apel: (Default)
Last week I participated in my employer's semi-annual hackathon. In the past I've hated those events. From the UX side we were encouraged to participate, but the developers didn't want designers in their teams. They weren't sure how to collaborate with us as part of their normal work, and they sure as hell didn't want us designing their output. Nobody from UX was involved in planning or execution of the hackathons. Dev leadership would pay lip service to participation from non-technical staff but didn't try to support it in any way. This is like a perfect storm of everything I hate. 

What made this year different was that I had a really good idea. The raison d'être of the company I work for is to help ordinary Americans save for retirement. But for some unfathomable reason, we don't offer our customers any help once they actually retire. Instead we push their retirement start age a year into the future every year. It's a mystery how the company has survived for nearly 2 decades with that strategy. Of course we don't even know how many customers leave because we're so unhelpful in that phase of their financial lives. My idea was to create a customer experience for a person who has been retired for a few years. 

I recruited a product manager, a financial researcher and a writer to my team, Team Already Retired. Each team could only have up to five members. I was going to go for a marketer to fill the last slot. But then by mistake I recruited a development manager. He in turn recruited another developer, so we had to unload the product manager. But that meant that we could attack the problem from two sides: the customer side and the numbers side.

The writer and me created an email, a landing page and an overview page. The email was meant for people who were over 50 and who had recently stopped working. It invited them to tell us if they had retired. The landing page gave them three options: 
  • Yes, I'm retired and this is the date I stopped working.
  • No, and this is my new employer. 
  • It's complicated, so please call me. 
From there people who said that they had retired would go to an overview page that would give them key information about their finances in retirement, including Social Security and healthcare costs. 

The developers managed to squeeze the relevant numbers from an algorithm that was developed many years ago. So we used those numbers in the prototype that I created. 

There was a lot of buzz around our idea and we did a great demo. We had been told that presentations were going to happen in random order, but instead they went alphabetically. So we were the first team to demo.

I started the demo off with saying that my team was proposing to extend the vision of our founders from helping people prepare for retirement to also help them live well through retirement. I also said that of all the hacks presented, ours had the greatest chance of growing and transforming the company. Bold words, but having seen all the other demos, I still think they're true. Apparently others did too, because we won! 

That felt really good! I feel more accepted by my coworkers than before. Lots of people have come up and congratulated me since the event. There is talk about productizing my idea, too. We'll see where it leads. For now I'm happy that we won. I'm not sure that I'll volunteer to lead another team next time. It's hard to top that experience of winning the first time I did it. 

Fancy Ass Designer
Of course there's backlash too. The Fancy Ass Designer didn't participate in the Hackathon. Apparently he got bored while I and most of the engineers were doing that, so he put in some work on the area of the project that he had delegated to me. *head desk* As I told somebody else, when you've delegated something, it stays delegated. Partly taking it back and sketching some random ideas that you don't even know if they're viable, is just poor management.

The product manager who was associated with my team, is also the PM who is leading the project the FAD and me are working on. I think that working on my part of the project was a way for him to "win back" the PM from me. It seems childish but that's par for the course for this guy. 

Another UX person was walking around making sure everybody on the UX team signed a baby shower card earlier this week. She had a list, but the Fancy Ass Designer's name wasn't on it. It's just one more thing that makes me think that he isn't going to be around for much longer. I'd be surprised if he's still here when it's time to sign my birthday card in January. 

The again, I'm not sure I'll be around for that either. Accessibility has reared its ugly head again. I last wrote about the topic and how it's been mismanaged back in June. I'm still their fallback plan and the brass still don't get it. A lot has happened since June. I was able to get my manager to understand the topic a bit more. We did some preliminary work on selecting an accessibility company that would help us make our customer-facing sites accessible.

Auf Nimmerwiedersehen, Boss!
Since then my manager has left. I've know since January that he was on his way out. He'd been to an off-site with the other managers first thing in the new year. When he came back from the off site, he told me that he had been severely criticized by his new manager and his peers for being too wishy-washy. They wanted him to step up and lead to help make the company more UX and design centric. He also said that he knew that he wasn't capable of that. So the writing was on the wall.

I'm happy that he's gone because that gives us a chance to get a UX leader who will actually lead. My manager only blamed his own team for any conflict that came up. He really wasn't a good manager. If it's one thing I expect from a manager, it's that he'll have my back. With this guy you could depend on him blaming you instead.  

New UX broom
One of the last things my manager did, was to hire a very senior designer who I know from my time in a previous company. We worked together on defining interaction patterns. She hasn't been formally tapped to be the new UX leader, but I'm hoping that she will be. She's already shown her leadership skills and others in and outside the team are enthusiastic as a result. We've been waiting for a proper leader for so long! I've been giving her hints and tips along the way and that's worked out very well. 

The New UX Broom has some competition. The Fancy Ass Designer, for instance, seems to think that it's his turn to run the team. If he wins, I'm probably leaving. He's not a great UX project lead and I doubt that promoting him above his incompetence will help matters. There's also the senior visual designer. Back when we had a visual design team, he managed it. Although, given his almost allergic reaction to conflict, he's probably happy to let somebody else lead. Preferably not somebody who will blame him for every conflict that crops up! 

More accessibility
Anyway, returning to the subject of accessibility, the heads of Consumer Products and Development are now tasked to deal with accessibility. I had a meeting with them yesterday. They are at sea and they know it. Unfortunately they'd much rather use me as a life raft, rather than learn even a little doggie paddle. I've just written an email to them, further emphasizing that training the developers is not optional if they want to become compliant.

Earlier today I googled the difference in pay between a designer and a product manager. The national median difference is $25,000/year. So if the opportunity presents itself again, I will bring up my idea of moving into product management. Right now I'm thinking that if they want me to work on accessibility full time, they either pay or I hand in my notice. It is way too frustrating to be caught up in their crisis management without a hefty pay rise. It's not like it would be hard for me to find another job if I quit. 
apel: (California)
Yesterday was my last working day. I was working from home so when I was done with my task, by noon, I could start doing other things. The small bookshelf that Kieron wanted is now dismantled and I've emptied the large living room cabinet. The cleaned curtains also arrived.

Today I'm going into town to pick up my stuff in the office, and some other odds and ends. That will likely be the last time I'm in central London. The prospect cheers me up no end. :-)

Tomorrow is a day devoted mostly to packing. On Friday I want to drive to Cheltenham. Before I can do that, I need to inflate my tyres and bring some more stuff to Oxfam, though. Hopefully I can leave by 2 or so.
apel: (sparrow)
  • Collect things (blanket, tea, hand lotion, ipod wire?)

  • Timesheet for last week (4 days)

  • Timesheet for this week (2 days)

  • Request money for BT bill (~£108)

National Gallery
Say goodbye to Turner and Constable

Buy Pouches
  • Druid Animals

  • Daughters of the Moon

Buy Mysteries
Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple mysteries
  • Death At Wentwater Court, 1

  • Requiem For A Mezzo, 3

  • Murder On The Flying Scotsman, 4

  • Damsel In Distress, 5

  • Dead In The Water, 6

  • Styx And Stones, 7

  • Rattle His Bones, 8

  • To Davy Jones Below, 9

  • The Case Of The Murdered Muckraker, 10

  • Mistletoe And Murder, 11

  • Die Laughing, 12

  • A Mourning Wedding, 13

  • Fall Of A Philanderer , 14

Miss Murphy?
apel: (twitching)
So yesterday I couldn't call outside the 020 area. I thought that was because there was something wrong with my phone. The cable does look rather tattered. But today I used the phone that belongs to the flat, and still couldn't make any calls to mobiles, nor dial into the important conference call in Bahrain.

The BT website has a facility that allows you to report a fault on the line, so I did that. But I had my suspicions that it wasn't a real fault. You see, I made another call to Bahrain a few weeks ago. It was a long conference call that ended up costing me nearly £90. Normally my whole bill is under $40.

And just now the BT Fault Team called me up and confirmed my suspicions -- BT have placed a bar on the line. Did they tell me about this? Of course not. What would be the point of that?

They have my email address but that's not the point, is it? They can just embarrass me in front of clients and coworkers and sit back and let me call them. Then when I do, I'm told I'll have to wait for a representative because they're very busy now.

Update at 15:30: I've talked to BT now. After I paid them the currently oustanding amount (about £100), they said they were going to lift the bar. But they can only tell me that it will be lifted within the next 24 hours. So tomorrow morning when I'm due for the delayed conference call to Bahrain, I may or may not be able to dial in. When the lady on the phone launched into her explanation of this for the 3rd time, I just hung up in disgust.

No point in listening to the same spiel one more time, I'll still look like an idiot if they haven't removed the bar by tomorrow morning. Not to mention not being able to clear up the confusion about my latest timesheet, or help the copywriter understand what he's supposed to write about.
apel: (train)
Statue of Admiral Nelson on his column
Good morning, Nelson
Originally uploaded by Mjausson
Another job, another round of photos from my way to work. I took these yesterday. They show the way from Charing Cross tube station across Trafalgar Square, past the National Gallery and Edith Cavell statue, up St. Martin's Lane.


Sep. 26th, 2007 08:16 pm
apel: (october)
I feel like I've got a cold coming on and my tummy is upset. The new job is pretty intense too. No time for LJ. :-(
apel: (Default)
I'm looking for quizzes or memes.

They should be about either:
  • Behaviour: e.g. Do you speed? how many books do you read/year?
  • Attitude: e.g. When is it OK to take something that isn't yours? Should illegal immigrants be able to get a driving license?
  • Knowledge: e.g. driving theory, food hygiene, wedding etiquette
  • Configurator: car, living room furniture, garden

At the end you should get something you can share, either some sort of label, e.g. "You're a true bookworm", "Best Man's Worst Nightmare" or a summary of what you did, like an image of your car with specs or an Ikea shopping list for livingroom furniture.

What's important is that this is from a company that is interested in how people relate to the quiz subject. E.g. Amazon could do the book quiz, Ikea the living room configurator and Procter & Gamble the food hygiene meme. I'm not interested in Quizzila, OK Cupid and their ilk.

Your URLs would be appreciated.
apel: (mellow)
I'm sitting on Kieron's couch, LJ:ing on his PC. My laptop decided to sulk on Friday. Unfortunately that meant I couldn't work, so I'll have to leave at 2 to go home and put in the 3 hours I was supposed to do on Friday. I felt rather guilty about that, not the least because my PM called me on Friday and said that the client had been frantically trying to get in touch with me to arrange a meeting next week. But today when I was finally able to access my work email, there was no email from them there. Besides, I called the client right after getting off the phone with the PM and left a voicemail. The client didn't call back so maybe the house wasn't on fire after all.

In the afternoon I got glasses. Two pairs, one of which has Armani frames, for less than £250. The other pair are shades. I'm very happy with both. Kieron likes them too.

Yesterday morning I got the embarassing rattle from exhaust fixed at a garage here in Cheltenham. They didn't even charge me. A good start to the day.

Then Kieron and I had a picnic at a lookout point near Stroud to test my new glasses. Unfortunately the Met Office was right about the heavy rain, so we went for a drive in the countryside afterwards. Miserden was particularly cute. Nearby Sudgrove looked to have some very nice walks, and easy parking.

Today we've been domestic. I've used my steam cleaner to clean the windows. They were filthy. Now it looks as if somebody dialled up the wattage on the scarlet pelargonium on the balcony. Cleaning the windows is the "low-hanging fruit" of household chores. Kieron has been washing and dusting and stuff. He took some of the things I brought. He particularly liked the candle holders. Being a typical Pagan, I had rather a lot of those. Next week I'm bringing the candles.
apel: (owl)
I feel like I've been busy all day without actually accomplishing anything. But I have. It's just that the main thing I wanted to accomplish turned out to be too hard so I had to abort and make alternative plans. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I started the day by bleaching my hair and posting a photo from yesterday's walk. Then I went to HomeBase to find a wrench, so I could open the S-curve below my bathroom wash basin.

At HomeBase I got advice from a very efficient woman with a blonde pony tail. I came home, realised why she thought it would be so difficult and gave up after 15 sweaty minutes. I'll have to call in a plumber instead -- it's just too hard. So I sent an email with plumbers' phone numbers to my work address. Hopefully I'll have time to call somebody tomorrow, although that may be hard.

On Tuesday morning I'm going to Norwich. This time it's not quite as frightfully early. My train leaves from Liverpool Street station at 8.30, so I won't have to get up until 5 this time. Maybe I can even make it as late as 5.30, if I prepare enough tomorrow night.

After I gave up on the plumbing I've been packing for Tuesday, picking up the living room and sifting through my personal care box.

I've got this big Ikea cardboard box with a rose print on in the bedroom. In it I've been storing body lotions, plasters, toothpaste tubes etc. There was lots of junk in there that I threw away. In the end I had two plastic bags full of junk. It was good to get rid of all that stuff. I realised while doing it that I have more body lotion than I can possibly use in the remaining months.

Next weekend Kieron is coming here. I miss him.
apel: (snail)
  1. Bleach hair

  2. Fix bathroom sink

  3. Pack for Norwich

  4. Order train tickets
apel: (train)
I just discovered that I'm booked into a meeting in Norwich on Thursday at 9 in the morning. That would mean taking the 6.25 train from Liverpool Street. That's quite early.

A little research reveals that there isn't actually a tube that arrives early enough at Liverpool Street from my station. I'll probably have to drive to Shenfield and take the train from there. The train from there leaves at 6.37. With time for mishaps, parking and me being rather slow at that time of "day", I'll have to figure 2 hours for the drive. That means leaving home at 4.40. I'd have to change trains in Chelmsford for the Norwich train.

Alternatively I could drive to a the centre of my suburb and get the very first tube train. If the train is cancelled or delayed, I'll miss my connection at Liverpool Street. Delays and cancellations are unfortunately not unusual at all. In fact my tube this morning was canceled. But I wouldn't have to leave home until 5. Although I'm not sure the parking garage is open that early. I'd have to find that out.

Another alternative would be to take a mainline train to Euston. There are a few mainline stations within easy driving distance. I'd still have to find a tube from the mainline station to Liverpool Street but lets check if what used to be called British Rail can get into town at this unreasonable hour. Yes, that's possible. I'd have to drive to a rather scruffy station but it's not more than a mile or two and there shouldn't be much traffic at that time. There will be plenty of parking.

Only worrying thing is that the tube journey from Euston to Liverpool Street is reported as taking 43 minutes. There's no way of finding out what the National Rail Enquiries journey planner thinks should happen during those 43 minutes. Even the bus doesn't take more than half an hour. Walking to Euston Square and taking the Circle or Hammersmith & City lines takes 20 minutes, according to the London Transport journey planner. That sounds more reasonable.

The advantage of taking the train is of course that I can concentrate on eating or getting some shut-eye while being taken where I need to go. That's important in the morning. The disadvantage is that in the afternoon it's going to be crowded. Still, I think safety takes precedence. Driving when tired is almost as bad as driving when drunk. I'll just confirm the time before I go ahead and book.


May. 25th, 2007 10:08 pm
apel: (red signal)
I used a spacer.gif today.
apel: (may)
In your country, which title do women (who used Mrs when they were married) typically use?

[Poll #975981]
apel: (daffodil)
Today has been a very frustrating day. To begin with I was in Cheltenham, even though I needed to be at home. But I hadn't slept the night before so I was way too tired to drive home yesterday evening. And Kieron said that I could arrange to have BT send out an engineer the same day to get his phone and broadband working, or I could go to Starbucks and use their hotspot. So I should be able to send work emails either way. No problem.

So I called the super secret BT engineering scheduling number right after eight, as Kieron had said. There the friendly man at the other end told me that somebody had closed my case, so he was unable to help me. I needed to call 151 and report a fault. No open case, no engineer.

No problem, I'll just call the fault line. The woman I talked to there was trying all sorts of things to get me to not book a time with an engineer. When she ran out of things she thought I should do instead, she finally gave me an appointment the next day. In other words, I wouldn't be able to get Internet access at Kieron's place today.

No problem, there's a Starbucks within walking distance from Kieron's place. After a little more work, I pack up my things and stroll over to Starbucks. There I try to connect to the T-Mobile hotspot. It doesn't work. I follow the instructions in the little leaflet the staff had given me. It still doesn't work. I thought that was very strange because I've been able to use hotspots in other places. So I call the T-Mobile hotspot helpline and get a guy named Andrew on the phone. He probably wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer but he stepped me through lots of network settings. In the end he gave up and advised me to go to another hotspot. I'd already wasted lots of time so I thanked him for his advice and went home. There I texted my project manager that I had been unable to connect to the Internet and wouldn't be able to send him the files I'd promised last week.

That would be a problem, it turned out. Apparently the client had scheduled a meeting at two to go through the files I'd promised to send through. It was now 12.30. But the PM said that if I just had a memory card, I could transfer the files onto that and send them from a computer in the library. No problem, I said. I have several cards, a reader and a library that's even closer than the Starbucks.

So off I go to the library. It's one o'clock but I get a computer right away. There I set up my little reader and transfer the files to the PC. Unfortunately the PC won't connect to GT's web mail. It doesn't say why but I suspect that it's because of the faulty certificate. So I wait for the agonisingly slow browser to take me to Hotmail instead. When the page comes up, I realise that I have no idea what my password is. Except that it's a string of random numbers, letters and punctuation marks. No joy.

But that's OK because I can use my Demon email instead and send the files to the project manager. No problem. So I write an email to him and look for the button that says Attachments. I look very carefully in the middle of the page and in all four corners. No button. There's no little paper clip, no matter how hard I look.

But that's no problem, because I can use YouSendIt.com instead. In the end I manage to send the three files through YouSendIt.com. It's a great service and it's free for single files. I'm eternally grateful to them for making me look less like a total flake.

So I text the PM that I've sent the files and ask if he's got them. Immediately I get a text back from T-Mobile telling me that I'm out of credit and that the text hasn't been sent. That's when I couldn't decide whether to scream or to cry.
apel: (daffodil)
Today I'm finally feeling better. I've even worked from home today. But it's taken its toll and I wasn't nearly as productive as usual. Still, much better than not being able to work so I'm happy. Now I feel a nap coming on.
apel: (Default)
I'm confused. Here I am, happily creating wireframes for a site and suddenly I hit a wall: the Visio page ends before the form is meant to end. Surely this is something that others have had happen to them too. In fact, the people who created a prototype I've been looking at lately seem to have been wireframing in Power Point, judging from the layout of their web pages. They're short and squat like Power Point slides. But that's not the way the web works.

True, you can make a page in any format you like. But because scrolling sideways is much harder than scrolling lengthwise, traditionally web pages are long and narrow. Like this LJ page for instance. It's 25 entries long, regardless of how long that is in pixels. The page just expands downwards. It's one of the selling points of the web over paper -- that it just expands to whatever length you need it. That's also why blog entries can be any length that works best for what is being said. I write one-liners, I write hundred-liners. It's all the same on the web.

But not when I'm wireframing. Because the template I'm using forces me to limit the wireframe to the length of an A4. I could make it an A3 but that's still limiting a format that is inherently limitless. For web pages the only real length restriction is reader fatigue.

In the past I've solved the problem by creating an overview wireframe that blocks out the areas on the page. Each block has then got its own detailed wireframe on the subsequent pages. That works well for people who are used to that sort of hierarchical thinking but not so well for people with limited experience of web layout.

I have no better solution to offer right now so this is one of those slightly irritating entries that don't end with any proper closure.

Office Move

Feb. 1st, 2007 10:42 am
apel: (cranky)
We're moving around within the building today. I've moved from the second floor to the fourth. It's further away from the windows so it's less cold but the desk is made for standing at so the chair is really tall and there's a giant leather pillow under the workbench. Not so happy about that.

Still, it could be a lot worse. The guy next to me has somebody sitting at a 90 degree angle to him. They are going to be bumping into each other all the time. I predict it will take half a day before they hate each other.

The whole office is in upheaval. I doubt a lot will get done today.

Update at 10.55: I just got a phone. It even has the same extension as I had before.
apel: (shoes)
Call before 10.

Update 26Jan07 at 10.45: Done. Will get remaining holiday pay and P45 toward the end of next week.
apel: (Default)
I've spent over an hour now trying to find a photo of a reasonably well-off, white British male in his late fifties. Are these people camera shy?

Links gratefully received. Heck, likely google search terms gratefully received.
apel: (Default)
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