

Wilhelm: Maybe build teirs into your service.

Q: What do you think of development of browsers for phones?

King: Opera browser for mobile is great.

Jones: Look at what Fling said. Pare site down to attention-friendly components.

Q: Do you have any favorite resource for mobile design patterns?

Jones: W3C Mobile Web Initiative… Plus developer networks. We’re still learning this stuff as we go. Look up small services blog.

Posted in SXSW,SXSW Panels,Uncategorized at 1:45 pm

SXSWi Panel: Get Unstuck: Moving Your Company from Web 1.0 to 2.0



Danzico: What does unstuck mean? How can we take risks and make changes, convince clients to do the same, break old processes that we rely on? Avoid the same thing over and over.

(Traffic slide: New Yorker: Looks like good traffic. Pennsylvanian: Looks like a traffic jam.)

Unstuck: The act or process of doing good work, being productive, feeling fulfilled on a team.

Q: Let’s hear about your personal processes…

Messina: Finds that areas he gets stuck are where he keeps his ideas to himself.

Zeldman: Management through conversation. Talk quite a bit, build trust and comfort, before showing prototypes, etc. No process or rules, just tries to listen.

Wroblewski: Ongoing client feedback loop. Always try to be engaged with information flowing in. Staying on top of trends online and putting that out to the customer.

Bengtsson: Be fearless and have fun. “It’s better to be a flamboyant failure than a mediocre success.” – Sex pistols singer.

Wroblewski: Look into book the “Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.” Absence of trust is at the base of it.

Zeldman: Remember we live in a soundbyte culture. If you can think of a soundbyte, use it over and over again, you can convince people.

Bengtsson: Thousands of ideas in your head. Write them down, sketch them down, you’ll realize that most suck. One or two may still seem good enough to work with, and you can throw those out to people to see what they think.

Q: Is design a tool to get you unstuck?

Bengtsson: Design is both the process and the goal. There shouldn’t be a gap between design and development. Start on agreement on the design throughout an organization.

Wroblewski: Don’t say you need to get the design team involved. You’ve already set up a wall by separating groups.

Messina: Building software is a political process, so you need to understand everyone’s needs and interests and mesh that into your overall process. Don’t have three wikis–one for design, development and sales–have one huge wiki everyone can see and contribute to. Don’t wikify in little pieces. Let communication flow everywhere. One team, not multiple teams.

Zeldman: Subdivide into small teams if possible. Make sure contributors who don’t know all the terms or technical issues still feel loved and listened to. Get buy in and trust before making prototypes.

Wroblewski: Small teams and big teams don’t necessarily have different dynamics. What’s true for small teams is true for big teams. You just need more love and openess.

Lightning Round!

Q: Stuck with own software and hosting — constantly have slap on new coats of paint, etc. How do we move forward?

Zeldman: Quit.

Q: Clients focus on what they want whether than their clients need. How to refocus them?

Zeldman: Say no to bad jobs until you get the right one.

Messina: Get users to use tool in front of client and show client they don’t know what they’re talking about it.

Wroblewski: Make two columns, user goals, business needs. Clients need to acknowledge user needs… hopefully.

Q: How do I get others to embrace standards?

Wroblewski: Show them how it will benefit them, what it means for them.

Zeldman: Wrote his designing with web standards book for your boss, not for developers.

Messina: Come to a story that can be repeated back to you.

Zeldman: In other session yesterday, blind person w/ lukemia trying to get info from medical websites… and unable to read it because poor use of standards and lack of accessibility.

Q: Multi-million project that most agree is doomed to failure, management won’t kill it because of amount of money spent. How to get people to kill it?

Zeldman: Use it as a demo of what doesn’t work.

Wroblewski: If you’ve spent that much money there has to be something good in it. Can you find a way to save the project?

Messina: Fail quickly and reassess often.

Q: Everyone on a team wants to make decisions. How do you get a decision to stick.

Zeldman: What does the boss say? He may need to step up and make the decision.

Wroblewski: Have open conflicts. Don’t let people be quiet. Quiet people won’t buy in or be accountable.

Posted in SXSW,SXSW Panels at 11:01 am

SXSWi Panel: Fictional Bloggers



  • Liz Henry
  • Odin Soli

Henry set up a good wiki on the panel. Most everything covered during the panel’s half-hour is contained in the link.

Posted in SXSW,SXSW Panels at 4:37 pm

SXSWi Panel: Spam of All Kinds / Antisocial Networking: Dealing With Online Abuse


Presented by Steven Champeon. Much of the content covered in the panel can be found here.

Posted in SXSW,SXSW Panels at 4:04 pm
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