I did a big switch-over last night and I’m going to try running my comments off of Disqus for a while. It’s not that I think WordPress isn’t up to the task, but I do think the advantage of a single-sign-on for YOUR personal information, and YOU not being required to give ME your email address in order to comment on the drivel I write here may have a long term, net positive impact. Not that its a huge deal with the literally tens of comments I get here every year, but just so you know… and just so when I dig back through my archives to try remembering when I switched, now I can. Ready… mark!
In the virtual “e” sense, I build things almost every day. But actually constructing something –with saws and wood and nails — well, I built a workbench and some shelving in my shed in May. So… May.
“Why was mommy shouting last night?” She blurts from the back seat of the car. Her voice has that tone I’ve learned to recognize as the one which emerges in her truth-seeking moments.
We had been arguing… as couples sometimes do. A misunderstanding lead to a sideways comment which lead to a baited remark which in turn overflowed into raised voices. The specifics are personal… and irrelevant here. Couples argue. Couples disagree. They state their position, often emotionally, and in functional relationships the full boil that started it all tends to reduce to a simmer of productive discussion.
Unfortunately it boiled much too soon after her bedtime.
“Were we talking too loudly?” I probe, wincing at the conversation I know is about to follow.
“Yeah.” She says cautiously. “I couldn’t sleep when you were both yelling.”
“Well…” I tread carefully forward. “Sometimes mom and I don’t agree about, y’know… something… and when we’re both really tired… and… sometimes it’s important stuff and sometimes…”
“Are you mad at mom?” She interrupts.
“It’s not about being mad.” I reply. “Do you remember those times when sometimes mom wants you to do something and you don’t want to do it… like practising your piano?”
“Uh-huh.” She mumbles.
“It’s not exactly that you’re mad at each other when you argue about that, are you?” I offer citing my recollections of arm-twisting practice sessions that so often ended in tears and time-outs, but eventually a few good moments of tickling the ivories. “It’s more like you disagree about something, right?”
“I guess so.” She says. “But why were you fighting?”
“Sometimes people just fight.” I shrug. “Sometimes they need to.”
fostering independence, rule 008
arguments happen: acknowledge the reality of relationships
It was about here that I broke into carefully-treading lecture on the fine line of difference between a good-and-balanced, old-fashioned heated argument with a bit of mud slinging –which, on occasion, can help vent steam in relationship with the inevitable build-up of friction– and the darker sides of domestic violence. I won’t veer into that particular territory in this small space. Needless to say, that’s the important bit and every parent will broach that subject in their own course.
People disagree… and then they fight, argue, banter, debate, and scream-and-shout about it. Where the grey area emerges is in the perception of what constitutes a balanced fight and what constitutes a darker arena where we should all fear to tread: I won’t answer that part here… though her and I discussed it. Either way, arguments happen, and understanding that all relationships will have conflict from time-to-time, but that there is this murky pool where at one end swims the good-fighting and at the other bad-fighting… getting that… perceiving that… acknowledging the reality of that is not a trivial skill for any independent adult.
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!
Once more it is June. Again. And again I embark upon that epic effort of daily blogging, take three, wherein I call upon myself for a kind of rambling focus, picking from a list of daily topics, and with neither planning nor advance writing, strive to pepper this blog with the free-thought, free-writing wonder that is another one of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be:
June 6th // Something You Have Forgotten
About a week and a half ago, one of those interesting, come-out-of-nowhere web tools released an Android application to supplement their already awesome and growing website.
If you haven’t heard of Duolingo –and you are at all interested in learning a second language– you should check it out.
Rewind. About a year ago now, just as I am writing these thirty posts, I wrote a post about something I was learning: French.
Claire was primed up for Kindergarten, I seemed to have countless acres of free time on my hands, and I had this urgency of consideration that told me I should probably try and be a good-type-dad by keeping up in that supportive, educational way I’ve always espoused as a fatherhood philosophy.
And I did. At least a little bit.
But part time language instruction is tough.
About the same time as this was happening I found and started using a product called Duolingo. It this “free” website designed for a really interesting kind of language instruction. It was built on this innovative kind of pay-with-your-time model: the idea behind it (as I understand, at least) is that the website business model is really as a translation service. Anyone can upload a document to translate, a certain number for free, but you can also pay for speed or quantity. I haven’t really researched it much –particularly as I don’t have much that needs translation– but that’s how I followed the workings of it all.
The translators, however, are not professionals: they are crowd-sourced. People. Users. Folks like me who are using the system to learn a language.
I’m a translator simply because I’m a user of the system. And even though I’m just in the early skill-level stages of learning the language, my contribution to the translation of a larger document is valuable because it is compared against dozens or hundreds of other users doing and learning and translating at the same time. The scale of it — the aggregation of thousands of small contribution– produces fast and largely high quality translation results. And by contributing and working through the learning modules, I get to learn French at the same time. Or German. Or Portuguese. Or whatever.
I picked away it for a while early on, but never really could pin down enough time to focus. And then, like I started this post with above, about a week and a half ago Duolingo released an Android app. Since I spend a good hour each day on the train –with a phone, and time to kill– since downloading it I have worked through a lot more learning modules, added some new skills, and been learning French again. I’ve been a lot more dedicated in my study: Beaucoup! Je suis un nouveau homme!
I’ve also realized just how much of the language I’ve forgotten, too.
Everyone loves a good list, and after four previous rounds of my blogging extravaganza “week of lists” posts, I’ve pretty much confirmed the old (if slightly modified) adage: If you write them, they will come. Again, seven days, seven lists: and this time the topic honours my starting-this-week marathon training efforts for the summer of 2013, locked in step and stride on this, the week of lists number five, the Twenty-6-Point-Two Miles Edition.
I went out looking for some ideas about gamifying goal-setting in general and came across an ideally shaped list of six “rules” for gamification, duely credited. The list was slightly askew from what I was looking for, but not so much that I couldn’t adjust it and simplify it to make my point.
Gamification is a way of turning what can sometimes be described as tedious tasks or effort requiring steady willpower into a game. Games are fun. Some people love games. Some people thrive on games. And when someone has a goal and they turn acheiving it into a game… hey… it’s like magic.
That said, it’s not for everyone. But if you are one of the folks who gamification can work for, then here are…
6 Ways to Gamify Your Marathon Training
1 : Have a Winnable End-Game
Again, this is a modified version of the list linked above. But I think the points were valid for my purposes in this post, too. The first rule seems smart: make sure the game is winnable. No one likes to play a game they cannot win. Progress in gamification (at least in my experience) comes from the idea that (a) you are working towards a goal and that (b) the goal is completely reachable if you take your turns and follow the rules.
As it works out, I gamified my half-marathon training last summer and am intending on doing the same this summer with my marathon goals. My game (called “Hackable Me“) was scoped from the notion that I was going to cross that start line — that I COULD cross that start line — if I followed the rules and beat the game.
2 : Limit the Abstract, Ground Motivation in Reality
You’re probably sitting there thinking that all this seems a little abstract, eh? Turn my running into a game. Or you’re rolling your eyes at the idea of keeping score with points, maybe? And hey, I heard about some app that does that and gives you fake little trophies on Facebook if you… blah, blah, blah.
The abstract components of work = reward probably cannot be completely divorced from the idea of gamification. But it can be grounded in reality. Again, when I did my Hackable Me game, points were earned or lost on real things. Real effort or failure. A point was a kilometer of running. But a point was also a measurable quantity of food. And the reality was that there was a connection between throwing points away on snacks or junk food and the kilometers I knew I’d need to run to earn those points back.
It’s funny to think about but gaming really is a kind of bridging of a rational act with an emotional action. Gaming is fun that requires focused effort. Gaming is play with thought stirred into the mix.
Gamifying a training effort is sort of the same way and needs to keep rooted in both a philosophy of fun and rationality — but the fun part is actually more difficult to achieve. You’ll see some of the apps out there that do this kind of tracking for you attempt this with cartoon-ified profiles or Facebook-like social engagement between players. And like I wrote above: it’s not easy to do… or do right, at least.
4 : Create Payoff that Gets Bigger with Real Progress
This, of course, comes down to your scoring and your results. Grounding the game in reality (as in point #2) is important as you’re playing, but it’s also important as far as payoff goes, as well.
You game needs to be winnable, yeah, but what do you WIN? Honour and glory? Bragging rights? Or are you getting a little treat at the end? Does a great week and a set number of points win you an ice cream on Saturday afternoon? Or is it that you can cash in your points on a little splurging and spending towards a new pair of headphones in the summer?
5 : Build it Fun & Keep it Light
But at the end of it all, it needs to be light and easy and fun. If you are doing complex maths or logging heaps of finicky data just to play your game I can almost assure you that you’ll turn the game into as much of a chore as the fitness.
Games should be light. It’s not science. It’s not mission critical data-logging, here. It’s just a kind of play and motivation mixed together. Forget tracking every single calorie you consume and just be honest and give yourself a daily score, instead. Don’t log every calorie you burn doing exercise, but rather track your big efforts, estimating distances or achievements, and log that as a simple number. Complexity will kill your motivation faster than a snowstorm in June.
As much as I’ve ranted on and on above about devising scoring systems and building payoffs, et cetera, or even about my little Hackable Me project (which worked for my purposes by the way, but I don’t give any guarantees) given the opportunity for a do-over, I’d find an existing tool to replace every one of those efforts every time.
Here in 2013 there are stacks of great existing websites and phone apps that will do this gamification stuff for you (I’m on Fitocracy, myself, right now.) Rolling your own application or scoring system or even just trying to construct a website or spreadsheet to track all this is probably not worth the time: you could be training instead. Probably… of course, you might do that eventually… but definitely don’t START that way.
It’s just a game, after all.
I am a bit of a hypocrite in writing this. My intention was to go out on my vacation last week, bring along my gear, do a couple “on the road” runs through interesting and unfamiliar landscapes, and report back here with some quasi-useful advice on how to “git’er-dun” while out travelling. Instead, I got sick and not only did I miss my running opportunties as I hobbled around the province on a near-zero energy vacation march, I didn’t even have the motivation to write the blog post about it.
But I’m back. I’m feeling much improved. I’ve been out for a couple solid runs since returning (albeit back at home) and I already made my five-point list. So, the (slightly delayed) “week of lists” continues with some tips on getting out running while your out exploring the world.
1 = Map Routes Ahead
Technology here in 2012 is amazing for runners. We have so many tools at our finger-tips that to ignore them for their planning potential would be a monumental mistake. The bounty of mapping software available online — tools like RunningMap.com or any “google maps pedometer” tool — let you zoom into your upcoming destination and not only plot out some of your own routes nearby a hotel (or wherever you’re staying) but often let you search out local routes saved by other users. We carry so much tech with us when we travel that I just save these for later reference, but printing off a few potential routes along your travel path will get you one step further to the front door of your hotel.
2 = Find a Vacation Race or Group
Even better than building your own route is to join someone else’s. All across Canada, for example, you’ll find various Running Room stores (no affiliation — I’ve just been running with them for five years now and think it’s a great program) with their Wednesday evening or Sunday morning runs. I’m sure other running stores have similar gigs going on — and probably websites to help you locate that information. Even better, travelling in the summer and over a weekend, you can almost always find a local race. In Edmonton we have hundreds of races each year. I could run a race every weekend. And travelling? Well, not only do you get your run in, but you’d probably get a souvenir shirt as well.
3 = Share Your Schedule and Plan an Activity for Your Travel Companions
Unless you’re travelling alone, you’ll likely have some other folks with you. Slipping on your shoes and disappearing for a couple hours might even help with the long-lasting harmony of otherwise close-quarters travelling. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be nice and at the very least (a) let others know well in advance of your running plans, and (b) come up with a few suggestions for what they could do while you’re out and about. In fact, giving travelling companions an alternate activity tends to have the bonus effect of ensuring they don’t feel like they’re giving you the shaft visiting some local attraction without you while you’re busy running. Plus make it a good enough alternative, and they’ll be kicking you out the door to make sure they don’t miss their thing.
4 = Don’t Be Afraid of Treadmills
I hate treadmills. No… really. I’ve tried running on a treadmill a few times — often for a couple sporadic months of wannabe training — and always it has been an epic failure. I could never get into it the same way that I get into the whole feet-on-asphalt genre of running. But not only does nearly every hotel I’ve stay at in recent memory have a treadmill, they are almost always free to use and a hop, skip and a jump from where you’re sleeping. So, my travelling (for work or pleasure) rule is that a run or two on a treadmill is a small price to pay for just getting a run in. Also, I can watch TV.
5 = Realize Your Routine is Already Broken
If you are a struggling runner-of-routine like me, charting your progress, logging your clicks, and measuring every metric of your training, going on vacation can seem to be a nightmare to this schedule. Nothing makes sense. You get up at weird times, you eat at strange points in the day, and you’re bedtime routine is completely out of whack. And, I’m sorry to tell you (if you haven’t already figured this out) this disruption is virtually unavoidable. So… embrace it. Deal with it. Get over it. Your routine is broken the minute you do up the zipper on your suitcase… all you can do it just make sure you pack your shoes.
I was out shopping on my afternoon off. On the occasional Friday I get as an “earned day off” my afternoon duties now include killing time — out-and-about — whilst the daughter is off at preschool. So, I went shopping. And among other things (some kitchen supplies and some garden supplies) I stopped at the local electronics super-mega store and (browsing) found a nifty selection of stylus (styluses? styli?) designed for capacitive touch tablets.
But, Brad, you argue; That defeats the whole point of touch screens, doesn’t it? Who wants to carry an extra pen around in their already cluttered pockets? Who wants to be that guy dabbing at their delicate and stylish phone with a metal stick? We just finally escaped from the tyranny of buttons and those stylus-dependent personal digital assistants, PDAs like Palm Pilots and Handspring Visors. Stylus-interfaced devices are for Nintendos and are soooo 2004…
Fair enough, I respond. But, then I haven’t told you the single, solitary, lone reason I bought it, have I?
You see, I had this misinterpreted image of the iPad for the first year that they existed (and I didn’t actually own one.) I would argue that the iPad was awesome as a media consumption device, but that there was a whole market of people out there who needed to create that content — media, text, and other things folks create on computers with much more nuanced interface devices — and that the iPad was a cumbersome interface for detailed work or large quantities of text. After all, type more than a text message on that touch screen keyboard and you’ll go nuts. And while it’s fun to dabble in the numerous little art and sketching apps, mostly it amounts to some really fancy digital finger painting.
But then iPad added a camera. People quickly figured out that you could hook a real keyboard to the device. That iCloud thing just came out and syncing all sorts of media across platforms has never been easier. And someone out there had the clever idea of reinventing some technology from 2004 to replace my stubby, pudgy fingers with a little pen-shaped device that looks like someone glued a half of a rubber ball onto the end.
Voila: interface equals awesome. I bought the stylus for one reason… to draw.
And draw I have.
Thinking of pairing your tablet with a stylus? The increase in nuanced detail permitted by such a match (albeit one I’ve only explored over a single weekend) seems particularly amazing for art and sketching apps. So far I’ve linked up “Sketch Club” and also “Art Set” both with a new level of detail and media-creation appreciation blossoming from the refined interface. My days of finger painting are over.
I’ve been looking for a good sketching program for the iPhone and/or iPad for a little while now and as such I’ve been experimenting with a number of the freely downloadable apps. The problem, I find, is that the touchscreen as a sketching medium leaves much to be desired in the way of sensitivity. They are sensitive to touch on a medium-fidelity scale, but when it comes to pixel-per-pixel fidelity there is much to be desired.
I downloaded a $2 app yesterday called Sketch Club that solves a couple of my issues. First, it seems to go out the door with fidelity and assumes that you are going to be using it for rough sketching and spatter-paint type drawing. And second, it uses a lot of the nifty tools that make sketching a little more forgiving, such as undo and layers.
I was sitting and having a coffee this morning and did a five minute sketch of a blue bike that was sitting out front of the Second Cup using just my iPhone. It’s a very rough sketch, of course — and not exactly art — but it just me playing around with the tool and it does definitely illustrate the blurry-dreamy, quick-and-dirty quality I was looking to achieve from a mobile drawing app. Mostly, I just like the fact that every pen is not just a pixel-perfect solid line or a semi-blurry line. There is a fuzzier quality there that I like.
I can’t wait to give it a go on a larger screen. Now, if only I could actually draw.
My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter (name withheld because I’m cross-posting this on a couple of blogs) is one of those preschoolers lucky enough to have her own computer. Yeah, you read that right. She has her own computer: a fully functional, laptop computer with a 15.4″ screen, dual-core processor, running Ubuntu Linux with the Quimo window manager as the faceplate, blah, blah, blah… a solid machine, in other words. Actually, in all fairness, it is a solid-BUT-mediocre computer that was surplussed from my old job, and I (on a whim) snatched it up at a bargain basement closeout price… but still: my three-year old daughter has her own laptop computer.
Welcome to the twenty-first century. It’s technological. It’s pale green. And it’s covered with stickers.
Up until a few weeks ago we only allowed her to to use it quite sparingly. It was monitored and regulated, because, y’know, all things in moderation, I say. We would set her up playing memory matching games, a virtual ‘Mr. Potato Head’ clone, or with one of those basic bits of painting-slash-drawing software where she could scribble endlessly and without getting felt-tip marker all over the furniture (which she generously does when exerting her non-techie artistic flare elsewhere) all offering a chance to learn a little bit about input devices like the mouse and keyboard. What has changed in the last couple of weeks is that she has started (a) requesting that she be allowed to play on her computer, (b) showing more interest in internet-based, TV-co-branded games than the locally-installed software, and (c) learning enough typing skills (hunt-and-hunt-and-hunt-and-peck) to actually type her password (her first name), press ‘Enter,’ and log into the machine all by herself. (And that floored me completely the first time she did it.)
But what has been quite interesting for me, from the perspective of someone who does information interface and architecture work for a living, is watching her learn to use games, websites, and general operating system paradigms while (a) never really having used them before, and (b) not being able to read much beyond recognizing her letters and numbers, and very slowly at that.
The Real World Meets Icons
This brings me to think about parallels between the computer interfaces and interfaces she has already learned to use surprisingly well — probably due entirely to motivation and instant feedback — in the real world, namely: the television remote control. And when I write “motivation” I here refer directly to the fact that she (a) likes to watch television just like any other ‘normal’ kid, (b) is bound by certain parentally-enforced rules about when and what she is allowed to watch, and (c) is clever enough to work around those rules by learning to operate (by trial-and-error, I assume) the television controls to turn on, adjust, play, pause, et cetera when we have our backs turned.
I sometimes turn my back deliberately because what’s the point of being a kid if not for a little rebellion, huh?
But as far as user interface is concerned, this has been an interesting experiment because having taught herself that buttons-over-here have a cause-and-effect relationship with an action-over-there, the whole interface of a computer desktop seems to have been translated into an adept little child when it comes to experimental exploration of her computer. In other words, she’s not (yet) afraid to just poke around and try what works. I’d guess this is probably because (a) there is no real consequence of something working wrong, no lost data, no missing files, no scary this-is-going-to-cost-me-money fail, and (b) dad is always nearby and can fix anything. And barring everything else, it’s just another toy that — if it stops working — get’s tossed sideways for something more interesting. Tossing aside, though, has been less frequent lately. She’s been getting the interface: learning what colours are associated with the actions she hopes to perform, what shapes translate into relevant ways to move forward in a game or program, how menus appear when clicked at the right place, the speed at which keys need to be pressed on the keyboard to type only one letter, and of course, what information on the screen is important and what is not.
Then the Icons Meet Exceptions
There is one particular advantage to using Linux for this little kid-based interface experiment that goes beyond what the geeks will tell you. Yeah, I can buckle down security, fine tune this and that, and blah, blah, blah. But the advantage lies in that Linux is still a piece of software built in a tinker-minded ecosystem of software developers. That is to say, while many developers will use standard interface paradigms, many others will still stubbornly try to invent their own. Normally this leads to crappy interfaces, though occasionally something new and cool arises. And normally this would be cause for frustration and a quick de-installation of said software. But like any experiment needing variables to fiddle with (though my participant sample size still equals one) having variation in the tools being tested can often lead to the most interesting observations. In other words, the developers who invented their own crappy interfaces for their software have done me an interesting favour in creating a small variety of skewed variations for which my daughter can interact with her computer — and I can thus observe her. Neat, huh?
What does one learn from watching a three-and-a-half-year-old stumble through a badly designed interface? Let’s explore some examples:
1) An Arrow by Any Other Name
Do you know what an arrow means? Of course you do. Maybe. Or, at least you think you do.
To my daughter it’s a triangle with a stick. And a triangle, according to the television remote control (remember that?) means “play.” And making something play is good, immediate, reactive, and a change from a state of waiting to a state of entertainment.
Clicking an arrow that looks like a play button beside a scribbly little virtual drawing she’s just made should then do something good, immediate, and reactive, and NOT advance the software to a new screen and removing her creations from the current screen. This interface is frustrating and bad.
2) Let’s Print Shall We Not
Someone made a very big assumption when they added a giant print button to this virtual ‘paper-doll-dress-up’ game we’ve downloaded. I would conversely assume that, yes, kids love to print things: to transform their creation into a sheet of paper.
We have a printer, but it is not hooked up to the little green laptop currently laid to claim by my daughter. Consequently, as much as she might love to print everything, she has never had that experience so the printer button is a great big “let’s generate a driver error” button, which quickly becomes a “daddy-it’s-broken” button.
A sad, assumption-laden interface.
3) Pop-Up Whats-That-Now
I suppose an argument against letting young kids experience the online multiverse might easily be that generated by the onslaught of pop-up advertising. My argument against any anti-experience argument is that burying one’s head in metaphorical sand is not a solution to a problem. But on a website devoted to children’s games, I really need to question the motivations (really? you herein ask sarcastically) of a website operator who puts pop-up ads on said site.
Really? No. Really?
Interface fail. Marketing? Probably a win.
Attention spans of three-and-a-half-year-olds being what they are (hint: short) kids using computers are prone to very routinely and rapidly switching between software applications. A diligent maker of children’s software should consider this and rather than building something that is easy to open, but difficult to escape think more like a hug. Yes, a hug. I’ve learned that the best way to get my daughter to give me a hug is to ensure that she can escape from the hug any time she wants. If I hold her too tightly, the next time she is extra wary of coming back for a repeat hug. She squirms out and, next time, gives me a cautious glare as if to say: “what are you going to do THIS time?”
Software should think like a hug. If you trap a kid in your software (no matter how great the software is) by, say, making me click a cumbersome series of indecipherable symbols and question dialogs, she may not come back for a second visit.
We have a paint application. Opens great. Lots of features. But if you want to exit? First find the cryptic icon in the toolbox bar to close the program, then confirm you want to abandon your drawing by clicking a check, then inform the program that you do not want to print your creation by clicking an ‘X’, and then finally click another check to confirm you really want to close the software. If you can’t read, it really is a crap shoot here.
Exceptions Meet Experiences
In the end, the question of kids using computers (at least in the case of interface design) is one of relationship with technology. These machines (from my own experience, at least) are just another gizmo-gadget-piece-of-furniture in the house that they need to stumble through learning how to use. There is definitely a debate here about introducing kids to technology (I know, I’ve had that debate with all degrees of technophiles to Luddites) but that’s for a different post. What’s important, I think, is that if you choose to integrate the two, the interface to encourage that relationship to be a positive one plays a big role: and I think we’re getting closer to a good interface, an interface that fades into the background and let’s the experience of enjoying the technology rise to the top.
I’m not exactly a trained web programmer. I mean, I’ve taken classes in basic Java coding and data structures. And heck knows I’ve hacked my way through a sugary sweet collection of itty-bitty web scripts to enhance my blog or just-for-the-sake-of-it stuff. The meal planning and shopping list maker database we’ve been using for just over three years now has been working great and without fail. The bits of dynamic content code I’ve inserted into various websites, code that quietly slurps content randomly from invisible databases and slides it gently into pages, has ticked away without crashing for neigh on many years. And the full-out hacks I’ve trounced upon various WordPress installs has resulted not only in functional websites, but functional websites that draw incredible amounts of traffic, one even given the nod on the Discover Magazine site a few months back. (A long sort of story.)
I do a variety of things to keep myself organized — not only related to code, but related to life in general — and that may be construed as either weird or sensible, depending on your general outlook. One of those things is keeping to-do lists and checklists. I keep a daily list on my desk of the four things I need to get done each day. And I’ve been quietly using a weekly checklist to make sure I (at least try to) get done the odd assortment of little need-to-tasks each seven-day span.
In the last few weeks — the holidays helped, big time — I merged the coding know-how with the desire to simplify and automate the whole re-building checklist things. My first checklists were just scraps of paper. I started back by hand-writing, then eventually moved up to a nifty desktop-published version, and — as of a couple days ago — have now ascended into the realm of having my weekly to-do list dynamically generated via a mostly-functional little web script and a printable PDF. It’s cool. Or I think it is.
Call me a geek if you will, but I actually think I learn a few dozen little skills every time I take on a project like this. If you are interested in that sort of thing (keeping in mind I built it for my personal use first and will be expanding it for more general use as time permits) I’ll soon be publishing the dark, dirty and in-depth details on one of my other sites, but the (beta version) tool is online now for a sneak peek. It’s free to use, of course though — admittedly — the database needs a lot more options to round it out.
It’s Thursday. Claire is napping. The snow doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. I finished listening to my latest audiobook last night. And, all of this considered, I’m feeling like I should be productive, yet I’m sitting here writing a disjointed blog post.
Interesting find this morning: One Two Fiver
I’m going to try it when I know I won’t be interrupted by an unexpectedly short nap. But essentially, as I understand it, it is a tool to make use of the “snowflake” method of writing: take a word, expand it into two, now five, and ten… and so on. Done correctly, a story crystallizes. Done wrong, and the entire fabric of reality folds in upon itself and the universe collapses into a… well, not really.
The real trick would be to do the same bit of writing in reverse. Take a long, rambling bit of text, shrink it, condense it, mash it, mush it, and in the end a single word defines what you’ve written.
On a similar vein: Write or Die
For those self-punishers out there, activate the nag of a timer and hair-trigger feedback system and start writing. Avoidance only results in further frustration. I think if I were on some kind of deadline, this could be useful.
But for now, my stolen nap-time minutes slinking quickly away, I guess I’ll just be sticking to the blog. Again.