absurd, dog ears, sep 2008

Excerpt, latest UXtraordinary post: Why Google+ works

Excerpt from UXtraordinary:

I am thrilled to see Andy Herzfeld's social circles concept implemented so beautifully in Google+. My semi-educated guess is that empowering users to define access to themselves according to their own purposes and needs—in context—will build engagement and strong loyalty. Why? Because it comes naturally.

Too many social media-based sites, including many social networks, provide only lip service to how users think about groups, let alone user privacy empowerment. A user is seen as one of their members, and the business creates a mental model in which the user is the center of a series of widening circles. "Empowerment" of user content privacy is typically limited to enabling permissions control within those circles.

Users don't see themselves that way. People think of sharing information in terms of a constantly changing algorithm of need, purpose, and ability. We trust some friends more closely than others; we have acquaintances who know a great deal about us whom we barely know. It's my belief that these clashing mental models are one of the primary reasons social media and social networks fail to engage.

Mental models of user grouping
Read more

absurd, dog ears, sep 2008

Road trip: Seattle to Texas

For the next week or so I will have very little internet access, as Bart and I are migrating south via U-Haul. Email access will be dependent on the hotels we stay at along the way.

If you're a friend and need to talk to me, please call my mobile.

If you're a recruiter, you can see my portfolio here: UXtraordinary.

Have a great day!
absurd, dog ears, sep 2008

Last of the Classmates/Memory Lane work photos

Now that I'm no longer with Memory Lane/Classmates, I no longer have photo opportunities on my bus commute, over Elliott Bay, etc. I've finally uploaded the last of those to Flickr. Here are some highlights:

Crow attacks Bald Eagle, from my window at work:
Eagle, seagull, crow

Canada Geese, from my window at work:
Canada geese

Seagull, head-on, from the bus:
Seagull, head-on

Seagull on train, from my window at work:
Seagull on train, take two

My old cube. When we moved I went from an office to a cube, but this view, and the neighborhood, was a complete joy.

My old cube
absurd, dog ears, sep 2008

On my way back to Texas

I will not miss the 12-hour days, nor the 4-bus, 3-4 hour long commutes (that's round trip, not one way). I will not miss other things not worth writing about here.

I look forward to being in my own home again, to friends and family, to Austin and roadrunners and turkeys and longhorns and white-tail deer. I look forward to people who understand chili.

I will miss working with my friends in Hyderabad and Seattle, fresh seafood, talking to bus drivers and passengers, the Steller's Jays, the crows, the band-tailed pigeons, the Douglas squirrels, the weather, the green, the smell of the sea, the harbor seals, the Canada geese, the chipmunks. I will miss the friends I made here. I will miss this:

Mount Rainier past Lake Washington

Two Steller's Jays, closer view
absurd, dog ears, sep 2008

Staff responsibilities in school bullying

The Phoebe Prince bullying case has me thinking (always a dangerous thing ;–). I don't feel qualified to comment on the charges being brought against her classmates (too close to home, although I think I approve). But I would like to reply to those calling for the dismissal of the staff (administration and faculty) seen as letting this happen.

If you're unfamiliar, here are some articles on the case in question: Bullying and the Phoebe Prince case, from The Atlantic, and 9 teenagers are charged after classmate's suicide, from the New York Times.

Wendy Kaminer of The Atlantic opined that "school officials who ignore obvious and extreme abuse of one student by small gang of teenage vipers are probably unfit to serve in schools." I commented the below in response:

By this argument, most of the school officials in my childhood schools should have been out of work, as I was bullied in a variety of ways, ranging from mild to severe (physical abuse), throughout most of my elementary—high school career. (The earliest severe situation involved being held down by multiple students and force-fed horse feed.)

This was wrong, and it would have been nice if more effort had been made to stop it. But I don't think those officials should have been fired. Here are my reasons:
  • This was a small, satellite town near a very large military base. The resources for the number of students in terms of space, supplies, and staff were extremely limited. Using the old UIL classification system, in high school at one point we were a 5A student population (the largest) in a 2A school facility. Tracking abuse related to one particular student would have been extremely challenging.
  • The vast majority of students did not experience this. Should administrators and faculty who are providing a satisfactory school experience (despite the limited resources) for 90% of the students be removed because they failed one student?
  • In a small town, the number of people you can turn to who are (a) qualified to perform the work and (b) willing to work for public school wages can be limited.

I am not an apologist for the staff in the Prince case. I look at Phoebe and all I can think is, "there, but for the grace of God..." But the work of a school faculty and staff goes well beyond policing bullying. Unless a teacher or staff member stood right there as a witness and did nothing, or actively encouraged abuse (which is possible; I had one teacher who encouraged my worst tormenters to worse behavior), dismissal is probably not the best option. A better approach might be education, and leveraging support for maintaining appropriate behavior from students or additional part-time staff.

P.S. Something I didn't initially say in my comment, but which has occurred since, is that of the many teachers who witnessed abuse, some were extremely good and tried actively to improve my situation. But this didn't always happen during the abuse. Teachers who did not immediately perceive a specific incident as part of a larger, terrible pattern, but who later worked behind the scenes with individual bullies and victims, should not lose their jobs because of the first mistake.
taking a break, oasis, brain

Hoping for nine lives...

Stanley Fish of the New York Times riled everyone up again with a discussion of why curiosity is not necessarily a good thing. (Query: is Fish turning into a subtle, intellectual-baiting troll? Come to think of it, that could be a fun thing to do with my old age ;-)

Fish is correct in saying that people should not put knowledge ahead of more important things, but only partly so.

This was my comment:

I don’t know about anyone else, but in my case, being curious is overdetermined.

I am curious because I am delighted by the universe, and when you love a thing you want to know more about it

I am curious because I am outraged or saddened, and want to know if there’s anything I can do to solve a problem.

I am curious because I deeply love God, and I therefore want to understand his works as clearly as possible. There is no truth I am not willing to accept - not evolution, not the big bang, not God complexes in the temporal lobe - because the better I understand God’s playing field, the better I can do within the parameters of the game. There is a ground of being, knowing and loving me into existence. In my small way, I like to return the favor.

During the decade or so I was an atheist, I was curious for all the other reasons in this letter.

Psychologically, I am probably curious because knowledge gives me an illusory sense of control over my world.

I am curious because as a child my education was deliberately stifled (my parents seemed to think much learning would make their genius child mad), and I am making up for lost academic opportunities.

I am curious because of my mortality, and the mortality of everything else. When I know a thing, a piece of it lives on in me, and is passed on to others by affecting what I do and say.