Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring time!! Yay!!1!

Spring time at last! I've been waiting for so long :) We've had so much snow this winter that the last time it snowed even a little bit, I almost broke down in tears because I just couldn't take any more ...

Now, finally, the snow is almost gone; you can still see little mounds where it was piled together but that doesn't count. The snow is gone, and a sure sign of Spring is here: people start biking again. Well, in my case it's not so much a sign of Spring as a sign of insanity ... but never mind that ;)

Because yesterday, I biked to the train station for the first time. (And I had more luck than I thought; when I was looking out the window at the next station, it was raining quite fiercely ...) I left my apartment at 6am sharp, so I could easily time mysef to see how long it would take me to get to the train station. So: down the stairs, through the basement, get the bike ready (lights, even though they weren't strictly necessary, and extra air in the front wheel), helmet on, off I go. Arrive at the station, park the bike, pack everything, walk down to the platform. Result: twenty-two minutes all included. As it is, I've been taking the bus at 6.06am and ended up sitting at the station for twenty minutes - my train departs at 6.34 (and always a few minutes late, to be honest). By biking instead, I'll save 5-10 minutes ... to start with, at least :)

So how did I feel? Well ... part of me was happy; I carried my (very!) brightly red bike helmet like a badge of honour :) Part of me was also proud of myself; I gave the other passengers slightly annoying looks of glee: look, I biked this morning! Did you? :D

But the thing is ... while parts of me felt all these things, ALL of me was sweaty, sticky, out of breath, and beetroot red. It sucked!

So basically, I spent the rest of the day trying to determine if "smelly" should be part of that list above ... and to find a solution. I have a nasty feeling that (the majority of) the answer is that I just need to get in shape - in which case I should just keep biking, really :) Additionally, when it gets warmer, I might consider having a shirt specifically for biking, and then bringing a change of clothes. We'll see!

As it is, this afternoon I handed my bike in at a bike store that's just around the corner from the train station. They offer Spring cleanings of bikes, including checking the brakes, tires, and a whole list of other things I can't even name. Since I'm not really a person who takes as good care of my bike as I should, I'm just paying my way out of it. And you know, that if not solves the stickiness problem, then at least postpones it for another day ;)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Developer responsibility - or, the stoopid of crowds

I just tweeted this: “The comments for this post (all 2121 of them, so far) may just be the saddest AND funniest thing I’ve ever seen online:”. This is a case of people (many, many people) misunderstanding the purpose of a website; in this case, thinking that an article about logging in to Facebook was actually the login page for Facebook. I found a reference to it in this article at ReadWriteWeb and particularly noticed this question: “Accusations always fly: these ‘strangers’ (as I've come to call them) are idiots, illiterates, came from AOL, shouldn't be allowed out on the Internet without someone to hold their hand. Less often, a few voices speak up from the development community and say, Wait a minute, we build the software the Internet runs on - isn't this partly our fault?”

My answer? Yes. Yes, it is partly the developers' fault.

During the last couple of years (starting with taking a class on usability at school), I’ve come to realise that I am of the opinion that if a user does something wrong, more often than not it is not the user’s fault but the system’s. As a weird coincidence, this morning I remembered something that happened to me some weeks ago. Having moved to a new apartment, I had to pick a new doctor/GP. Luckily, this can be done online, so I picked a doctor from a list on an official website (we’ll call this list A), and sent in the appropriate form. Some days later, I received a letter saying that the doctor I had picked was not open for taking on new patients (even though list A had said so), and would I please pick another from this list provided here (list B).

Now, if only list A and list B had contained the same doctors, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But they didn’t. In fact, list A and list B were very much in disagreement about which doctors practiced in my area, and which were open for new patients. Oh well, I thought, picking a doctor from list A clearly didn’t work, so the second time around I picked one from list B and sent in the appropriate form (this worked, by the way).

I am a generally nice person (ha!), so I wanted the website providing list A to know that it differed from list B, and that this had caused a problem. I sent them an email explaining this, and received an email in return which said that they were aware of this, that list A had in fact not been updated for the last ten months (!), and that there was a notice on the website stating this. What notice??

My point is that if I as a user don’t see that notice, then it’s probably because the notice isn’t easy to … well, notice. The website might want to consider drawing attention to the notice in some way – especially if I am not the only one to complain about it. I have seen the same situation several times on the train, where passengers purchasing tickets online have printed the receipt for their purchase instead of the actual ticket (and, in some cases, have been verbally abused by the train staff), and my point is the same: if your users are making mistakes (and in this case, if several users are making the same mistake), you might want to consider changing the system.

/end rant

I just hope I will keep this in mind, when I find myself on the other side of the fence ;)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Impressions from my first professional conference

(Written on Sunday, March 7th)

- Librarians are nice. And relatively casual.
- Hotels are fancy. Hotel lunch buffets are fancy and may contain oysters (nuff said).
- Networking is a challenge but you may not be the only newbie present. Newbie networking is not as challenging. Giving someone your business card for the very first time is strangely exhilarating.
- A pretty pair of shoes is a nice thing to have brought. A practical pair of shoes is an even nicer thing to have brought.
- A change of clothes for dinner may be advisable.
- Conference programmes may be longer than they seem, and go on into the night. Get plenty of sleep the night before the conference.
- Snowstorms may happen unexpectedly. Learn to sleep on a bus which is stuck for three hours in a queue on a motorway.
- People asking if you are on LinkedIn is not an uncommon occurrence. People telling you that they have already found you on LinkedIn and sent you an invitation to connect may also happen, if less frequently.
- Hotel receptionists are generally helpful, and a part of an overall good experience.

To sum up, my first professional two-day conference was a very pleasant experience. The professional aspects were interesting, sometimes quite thought-provoking, and bits of it was directly applicable to my work. The social aspects were very nice, and sometimes also thought-provoking, if initially a little overwhelming for an introvert ;) The snowstorm part was a good story twelve hours later, and will always be a useful small talk item from now on :)

The next step? A one-day seminar only three days from now, with a rumoured attendance of 130 people, an afternoon seminar the following day ... and trying to export this post from the boyfriend's PDA (which I'm not sure he will be getting back, ever) to the actual blog. If you are reading this, I succeeded! :)

Blogging on a PDA

(Written on Thursday, March 4th)

Ok, this will be the slowest post ever written. Of course, you as the reader won't really care but I care quite a lot! This is the first blog post written on the PDA I have borrowed from the boyfriend. Nifty little toy ... But let me put it this way: the first two and a half sentences were written with the stylus, using letter recognition. It took me half an hour to write that much text. The rest of the post thus far has been written with this tiny little keyboard that clips onto the PDA, and which I can type on using both thumbs. Although it's awkward to balance the whole thing on my two little fingers, and it turns out I have fat fingers from a keyboard point of view (the position of the backspace button is the one I know best by now ...), this is actually not a bad experience. Apart from the first two and a half sentences, it has taken me less than ten minutes to type this.

I can't use the keyboard in the silent zone on the train, though. It simply clicks too loudly when you type. But there is always the stylus, and a bunch of ebooks on it which will surely keep me occupied if I don't want to write :) Just to test it, I will try writing the next paragraph without using backspace, just to see how illegible my PDA typing really is.

Ok, just learned tha if tyou accidentally hold down the enter button for too longf, it will get stuck ... Apartr from tjhat; I have aready formed a theopry: if the backspace button ever stops working, fuiture blogposts will read loke somerthink from (And that url will surley never work...)

Fun experiment but enough is enough :) This isn't Lamebook after all.

So, the reason why I borrowed this PDA was because the boyfriend is thinking to get a new one. I have been considering a netbook for some time (see previous posts) but when I got offered one at a reasonable price, I realised I actually think netbooks are too large for my needs. Ergo; testing this. And the timing is perfect, since I will be spending a lot of the next three days on a train:

Tomorrow: on the train for two hours to participate in a two-day conference with other librarians about communication and social technologies.

Saturday: on the train for an hour and a half going to my hometown to spend a little (very little, I am afraid) quality time with my family.

Sunday: taking the train for four hours going back home, hopefully in time for the annual chocolate festival ;)

There is a lot more to say about that schedule and how much I am looking forward to the different parts - but my fingers hurt, and my brain does too. PDAing takes a lot of concentration! lol