Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tunesday, Vol XVII: Sevendust, The Spill Canvas, dredg, more...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

But Now Back to Me...

Is there any doubt that social media feeds the little narcissist in all of us? (Maybe these articles will convince you.) Of course, that's not all it does, and just because you use social media - even a lot - doesn't mean you have a narcissistic personality (hey - there's room for you insecure types, too). But, c'mon, who doesn't like seeing a new comment on your Facebook post or that something you put out there on Twitter got re-tweeted? I fully believe that, to some extent, happiness is not giving a shit, but as beings capable of compassion, we do. It's just how it is. I mean, how does one better oneself without feedback?

One my favorite Twitter clients - Tweetdeck - has implemented their Android client and Chrome add-on with this in mind it seems, and to unintentionally hilarious effect. For instance, they offer you a column that combines all your Facebook notifications and Twitter mentions in one place (which is godsdamned brilliant, if you ask me). What's the column named?

How perfect is that? It's all about me! Yay!1! Oh, and it gets better. When you go to interact with something in the "Me" column, a kind of layover effect appears in the column that allows you to post an update/reply and is even nice enough to give you some context (again, friggin' brilliant). (Note: Tweetdeck does show names and avatars here, I just decided to protect my friends' privacy.)

"Me" column interaction layover
To close this, you click on the column header. That action isn't very obvious, since we're used to seeing a little 'x' somewhere, so to give you a hint they change the name of the column header:

How fucking awesome is that? "Oh, yes, that's very interesting. Now back to me..."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Song of the Moment: "Mission 2000"

"Mission 2000" by Chris Cornell, found on the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack.

It's been ages since I've done one of these, but I'm coming back with a good one. The original cut of "Mission" off Euphoria Morning - an album that I still consider to be incredibly overlooked - is a fantastic study in tension. It grooves along at just under the boiling point for the entire four minutes, riddled with instrumentation that sounds cool, yet spooky at the same time, managing to at once move your feat and chill your bones. It never really boils over, though, at least not in your usual rock song way. It never bothers to kick your teeth in - and it's all the better for it. Instead, it comes on like a sunburn; slowly, but surely, the song ratchets up the tension - adding a wah-wahed out guitar riff there and some rock organ here - and, before you know it, Cornell's trademark scream is pouring out of your speakers, threating to take your eardrums hostage.

But that's not what I'm sharing with you today. Instead, I'm sharing the alternate version of the piece, which he recorded especially for the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack. This one does kick your teeth in - and it's all the better for it. It's a true testament to Chris's songcraft that the same song works just as well both subtly and overtly, as both a shoegazer and a barn burner.

Last, but not least, this song contains what is possibly my favorite lyric of all time:
I have nothing, but then the have is not as good as the want.

Nutritionally Dense

ZAAZ serves up bagels from Noah's for breakfast about once or twice a week. The other day, I ate a one. (Yay!) Being the neurotic nerd I am, I wanted to log it in my food diary. (If you want to read about my data driven life, go for it.)

So I go to the website for Noah's to scope out what the nutritional information is. Up to a point, the scent of information is pretty strong, and I coast right along.
Oo. Fancy!
A menu!
Huston, we have uh-oh.
Huh. It's a list of bagel flavors... not presented as a list. Why not? In fact, they're not even in alphabetical order - or any sort of identifiable order at all. This makes it harder to locate the particular bagel I'm looking for than I would've expected. Oo, but I see it, right near the bottom: "Whole Wheat." I click... nothing happens. Damnit, and here I thought I'd found what I was looking for. Now I'm forced to scour around to find another way to get the nutritional information. Just as I'm about to close the bagel menu box, I see it in the lower left:
This image is actual size.
You can barely read it. You know what that tells me? They consider nutritional information unimportant. Or, perhaps even worse, they don't want me to find it. Which begs the question... why not? Is it really that bad? Are they afraid that it will actually turn me off of eating the food? You know, I have no way of knowing whether or not the implied answers to those questions are true, and yet here I am already asking (and implicitly answering). All I'm trying to do is retrospectively look up some nutritional info for a bagel I have already consumed - that's it! - and here I am, suddenly and unexpectedly questioning their ethics as a purveyor of fine baked breakfast goods. The things that they don't want me thinking about are the very things they caused me to think about as direct consequence of their design choices. This is known is irony. (As opposed to rain on your wedding day. Which isn't.)

But now we come to the crux of the matter. I'm at the end of my hunt, about to get the information I came here for. When I click on that link, what do you suppose I'll find? If you've ever looked up nutrition info on a website before, you know exactly what I'll find, and you also know it's not what I want to find:
Fuck You.
Restaurants, food manufactures, chefs of America, hear me: this shit needs to stop. Aside from absolutely breaking the user experience of the rest of the site, its just plain irresponsible, because you know that this isn't what we're expecting. You know this, without a shadow of a doubt, for two reasons:
  1. Charts like this are impossible to read. I'm not even going to link to research, because it's just obvious.
  2. Every product I buy in every supermarket in America has their nutritional info displayed like this:

    Is this the most readable, usable way to present nutritional information? I doubt it, but it's standardized and fit's familiar, which counts for a lot.
More to the point, there's just no good reason why it isn't presented with the same interactablity as the rest of the site. There is just no way in the world that someone made that chart by hand in, like, Photoshop. That would take days. Someone typed those numbers in. As long as they need to by typed in, why not just type them into a database? Then, all you have to do is make the food item names clickable, use AJAX to retrieve the appropriate row, format it into something presentable and bam: you're done. That's maybe - maybe - a day's worth of development work. But they didn't. Because they don't care. Or, even worse, they don't want you to know.

I'll leave you with a question: every food product in the supermarket (save produce) is required to have nutritional information printed on it in a standard format. Why doesn't food you buy in a shop or restaurant have the same requirements?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tunesday, Vol XVI: Nirvana, Coheed & Cambria, Don Caballero, more...

The Job Just Got So Much Better

An outside observer might expect my job to be a rather typical 9-5 position. Had said observer seen the same job posting I did, I'd be able to forgive him that erroneous conclusion as I had come to the same one. However, this is the software industry - if my time at Microsoft taught me anything, it's that 9-5 doesn't really exist here. At the very least, we're expected check our work email on a consistent basis - even on nights, weekends, and vacations - just in case of a last-minute fire drill. (This is one of the reasons why we feel completely justified checking personal email and Facebook at the office.)

The job I have now is similar to the one I had at Microsoft, but different in a number of significant ways:

  1. Way less responsibility, mostly because...
  2. ZAAZ mostly sells a service, not products - QA standards vary from project to project based on what the client is willing to pay for (which is usually not very much) - and also because...
  3. I was an FTE at Microsoft. I'm a contractor at ZAAZ.

Basically the way it works is I get assigned hours at the beginning of the week (x hours on project A, y hours on project B, etc..). Ostensibly these hours add up to full time work, however they are usually very inflated to either make room for possible fire drills or as a way to under-promise/over-deliver to the client (or both). To put this in perspective, on average, I get assigned almost 18 hours each week I'll never get to bill (yeah, I'm a geek, I keep track of this stuff). So, in order to expect to actually work 40 hours/wk, I'd have to be assigned something like 58 hours/wk. What this means is that, for all intents and purposes, this is a part time job.

I suppose you'd expect that I'd totally have a lot of free time, right? Kind of. I certainly have a lot of time during the day that I spend doing nothing. The problem is I generally have very little idea when the work is actually going to show up. The procedure is for people to put blocks of QA work on the calendar so that we can plan our time, but for whatever reason it doesn't ever seem to go down like that. As a result, I never feel like I have free time. I feel like I am constantly on call. Imagine, if you will, that you're back in college. You're taking 4-5 classes and each week you know you have a certain amount of work to do and a certain amount of class to attend, but you're never given any due dates or told when things will be assigned. Not a very comfortable situation, is it?

I potentially have a lot of time during the day to run errands or get other things done, but I don't often capitalize on it because I constantly live in abject fear of missing an email. You know, that email. It's the feeling of "I haven't gotten any email in hours and there's nothing to do on my calendar, but I can't leave to go to the gym or something because... what if that's right when they decide they have work for me?" (There's a psychological term for this, but I forget what it is at the moment.) It doesn't take long for that kind of thing to burn you out, especially if the job itself isn't something you really love.

The solution, it turns out, is something I've distinctly avoided for months: getting work email on my smartphone. The various rationales for resisting doing this are likely very obvious; it boils down to not wanting to let my job have more control over my life than it already does. There's something very psychologically satisfying about drawing a line in the sand. 

But yesterday I caved... and I have never been so glad. At the time, I was getting a quick bite after going to the gym on "work hours" and instantly all of the guilt and fear melted away. I awoke so much more relaxed today. Ironically, this has put me in more control of my job than I ever was before. As it turns out, just because someone's emailing me doesn't mean I have to respond. But at least now I'll know that if I need to - if the perfect storm does hit at the moment I'm out of the office - I can.