Monthly Archives: April 2013

Earth Day

Earth Day may have been a week or so ago, but here’s an interesting way of continuing good practices to reduce your carbon footprint and keep stuff outta your local landfill – rent books!


Rent versus buy
While pursuing my bachelors degree several years ago I stumbled upon a website that allowed you to rent the textbooks that you needed for a very reasonable fee. Once the class was over you simply shipped the book back to the company and they rented it again. Now that I’m returning to college to pursue a second masters degree I decided to pursue the textbook rental avenue again.

Let’s look at the numbers. The college bookstore is selling the required textbook for my first class at $70 new and $45 used.  Unfortunately no used textbooks are available. I did a quick search on and found the book listed new for $58.90, a savings of $11.10. offers a rental option for the textbook of $24.98. Barnes & Noble will also rent the book to you for 60 days for $14.51 with 90 and 130 day rental periods for $15.73 and $17.48 respectively. A quick Internet search generated even more websites that will happily rent the same textbook for similar prices. Once done with the textbook most of the companies offer a convenient method to ship the book back at no cost, and goes one better by allowing you to purchase the book outright if you decide that you wish to keep it.


One book, many readers goes one better. You can send the company your unused textbooks and they will rent them to other students on your behalf and pay you $ each time they do so. Given the alternative of putting them on your bookshelf and never referring to them again, renting them out and making some $ just makes sense. And because information changes so fast nowadays you may as well make some cash off the textbook before it is rendered obsolete and suitable only for the recycle bin.


Two birds, one stone

In an e-mail yesterday I used the expression “killing two birds with one stone” as an analogy of how the recipient’s suggestion would achieve two goals simultaneously. In brackets I then commented that I was not promoting the killing of birds but rather advocating for the conservation of stones.


A new perspective
I thought it was funny but she didn’t reference it in her reply e-mail so I guess it wasn’t all that impressive a line. So I decided to use it as the subject of a blog post and inflict it on even more people <insert evil laugh here>.

On a serious note though, sometimes looking at something from a different angle can give you a different perspective on life. Yesterday morning I learned that a cherished coworker had suffered a stroke and had been hospitalized. In an instant all of my worries about my projects, overflowing email inbox, project deadlines etc. lost some of the implied urgency and importance. Project requirements may come and go but something like a stroke is not so easily dismissed or reallocated to a different product release date.


Apples and oranges

You are likely very familiar with the expression “apples and oranges” as an analogy for attempting to compare two disparate items. In a meeting recently I heard a new version of that expression that I had to share with you.


A Russian version?
It was spoken during a 2 ½ hour phone conference meeting by one of the Russian meeting participants and she said that the subject matter was like comparing “apples and ham”. My first thought was “did she say what I think she just said?” when I received an instant message from a coworkers also participating in the meeting asking that same question.

Initially it was too funny for words but as I thought about it later, comparing “apples and ham” better expresses the analogy of trying to draw a comparison between two items that cannot be accurately compared than the more traditional “apples and oranges”. As examples of fruit apples and oranges have some common aspects whereas apples and ham do not. “Chalk and cheese” is another variation on the theme but “apples and ham” just rolls off the tongue better and just might be the perfect addition to my repertoire of phrases.


If I had said “Boston” to you anytime before the tragic events of last Monday you would have reacted in a myriad of different ways depending upon your connection with the city. I’ve never been there so that would have been one of the thoughts that would have jumped to my mind immediately. I’ve heard that the city streets are narrow and not configured in a grid layout. I probably would have said the word “Boston” in my best attempt at a local accent. A friend of my roommate moved back there some time ago. I like Boston Cream Pie yogurt.


And yet now we all have the same common reaction – a shared reaction to the unnecessary and purposeless loss of life during the Boston Marathon. As we learn the details of the explosive devices, the details of the lives of those who died that day, those that were injured, those that had limbs amputated, those that learned of the tragedy while still running the race, those waiting anxiously for their loved ones to call them, it’s so difficult to understand how anyone could conceive of such a thing and actually spend days and months planning it to the nth degree.


This morning we awoke to further deaths and destruction that occurred in Boston overnight as this tragic situation continues to play out


Like it or not, God said it best: Thou shalt not kill.


Puppy Mission Rescue

We frequently hear stories about how our returning soldiers often struggle with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and yet very little (if anything) on the small things in life that mean so much to these brave men and women. So when I saw a story today about The Puppy Mission Rescue I knew I needed to blog about it.


Two dogs
My dog is a 3-year old Golden Retriever/Yellow Labrador mix female named Sandy and my roommate’s dog is a 2 year old Standard Poodle male named Max. They both sleep in my bedroom at night; Sandy typically lies on my bed for a few minutes before settling on the floor where she prefers to sleep while Max has taken over the right side of my bed and moves around throughout the night. The other night I walked into my bedroom and he was already settled on my bed with a toy between his paws. I wish I had taken a picture of his because he looked so adorable.

I don’t speak dog, and neither of them speaks English, and yet we communicate with each other constantly and in real time. We play with each other, we enjoy nighttime walks together, we play jokes on each other, and we sit close to each other or position ourselves so that there is physical contact between us. Regardless of how crazy or stressful life is I always know  Sandy and Max have my back.

Now imagine that you suffer from PTSD and the only one that can reach you and anchor you is a stray dog that you befriended on a remote military base in a dusty foreign country. Imagine finishing your tour of duty and heading home but having to leave the dog behind to face an unknown future and potential death. If you are a dog lover then you already understand where this is going. If you’re not, spend some time reading the stories and testimonials on The Puppy Mission Rescue website and you will.


Life Quotes: #6 in a series

A recent poll on my company’s intranet asked employees to post their life motto. Reading through the list, I found several that resonated with me so I decided to start a blog series based on my thoughts on why those specific quotes struck a chord with me while the others did not. I value your comments on this series; have any of these quotes (or my blog commentary on same) inspired you in any way?


The Life Quote
I was born in a part of the world that sees far more than its fair share of rain, so the life quote “Life is not about how to weather the storm but how to dance in the rain” initially sounded like a crazy attitude – rain is to be avoided though the use of an umbrella. But I do understand the deeper meaning.


I remember being at a grocery store once with a friend of mine. When we left the store we saw that it was raining heavily and a group of unprepared shoppers were gathered underneath the store’s canopy waiting for the storm to pass and the rain to cease. Initially my friend and I took the same approach but then I reevaluated my thought process and ventured out into the rain instead. It was exhilarating. Yeah I got soaked practically immediately but that’s all the rain was able to do to me – once saturated my clothes could not absorb any more water and it poured off me harmlessly. I couldn’t do anything about the storm but I could do something about how I incorporated the reality of the storm in my life. I don’t dance despite the weather but that day, in the rain, I thought about it.


Usability issues

I mentioned in a blog post a couple of weeks ago that I had passed a certification exam and was now a Certified Usability Analyst (CUA). In this blog post I want to address a couple of usability issues that I noted recently.


Completing college application forms
It’s amazing how something that is a current interest to you can help you see what would otherwise go unnoticed. Just like how, when you buy a new vehicle, it suddenly seems like that vehicle type is everywhere. It has been like that for me lately with usability issues – having spend some time studying for the exam and becoming attuned to identifying subtle difference in color choices, content positioning, and understand how one’s mental model influences their experience with a web site or application I’m seeing usability issues everywhere.

I’ve been contemplating returning to school for some time now and finally settled on a couple of degree programs so decided to submit applications for same. I won’t “name and shame” the universities in question but on each occasion I send an email to the appropriate webmaster alerting them to the issue. I encourage you to elevate usability issues that you encounter to the appropriate webmaster because issues don’t get fixed if no-one knows that they exist.


Usability issue #1
Usability issue #1 involved a field titled Legal Last Name. My legal last name is spelled O’Brien and I have blogged previously about how one’s last name is not to be trifled with. So I was annoyed when I clicked out of the Legal Last Name field and the field changed my entry to O’brien. I clicked back in the field and corrected it but once again the field changed my entry to O’brien immediately I again clicked out of the field. It was then that I noticed the field-specific instructions for the field advising that only one capital letter would be accepted by the field. Say what?!

I’ve never encountered an application form before that set rules around how one might enter their name. Worldwide there are many different last names that include multiple capital letters, apostrophes and other special characters. Why would any web or application developer in their right mind set such a rule? One workaround was to enter it as O’ Brien but that’s not my legal last name either – it’s spelled O’Brien and any other format is a misspelling.


Usability issue #2
I could suck in my annoyance and pride and deal with the bastardization of my last name but usability issue #2 literally stopped me from continuing with my application form. I selected the Yes option on the US Citizen/Permanent Resident field because I am a US citizen (and damn proud of it too). However, further down the form I was requested to indicate the city and state of my birth, which was a problem because I was born overseas and took on US citizenship through naturalization. I fully expected the dropdown list of options on the State field to include an option such as Other or International that would then allow me to choose from another dropdown list of foreign countries, or even enter the foreign country name in a blank field, but no such option existed.


Usability issue #3
This one blew me away – the Email Address field spellchecked my email address! No joke!! The field actually put that red squiggle line under my email address.

And there you have it; three usability issues on two graduate admission applications on two different university websites. What kind of usability issues have you encountered lately?


Repeating the message

I was driving through my neighborhood the other evening and got a reminder of why message repetition is so necessary when one of the kids almost ran out in front of my truck.


Follow the bouncing ball
Let me set the scene for you. It was after 5pm but still fairly bright outside and I needed to swing by the post office to drop off some accumulated mail. I decided to drive through the neighbor on a whim; usually I take a more direct route. As I neared a slight curve in the street I noticed several young children playing with a large ball in the front yard of one house. There was a large pile of dirt outside a house on the opposite side of the street where someone was doing a backyard renovation, and between it and the various vehicles parked on the street I had plenty of reason to drive slower though that area.

Suddenly the kids lost control of the ball and it bounced into the road, followed immediately and instinctively by a boy and a girl. The boy realized his error and stopped while he was still on the sidewalk but the girl continued into the road and noticed my truck once after she had retrieved the ball. Luckily for her I was stationary at that point but she still got a shock. They waved and yelled “thank you” as I drove past once she was safely back on the sidewalk.


Look left and right
As I continued on my journey I pondered how many times those kids had been lectured by their parents about looking left and right to check for oncoming traffic before venturing into the road chasing an errant ball. My parents were very adamant about that message and I’m sure that their parents are as well and yet the lesson was forgotten right when it was needed most. Similar to how marketing messages need to be delivered frequently and consistently if they have any change of sticking with consumers. Not an easy task when there are plenty of bouncing balls to distract.

Women in the workplace

As you might remember, International Women’s Day was celebrated last month (Friday, March 8 to be exact), so it’s an appropriate time to visit the topic of women in the workplace.


Four women talking
I attended a 1-hour corporate event recently that involved 4 female employees at various points in their career talking about their experiences in the workplace. One of the benefits of working at a democratically-minded corporation is that, although the event was focused on career development among the female workforce all employees are entitled to attend. The event was titled “She speaks…” and it was quite eye-opening.


No male bashing needed
The event wasn’t an hour of unadulterated male-bashing, nor was it an hour of unadulterated “Girl Power”. Instead all four women talked about the realities of working in male-dominated work groups, reporting to male and female managers, dealing with unique workplace pressures, and in some instances making career-supporting decisions with their spouses where their spouse become the stay-at-home family member.

When asked what they would tell their younger selves if they could rewind the years, one explained that she would encourage her younger self to be more confident. Maybe it’s a trait that goes back to the traditional nurturing role for women and the hunter/gatherer role for men but she talked about how, as a manager, her male direct reports were very comfortable with stating their career goals and expectations during 1:1 meetings whereas her female direct reports were often more hesitant to be so direct and forceful. It may seem like such a simple trait but a lack of confidence can cause anyone to miss career opportunities simply because they were not confident enough in their abilities to either take a change or not confident enough to seek out a mentor.


Promote your daughter(s)
I don’t have any kids but I am becoming more sensitized to how parents with a daughter(s) need to promote them more in all aspects of life. That shouldn’t mean reducing the attention paid to one’s son(s) get; it means that both genders should be receiving the same level of attention and promotion. If we want to see gender equality in the future workplace we need to start seeing happening in the home.


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