Those of you who know where I work may be happy to know that we’re neck-deep here in the challenges of designing a responsive mobile website (in a cost-effective manner, no less!) As such, and since this blog serves a multi-faceted purpose, one of which is as a kind of sandbox for my own personal code-based experimentation, I’ve been playing with a few design tricks I’ve been thinking a lot about, once again resulting in the subtle tweaking of the look-and-feel of this site. Responsive design is tricky: you are essentially building multiple websites that overlap with each other — same content, different look — but that need to resemble each other enough that users just think things are shuffling around… which they are… but in clever ways that maximize screen real estate. In short, you change one thing and two more things break. You fix those and some other bit pops out like a cartoon pimple in a completely unexpected place over here. Yoink! I don’t seek your pity, just your patience if something doesn’t look quite right.
Once again I’ll be giving my standard talk on running technology tonight. I was invited by Heather to chat to her clinic group about the uses of tech to enhance training, a talk I’ve given about fifteen times by now, each time getting a little more enhanced by the number of tools, websites, and dangling bits of plastic-coated silicon that are available to quantify one’s effort. My first stab at the topic was blogged about over four years ago and still sees some traffic. I’ll be refreshing my own brain on my ten points sometime later today, and adding a few bits to it prior to kicking off the evening discussion. If nothing else I may turn a few more naive runners into sport data geeks like me, tracking their every klick and charting their progress across the decades. At worst, it’s another milestone for running nerdom.
With Karin out of town, I was stuck at home with –y’know– dad responsibilities, and so I spent the better part of my evening last night doing some minor tweaks to my blog template. It’s a small thing, yeah, but it should make it a lot more “touchable.” Whaaaa..?? Well, rather than just have great big gorgeous feature imagery on my front page with itty-bitty word-titles that you click to navigate to the article, now every time there is a picture associated with an article, that whole image is clickable. It’s a bigger target for your little finger. Again… small thing, but with a big usability impact, particularly if you’re reading this blog on a tablet or a phone. Enjoy!
I’ve been fairly quiet for the last few months on this blog about my information management topics. Work. Projects. Covering for other people’s leaves… that type of thing. It doesn’t spare much time for pondering the wide world of information theory.
Yet, having been on the front line (of the customer side, at least) of a very recent (and still in-progress) app launch by one of my favorite purveyors of coffee, I thought I would make some observations. It also just so happens that the last year of my professional life has been blended with the creamy goodness of mobile web design like so many vanilla lattes. This stuff has been the sugar in my coffee for a lot of foundation-building effort.
So, I downloaded a new app the other day…
The Second Cup Coffee Company has been late to the field with respect to the pay-for-your-joe-with-an-app game. I have no less than three of these little shops within walking distance of my office and a choice of four different locations close to my home. It’s also where my running club has been congealing for our unofficial post-run social club for the past fours years. I have no less than three active payment cards, each for a different circumstance and… well, you get the point. I was going to be one of those early adopters: download the app on day one and cross my fingers that my coffee supply goes uninterrupted.
It didn’t. And having only an outsider perspective to go on, here’s what I suspect happened:
1. Juggling Too Many (Hard Launch) Balls
There was nary a whiff of this new toy coming down the pipe. Oh, there was speculation that it would need to happen. Starbucks was presumably eating Second Cup’s lunch in the mobile payment game. Here I was manually reloading cards, or paying with (ironic shudder) cash at Canada’s flagship barrista, where next door I was calling up a sexy app on my phone, collecting rewards, and topping up my balance in the moments before i got to the front of the line through an integrated payment system. Tim Hortons had tried their own app a few months ago, quietly launching it with a sad collection of complicated sign-up features and payments that took (literally) two minutes to transact while we customers stood there at the POS holding up an impatient line.
On Tuesday morning I walked in to get my coffee at Second Cup and everything had changed: new brand, new reward system, new cups, new little coffee labels, and new little blinking lazer scanners. Expectations were huge. And while it’s tough to mess up the redesign of a pretty new cup, if you’re going to piggyback the launch of a payment system on the same day it’s important that it works.
I get it: bugs are inevitable, but this thing simply did not work.
2. Clumsy Account Migration
The first hint of this was at sign-up.
I mentioned that I am the holder of multiple Second Cup payment cards. The company has for many years made use of the strategic deployment of the gift card system, even offering both rewards and a convenient top-up system for using them. Not being a guy that bothers much with cash, having a card that auto-reloads based on a threshold balance is awesome. I pay for my coffee with the card that is always in my wallet and if the balance drops below about five bucks… bam… I wake up the next morning to a friendly email telling me that my card is now refilled and ready for all my pre-work caffeinating needs.
Registering my card also saved me about fifteen bucks when my wallet went AWOL a few months ago. I logged into my account, reported the card lost, and the system canceled it and mailed me a new one. Perfect.
In other words, I’ve been making use of my web-based account for a long time. So, my first inclination was to log in with that. And when that didn’t work, my second inclination was to sign up for a new account. And when that didn’t work… well… I was out of options, at least standing in the cafe with my iPhone laughing at me.
3. Hanging the App on a Broken Website
To the web!
Of course, the website would be rock-solid, right? That was a system that developers would have had complete control over. They had a legacy system that seemed to work really well, an integrated payment and top-up system that knew all about my cards, was holding my account information, and…
For the first half of the first day the system didn’t know who I was.
For the second half of the first day the system remembered me, but seemed to be a little confused about how many cards I had and what my balance should be. It even let me put twenty bucks into my account.
At the end of the first day, the barista at our “running” Second Cup spent fifteen minutes with me trying to diagnose what the issue was.
On the second day, I went to Starbucks.
On the third day –today– my account doesn’t seem to be valid anymore, and I can’t log in, I can’t pay with any of the new or old cards, and the website gives me an error when I try and reset my password.
4. Incentives That Flop
So, I suppose I’m probably not going to get my 500 free points for being one of the first people to sign up for an account, am I? That’s probably wishful thinking right now.
5. Catching Your Front Line Unprepared
This morning I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I mentioned that I had spent fifteen minutes with the owner/franchisee of the location where our running club meets. I had been the first guy to show up all day with the new app, and he was just as eager to try out the system as I was to have my post-run beverage. We scanned my phone about thirty times and not once did it do anything that made sense to either of us, I as a tech-savy guy used to cryptic technology behavior and he as the front line of a new technology launch who supposedly should have been given a bit of training or documentation.
I frequent a cafe near my office nearly every morning and the lovely young girl who not only remembers what I order every day –a medium dark-roast, no room– serves me with a smile. I patiently asked her if they had their new system up and working yet. She grinned and said, “maybe, we can try” and then when it flopped she profusely apologized and accepted my cash payment instead. “It’s really not your fault.” I offered, but I don’t think she’ll get much of that kind of patience from everyone today.
Outside Looking In
I’m an outsider looking in, of course. I don’t see (though I suspect) the frantic all-night conference calls between management and contractors burning through years of budgeted overtime right now. I don’t see the hard-working developers who haven’t slept in a week or the customer service folks pounding out hundreds of thankless replies to angry inquiries. I feel for them, and I wish them well…
But I’m taking notes and I’m gonna try and learn a few things from their very public mistakes.
Update: April 28th
After an app update, and having spent about a week trying to access my “existing” accounts (2 of them) with, y’know, all the passwordsz, I took a gamble and attempted to set up a new account using one of the cards I had in my wallet.
So, apparently I missed something in my earlier analysis: along with changing the brand and their POS system, they ALSO invalidated all their existing customer cards in the new system. This means I get the “exciting new opportunity” to register a new card and try and piece together the crumbling remains of my old accounts.
The kicker is that after going through a process to set up a new account with the email that I assumed was still connected to my old account all my old cards (with, y’know cash balances on them) still insist that they are already connected to existing accounts. I assume these are my old accounts that I can’t access anymore… ?
One glowing bit of good luck is that the $20 I added back on day one –y’know? a week ago– when things seemed to be working is somehow mysteriously associated with this new account I just created –y’know? today. (I have an idea why, but still… it’s money, guys. A little more careful with that, please if you want to retain my trust here.) And, yes, I finally did get my 500 points. Too bad for second cup that they’ve lost out on a week of my business while I stumbled blindly through sorting this out.
Update: April 30th
A couple more observations. While my account seems to be chugging along just fine at the moment and a few of the bugs appear to have been worked out (I’m even earning points) apparently there was a little snafu in the incentive planning at launch that is causing some back-peddling of the service at some locations.
This is second-hand knowledge (fair disclosure) but after trying to buy a coffee with my phone last night following our running outing, and instead discovering a little hand-written sign saying something along the lines of “our app payment and rewards system is temporarily suspended due to some technical issues” I heard the following story (and thus another what-not-to-do issue):
6. An Incentive Too Good
Underestimating the creativity of some customers (specifically customers from the high school next door) the new app rewards you with 500 free points (just enough for a free coffee) for creating an account. Of course, to create an account, all you need is a name and an email address. Now, I just want a functioning app and I’m perfectly willing to pay for my coffees, but it didn’t take long for some creative teenagers to connect the infinite availability of free email addresses to the simple video-game-esque grinding of cranking out dozens of new accounts each and the subsequent rewards of a free drink for their (minimal) effort. That’s right. With absolutely no investment but effort, time and access to the shady morals involved with duping a loophole in an overly generous incentive program you too can have as many free drinks as may fill your heartless soul. The proprietor of my local cafe figured this out pretty quick and pulled the plug, but in doing so has shut it off completely and for all his customers… or at least that’s what the story is.
The simple solution is to crank it down a notch: say, 400 points with sign-up, then spend ten more bucks and boom… free coffee. It creates a minor hurdle to exploitation, but probably enough that it’s not worth the effort for 99% of the people. Or, just shut off the sign-up bonus, and offer double points for the first couple months as an early-adopter bonus.
Oh, and they seem to be out of their nifty new cup designs (at least where I go.)
This thing just keeps getting crazier. Good luck, Second Cup.
What posts in June? Oh, thooooose thirty posts in June… again. It seems that for the fourth year in a row I’ve climbed aboard the daily blogging train and continued that monumental, multi-year writing effort to string a topic or idea across the vast reaches of years. Each day a new post on a new topic, but on the same blog-per-day topic as last year, creating another set of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be:
June 17th // Something You Are Working At
Three years to the day of this exact same theme of post I’m in an almost nearly identical position as I was then.
I wrote a post three years ago today on the topic of my big project at work of re-organizing the corporate intranet system. And what I’d optimistically presumed would be a year-long project, turned into nearly two and a half years (with a short break for some other priority stuff in the middle) of effort that culminated in a much-lauded relaunch of a jumbled file system into neat-and-tidy, revitalized internal communications tool that is saving time and effort… and probably as a result tax money (but then no one specifically measures that.)
Three years later I’m heads-down, all systems go, on yet another project spin-up. You may have noticed that I’ve been focussing a lot on the mobile aspects of my own blog lately. That’s not accidental. I’ve often said that of the many reasons I tend a personal website, one reason fairly high on that list is as a sandbox for my own professional development. After all, it’s all well and good to READ about mobile design standards. It’s another thing to re-purpose a content managed template, live and on-the-fly, into a responsive design. It’s another thing to think about mobile content in the context of actual real-live webpages. It’s another thing to stumble, trip, and yet keep on running when you encounter not-so-obvious roadblocks that no one overtly mentions and you’d never think to search for…
These same systems that I tend to professionally each day — pruning, tweaking, refining, defining, organizing, and honing to the as-close-to-perfection-as-we-can-ness that we strive for — these same systems are increasingly accessed by hundreds of thousands of people on the go. On phones. On tablets. On apps.
And I’m working on another big ol’ project to make that experience a little more friendly. Or at least some pre-work to make that project a little more focused. It will take time to do it right, and as usual, it will be done as efficiently and step-wise as possible. I just hope that in more three years (or preferably much, much sooner) I’ll be talking about THIS project in the past tense, too.
I’m not a huge fan of responsive design, y’know the kind: when websites wibble-and-wobble around and change their look-and-feel, shape and content depending on how big your browser window happens to be. My lack of fandom probably accounts for my (up-til-now) complete lack of understanding of the technical side of it all. I just never bothered. But people apparently like it and I was given (professional) cause (and arguably “light” direction) to figure it all out. So, in other words, if you’re wondering why suddenly this site is using a nearly-identical, but now moderately-responsive template… it’s because I needed to learn. It’s because I needed a guinea pig. And you’re reading it. What do you think: nailed it? Or needs work? What do you expect from a website that responds to your viewing window?
A “Hackable Me” post is a few words on incremental personal self-improvement: a personal hack to better myself. I’m actually very skeptical when it comes to the kind of DIY, fixer-upper, read-this-book-to-change-your-life sort of self-improvement one normally thinks about. On the other hand I tend to consider that (a) publicly scrutinized goals and (b) introspective evaluation of those goals through words tends to lead to making me a better person. This is just a thing to do with that.
A couple years ago when I started this whole idea of “Hackable Me” (and yes, I still track a lot of things with regard to this little self-improvement initiative) I had the idea of automating a key component of that system, specifically the public accountability side.
See, in the spirit of the project, the whole point of tracking and gamifying your personal effort towards a goal is (a) to quantify that effort to make it easier for your brain to comprehend your success (or failure) in moving towards that goal, (b) to link that effort to real-world results, and (c) to add a level of public accountability so that to successes (and failures) can be a motivating factor to always trying to improve.
Most people balk at the public accountability part. But, for better or worse, you’ve probably already figured out that I’m not most people.
So when I started using this little system (admittedly, off and on over the past two years) the part about public accountability simply meant that I would keep track in a spreadsheet and then occasionally report my results. I’ve tried to keep my running tallies up-to-date, but the rest of it… that’s a lot of little numbers to always be updating.
But over the past few weeks (and after a couple long evenings of sitting in front of the television watching the Olympics and writing PHP scripts) I’ve finally got a version one (beta) of my Hackable Me Console which allows (a) simplified tracking system for a number of the key data points I’ve been recording, (b) a mobile-friendly (at least for my phones) website for inputting my data on-the-go and wherever, and (c) a graphical output for both the app-site and which I can embed in the side-bar of this blog.
You can explore — and as always I continue to tweak this system — but the simple tool lets me track points-based positive efforts around four factors: food (red), fitness (blue), mental (yellow) and lifestyle (green) and displays a graph of the same for the day of the year (###) and the total points for that day too.
And, with almost everything I make, there is no such thing as a finished product: so (it that’s the sort of thing that interests you) watch for improvements, additions, and as time goes on. And remember to yell at me if you start seeing too many zeros on my little graph!
As the summer bleeds into some chilly autumn days, and I spend more and more time refocusing on those upcoming long winter days de-crypting work project requests, I’ve been turning my thoughts back to writing for my quasi-professional blog, the FooBarn — and subsequently doing a little more spouting off on the information management topics I’m paid to espouse. Here’s a sampler.
FooBarn’s Foo Maxim #001 (a cross-post…)
It might not seem so at the start, but implementing technology is almost always easier than building business processes that work effectively.
Or, at least that’s my opinion. The opinion of a a guy who codes a little in his spare time and is usually pretty comfortable around technology. The opinion of a guy who works daily to grok business needs and convert them into technological outcomes. The opinion of a guy who usually ends up adapting his technology “solution” way more times than necessary because the business process that blossomed far too organically later in the design flow didn’t quite line up with what was in the minds that requested said technology far too early.
In business, we design an algorithm — a step-by-step procedure — or a series of the same, that converts a business need into a result. A request is converted into an action. A transaction is converted into a service. A complaint is converted into a fix. And all of these procedures involve many moving parts: people, money, paperwork, and information.
In technology, we tend to design algorithms that convert the same sorts of things: a request into an action, transaction into a sale, et cetera. And good technology isn’t — and here’s the key — a stand-alone element. Good technology, at least in a business setting, is a smaller piece of a larger business process.
That’s all well and good, you say, and we know that… don’t we?
Sure, many people do know this. Many people get it. But even the best managers come to me and say things such as: “We want to have a website for this” or “how can we integrate social media better?”
And the confused looks I get…
And the confused looks I get when the “web guy” asks them why exactly they need a website, or what benefit they are hoping to get from using a discussion forum, or what message are they hoping to put out on Twitter that warrants the quantity of work required to do so — those looks get me every time.
See, technology is usually the easy part. If the business process is well understood, then building the technology is a matter of finding an algorithm that converts one thing into another thing. A website might be “required” when a business is trying to provide authoritative information, structured data, or access to downloadable forms to users. A discussion forum might be highly useful when the business process calls for a clear need for providing informal interactive support and discussion between customers and the business. And despite my almost uniform reluctance to recommend it, social media platforms do have a clear place in business for things like clear-headed and balanced reaction to quickly moving or controversial topics of interest to clients and customers.
Novel technology is a challenge, of course, but it’s a challenge that is almost always supported, direct, and manageable if the person implementing that technology understands the exact need — the starting point and ending point for what that technology is trying to accomplish — before the technology is designed to begin with.
Trying to wrap a business process around the vague desire to include an existing technology, on the other hand: can anyone say “square peg into a round hole?”
A reloaded post is a short-and-sweet collection of the (sometimes-interlinked) randomness from my recent life, universe and everything else in between. They would be more detailed but they tend to be events lacking in either (a) details or (b) depth; Or lacking in the time to more fully record them. Enjoy.
It's — apparently — almost Spring. Well, technically it IS spring. But you wouldn't know from the weekly blizzards and the lowest-in-130-years temperatures we've been recording lately. Nevertheless, the snow is melting away in gushes of sloppy, dirty puddles, the days are getting noticeably longer, and summer seems just around the corner.
Something Sickly This Way Comes
I hesitate to label myself to firmly in the “sick” category. I've spent the last couple weeks fighting a lingering cough and stuffy nose, but other than the typical tired-all-overness that comes with a busy and productive week, I feel fine. I think it might just be some kind of allergy, what with all the snow finally giving way to the brown and rotting remnants of last year's grass. Snow mould?
Lost in the vacuum that was last week's minor blogging hiatus, I neglected to post here about Dopey. If you follow me on nearly any other form of social media, or have been reading my new running blog, FEETS dot CA, you will already long since know that I gave some money to the runDisney group, filled in some forms, and signed up to run in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in January.
“Marathon?” you ask.
Yeah, but as I've committed to running the Dopey Challenge, I don't get to run the marathon until I've run the 5K, 10K and half-marathons first. But hey, it's only 78.2 klicks in four days.
I don't normally write anything about work, and these few words aren't much anything at all except to mention that I had an awesome success this past week in my job: See, one of my projects is as a technical architectural lead in re-organizing the entire corporate intranet system, currently a time-worn jumbled mess of cluttered and out-of-date information.
I had the inspirational idea of game-ifying the staff engagement and input process, turning the usually-arduous process of getting feedback and opinion from our audience (ie. my fellow employees) into a light-weight electronic card-sorting tool. The system is very basic in the front end — essentially a click-and-drop game — but provides invaluable data when used by a wide range of people. I would have been happy getting, say, 100 people to use the tool, proffer their opinions on the data set, and therein rake in a few thousand data points to analyze. That would have been a blazing success.
But after three days, I switched my home-brewed tool down last night at the appointed time. Results: over 600 of my awesome fellow employees participated and we sorted a little over thirty-two thousand electronic cards. Wildest dreams exceeded! I doubt any of them are reading this, but if they are: you guys rock!
While I go on narcissistically bragging up my own insane commitment to running a darn-near ridiculous race, I can't neglect to mention the fact that six — yes, 6 — of my family members also signed up to run in Florida next January. That's right, not only are Karin and (then-to-be) six-year-old Claire going to run the 5 K family fun run, but both my parent-in-laws, my getting-more-respectable-by-the-day brother-in-law, and also my new (then-to-be) nine-year-old niece-in-law. There will be seven of us lined up on the start line, probably not setting record times, but all out for a five klick jog none-the-less.
I guess I'll be putting together a lot of training plans this summer.
Some of Claire's running training, if you can call it that, will likely start in a couple weeks when the fields clear up and she jumps into her first official team sport. We signed her up for the local soccer league this spring. Two nights a week she'll be chasing the black-and-white around a quarter-sized field somewhere in the neighbourhood. I'm not sure she quite gets what she's in for yet. She repeatedly tells me she doesn't know if she should play soccer because she doesn't know how: Uh, yeah… that's the point.
My daughter everyone: a perfectionist. I wonder where she gets that.
Either way, between that and us pushing hard on her new-found cycling skills of last summer, we're probably going to have an active and adventure filled spring and summer, I think, and by next January a short five klick run might not seem so out of scope.
I hereby declare myself a super-fan of the open source graphics editor, Inkscape. You should be, too. “I, Inkscapist” is a (new) series of articles I’m planning to write about getting your feet wet as an artist considering dabbling with this sweet vector design package. I’ve got no formal association with Inkscape, but contributing to open source doesn’t always mean writing code: someone needs to evangelize and educate, too. Share & enjoy…
Three Curves You Should Know
I wanted to start simple. I am assuming that you, my art-minded and uber-creative audience, has never really considered what a vector art suite can do for you. You should. Where many folks tend to think learning Photoshop is the ultimate art-creation skill — and it is powerful, make no mistake — pure vector design is that ace in your art tool-kit that once you master you’ll find yourself gravitating to more and more. Inkscape is one of many such software… with the added advantage that it’s awesome and it’s free.
Now here’s the thing… some part of me vaguely recalls the art courses I took waaaaay back and how one of the first things you learn is the fundamental shapes of things. You learn to combine circles and square and other foundational forms into move complex images. I recall standing at an easel with a big blank sheet of paper and some charcoal and literally drawing swirls and swirls and more freely-flowing swirls.
Nodes and curves are one of those foundational objects in vector art. Nearly everything you will eventually draw in Inkscape is a set of various nodes (points) on a canvas that connect to each other via the various curves (arcs and lines.) These have big, fancy names, but to the noob it really just needs to be understood that the three major types you’ll work with are corner, smooth and symmetric.
Corner is probably the easiest to explain. A corner node acts as a kind of sharp edge on the curve where it resides. Think of it as making a kink in the curve that can be manipulated by the handles. The corner node is represented by a diamond shape, and the handles by the highlighted lines and circles that appear when you select it. The curve on each side of the corner node basically ignores what is happening on the other side resulting in just what you might expect: a sharp or not-so-sharp corner at the location of the node which is useful for the various pieces of hard, angled shapes.
Smooth (and auto-smoothed)
Smooth nodes are represented by square-shaped nodes, and can be manipulated in a nearly identical way… with the exception that the curve on either side of the node reacts and changes based on the it’s opposite side counterpart. The computer attempts to avoid a kinked corner here, and instead generates a rounded, uninterrupted arc whose shape is determined by the length and angle of the associated handles. You’ll might notice that the handles always form a straight line that runs tangential to the curve and the shape of the node is determined by where on this line the node lives. This node is very useful for creating freely flowing, rounded segments and shapes.
Symmetric nodes seem to me to be a kind of off-shoot of the smooth node. Symmetric nodes not only pay attention to what the arc on the other side of the node is doing, but it mimics-slash-mirrors it so that the resulting curve is a smooth arc with the mid-point being the node. You’ll also notice that (like the smooth curve) the handles form a straight line that runs tangential to the curve but who’s exact mid-point is the node… but maybe that’s too much math-ish stuff for this post. (To be honest, I rarely deliberately employ this one, but I’m sure if you are looking to make precise art or design it would be very useful.)
Once you’ve downloaded and installed Inkscape, and then familiarized yourself with the basic controls (maybe I’ll cover that in a future post)… give it a try. Your homework is to make a simple drawing that uses all of these three types of curves and nodes. My own quick-and-dirty example is attached. Can you spot them all?
Have something you’d like explained about vector art? I’ll try my best: leave a comment. Screens, art, and information is all based on my own personal use and experience with Inkscape, the open source vector graphics editor.
This is a cross-post from some thinking I was doing last night about my other blog…
I\’ll admit. I haven\’t actually been doing a good job of keeping that particular blog updated. And it hasn\’t actually been getting a lot of hits. It\’s what you might call… uh… stale.
The problem is this isn\’t exactly due to lack of ideas or content. It\’s due to lack of something else. It\’s due to lack of something that I haven\’t exactly been able to put my finger on until recently.
It is something like this: a couple years ago I started writing the FooBarn Blog as a kind of project in-and-of-itself. It was the point. The point being to write a blog about technology and information that I thought would generate enough interest to keep it up-to-date and peppered with articles about what I was working on or thinking about.
I wrote. I filled up a lot of pages. And then…
Well, then I (in a matter of speaking) wrote myself into a corner. I focused. I focused, well, too much.
I was just recently (as in last week) on a vacation. I unplugged. I left my phone at home in my drawer. The only electronics I brought along were a camera and a Kindle. Nine days of e-freedom ensued, a span of time when I was under no obligation (or ability, to be honest) to blog, type, tweet, update, code, create, or otherwise put characters into an electronic space. When you have that kind of break, literally separated from something, you often tend to come back to it with a slightly skewed perspective on it. And having time to think about it a little bit I realized that the problem I\’m having with this blog is that I\’ve written myself into a corner.
As of my writing this, the blurb on the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœabout\’ section of the FooBarn Blog reads: Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is a blog about technology, information, and interface.Ã¢â‚¬Â This remains true, but I think I want to tweak that, skew it, and add a few new ideas. What I think I want is the FooBarn Blog to be a blog about the relationship between technology and people, between information and ideas, and between interface and art. It should be a blog about using technology to embrace knowledge and enhance society through creatively, intuitively, and thoughtfully built tools.
I want to write about not only what I have been writing about — the information management and design principles of my work — but also about curious and intriguing ways people are employing technology to make communities and cultures blossom with ideas and personal expression. I don\’t just want to pepper readers with vague ideas of finding better interfaces and organizational structures, but I want to pull back the veil of those better interfaces and understand how this helps us learn, expand, explore, and become better citizens.
This is just my plan. But I\’m changing the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœabout\’ section of that blog a few minutes after I post this. And I\’m going to do some writing very soon, too.
Perhaps it’s a little bit crazy, but I’ve been drawing maps.
At the root of it is the same sort of thing that generally happens when I get involved with something: it turns techie. Not always in a bad way. This time I stuck my own foot in it, so to speak.
Mostly, I think she just meant that I should go over to the running maps website, the one that pulls Google Map data and allows you to plot a distance-measured route layer atop it and share it around. Which is fine. And for most people, it would have been good enough to just do that, save some routes and share the links around.
But then I got it into my head that I wanted a better way to organize it, and to be far less dependent on one single application platform that might suddenly stop working or put up a pay-wall or something.
Oh, and it wouldn’t it be fun to make a little document management project out of it? I do that sort of thing, you know… mostly just to keep my skills sharp.
And, oh look… now I’ve already plotted out a dozen or so of our regular routes and saved them as screenshots in a blog-like, mobile-template-ready format that we can use from our mobile phones while we’re running.
Drawing maps is not actually that tough, it turns out. I’ve got fairly proficient at using vector tools like Inkscape (that being my favourite, the Swiss-army-knife of open source vector programs.) Maps are really just lots of curvy lines and a bit of text mashed together to look nice. It’s putting the lines in the right place that’s the tricky part: Pulling a few bits of reference material from the existing screenshots and adjusting, supplementing, and amending it (from a runner’s perspective) for my own purposes, I managed to create a fairly elaborate master map of about a hundred square kilometres (which sounds like a lot, but really isn’t all that big) of the neighbourhood and trails surrounding where we run out of. It highlights major roads (those with run-able side-walks), the asphalt trail systems accessible from our start point, and some of the un-groomed trail systems we’ve been known to take in on our more adventurous runs. It also leaves out those minor roads that we don’t run on because they either (a) lead no where or (b) are not run-able.
…the crazy is beginning to pay off…
I’ve been using this master-map, growing it, adjusting it, and improving it from my own knowledge of the area where we run, then using that to highlight routes, tag them with navigable details, and then cataloguing them by distance and features in a little WordPress-based website I’ve been building. (No link for you yet, but soon…) There is still lots of work, but the crazy is beginning to pay off as the website I’ve been picking away at for about a month now is nearly ready for launch. Nearly.
(More on that… in Part 2)