Monday, April 30, 2007

The Work I Want to Love

MathAs I have continued in my journey as a sole proprietor and business owner, I'm trying to do more than just get the work, get it done, and get paid. I'm also observing myself. I want to know what parts of the business excite me. What makes me love what I do? What areas should I focus on? For what parts should I find a good subcontractor to help me out?

A while back, I started on a project with a local cello teacher, Suzanne Smith. She has a cello school called cellochan and she wanted some help setting up her website. Now, I've done some of this stuff before, but this is the first time I've gone solo on such a project. Despite that, we are making real progress with the site. Suzanne is a lot of fun and has a great artistic and creative talent (as one would expect from someone working in the arts).

The personal challenge I am running into is that the work is "squishy".

Let me explain. When I was in school, I loved the "hard" sciences and math. Every question you could ask had a hard answer. If you found that answer, you were right. If not, you were wrong. The subjects had very little in the way of gray areas. By the same token, the humanities and "soft" sciences always plagued me because the answers were much more subjective (or so it seemed to me). With a math problem, you could always work it backward to make sure you got it right. The same process didn't work so well with an English essay.

I've noticed that my work tends to fall into similar categories. Most of the web applications I help develop tend to fall into the "right or wrong" category. Either the system works or it doesn't. Oh, some minor details about user expectations can introduce a small amount of "gray" to the equation, but for the most part, it's either one or the other. Ironically, these projects tend to go quickly for me. Witness the recent MVCA project -- three weeks from initial meeting to final deliverable.

The cellochan project, on the other hand, is full of gray. Most of the work to date has been designing the user interface. It's all about images and color and fonts. It's about wording and formatting and layout. Each person involved in the process has different ideas on what looks right and what will work for the end user. While it can be an enjoyable process -- I do love working with creative people -- it is also time consuming and can be frustrating. It's kind of hard to back-check my answers to make sure I'm right!

So, what's the upshot?

I guess I continue on as I have been for now. I can't judge all of my future business on a single data point. Still, I will be on the lookout for projects which allow me to do those things for which I am particularly suited -- online databases, membership directories, and other similar applications, and the administrative facilities to support them all. This means, too, that I may have to refine my target market a bit, too.

Of course, this is all part of the fun of being a business owner, right?

So, what, if any, aspects of your job have you discovered that you may have to avoid even though they might be enjoyable?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Seth Godin is Coming!

Seth Godin
Seth Godin
The author of numerous books (Purple Cow, Free Prize Inside, and All Marketers are Liars, among many others), Seth Godin, will be showing up in Ann Arbor this month. He is promoting his newest book, The Dip, but he's doing it in a new way.

He's not organizing it.

Nor is the publisher. The folks who are doing this are his fans. Oh, he set up the basic format, but instead of traveling from bookstore to bookstore, he is meeting with his fans at venues which they arrange. In Ann Arbor, he will be at the Michigan Theater on May 22nd from 3 to 4:30.

The sponsors? A variety of groups and businesses from the area, the Ad Club, IT Zone, the Ann Arbor Business Review, the Ann Arbor News and about 10 others. You can see the list at the information page on the Ad Club's website. That's where you can register to buy tickets, too.

"Aha!" You say. "I knew there was a catch! This is where we find out that they are charging and arm and a leg!"

Well, not really. The tickets are $50. If you pay an extra $10 (or if you are a member of one of the sponsoring groups), you can bring a guest.

Here's the cool thing: With that $50 admission, you not only get to hear Seth speak, but also get five copies of his new book. I just checked and they are selling it for $10.36 a copy. You do the math.

"But what do I want with four extra copies of a book?"


I'll let you figure that one out.

So, if you are going to be in the Ann Arbor area during the afternoon of May 22, you might want to set aside some time to check out this new cool thing.

So, are your customers big enough fans to put on an event for you?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Weakest Link?

Back in January, Guy Kawasaki wrote a blog post about the top ten (or eleven, or thirteen) reasons to use LinkedIn. For those who have never heard of the service, LinkedIn is a social networking site which allows you to maintain a list of your various contacts online. Those contacts in turn maintain their contacts, etc, etc. The ultimate goal is to create a network of trusted relationships which, conceivably, would allow you to meet new people through a chain of trusted introductions.

Guy came up with a number of other uses for LinkedIn which were compelling enough for me to revive my long-dormant account on the service. In particular, I liked some of his ideas about using your LinkedIn profile to improve your website's standing in search engine results.

So, this evening I spent time entering in my contacts. LinkedIn actually makes this pretty easy by allowing you to import your contact lists from a variety of popular email programs, both web-based and desktop. Ironically for me, the one glaring exception was my preferred mail client, Thunderbird. Not a huge deal for me, as I was able to make the necessary conversion to trick LinkedIn think that my address book came from MS Outlook instead. Annoying, but certainly not a fatal flaw.

Tomorrow I'll try to spend some time editing the profile using some of the tricks and tips that Guy gave out in a later post. I'll let you know how it goes.

So, are you on LinkedIn? What do you think of the service?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Warming Up to Defrost Design and MVCA

Entrepreneur bannerIt's been a bit since I wrote about the state of Cyber Data Solutions and my exciting life as an entrepreneur. I've been working full time in my business now for just shy of four months. What's it been like? Have I had to sell the cats for food? How do I enjoy setting my own hours?

That last one was prompted by an acquaintance of mine who, when she found out that I had gone full time, told me that it must be nice to be able to set my own hours. I laughed and assured her that, indeed, it was. Of course the hours I set are from 7am to 2am! After all, if I don't work, I don't get paid.

Other than the long hours, though, things are going quite well. I recently started and completed a project with a new client, the Michigan Venture Capital Association. I met the Executive Director of MVCA, LeAnn Auer, through her husband, Joe. His company, High Seas Consulting, does a lot of the same things that mine does, except where I work in the realm of Unix, they focus on the Microsoft market (kind of like giving in to the Dark Side of the Force).

MVCA already had a Web Design company, Defrost Design. They just needed to have some back end programming and database work done.

This is exactly the kind of project I love.

I had a client who wanted the project done quickly and was willing to devote her own time as needed. The actual work was interesting without being impossible. Finally, I got to work with professional web designers, Craig Steen and Matt Raup, who really knew what they were doing and got their part of the project done well ahead of schedule. If I got to work on more projects with folks like LeAnn, Craig, and Matt, my life as an entrepreneur would be a decidedly cheerful one.

To make a long story short, three weeks after my initial meeting with LeAnn, we had completed setting up a membership directory, an executive talent search database, and protected it all with a password system based on the members listed in the directory. LeAnn was presenting it to the MVCA Board today, so I can't wait to hear how it went.

All-in-all a very satisfying project.

So, what makes a project satisfying to you?

Wiping the Slate

Erase the chalkboardI read a fair number of blogs regularly. They bring insights, ideas, and sometimes inspiration into my life. The authors of these online repositories teach, cajole and invagle me to improve my life, my business and even my personal relationships.

And sometimes I just wish they'd cut it out!

Oh, I don't mean I want them to stop writing. That would be wrong. Every once in a while, though, I don't have a chance to read their pearls of wisdom. And that's when the trouble starts.

Many of you know that Lisa and I went on vacation to Hawaii this year. We had a great time, in part, because my laptop chose to die which meant I couldn't do any work. I also couldn't read my blogs. By the time I got back, I had close to one hundred blog postings to read. What plenty! What joy! What a pain in the butt.

I actually found myself avoiding my newsreader. Each time I looked, I had just as many or more posts to read than the time before. It became less about learning from these great teachers and more about just getting through the reading (kind of like high school was for many of us). I lost touch with Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki. The Brazen Careerist had to go on without me and Tom Peters only irritated me with his prolific posts.

Then it happened. I was just catching up on one of my favorite blogs (Scott Ginsberg's "HELLO My Name Is BLOG"). When I'm just reading one or two posts, I'll just use the Google Newsreader gadget for my Google Homepage. The gadget had recently gone through an overhaul and some of the controls had been moved around a bit. When I went to click on the "Refresh" link, I accidentally hit the "Mark all as read" link instead. Suddenly that list of hundreds of posts vanished. I had lost my place in the blogosphere.

And I felt great.

We so often accept stress and responsibility into our lives which has no real place in reality. Was Seth upset that I didn't read every one of his posts? Did Guy lose any sleep? I doubt it. Did I miss out on some good ideas? Probably. But, you know what? Those guys have a lot of good ideas and they will write many more in the future.

Now I'll look forward to reading them again.

So, how do you deal with the glut of online information? How do you say "no" to a good idea that doesn't fit?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Truth, Part 4: The Rest of the Story

This is the final part of my report on the Leadership Ann Arbor Law Enforcement Day. You may wish to read part 1, part 2, and part 3 first.

After our morning of visiting the jail and juvenile detention center, we spent the afternoon at the courthouse. Surprisingly, though, we didn't sit through a court case or hear about the everyday ins and outs of the courtroom setting. Instead, for the first part of the afternoon, we heard about a non-adversarial judicial program called "Sobriety Court".

Judge Julie Creal told us about this alternative system which addresses the needs of those who have broken the drunk driving laws for the first or second time. In return for no or greatly reduced jail time, the offender can take part in the Sobriety Court program. The goal of the program is to help people get clean and sober. Unlike normal court proceedings, however, this is done in a non-adversarial way, the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, law enforcement, and just about anyone else associated with the court (including the bailiff) are working together to help people break out of the dangerous lifestyle they've gotten themselves into.

Is it easy? Not on your life.

For approximately the first three months, the participant has to have daily preliminary breath tests. Up to three times a week, they may have random urine tests. They must attend a 12-step program, etc, etc. And who pays for it? They do. On top of that, since they've been found guilty of drunk driving, they won't have a license, so they have to find some other way (friend or family member) to get themselves to the testing locations.

And that's just the first three months. This process takes at least 18 months and can take two years or longer! Still, given the overcrowding in the jail and the ultimate benefit in the participant's life, this path certainly beats the alternative.

Sheriff Dan Minzey
Sheriff Dan Minzey
After a short break, we spent the second half of the afternoon in an enjoyable and informative discussion/question and answer session with the two Ann Arbor City Police Deputy Chiefs, Greg Bazick and Greg O'Dell, and the Washtenaw County Sheriff, Dan Minzey.

I think the best part of the whole discussion was just the forthrightness with which the three presented their situations. The Gregs told us quite clearly the challenges that they are having right now with budgetary issues. This is going to lead to the loss of several civilian positions and the demotions of 8 police leaders (3 lieutenants will be reduced to sergeants and 5 sergeants will be demoted to officers). The demotions are not for any lack of performance, but are based simply on seniority. It's a bad situation and there are going to be a lot of unhappy people.

At the same time, our forces, which a few years ago were close to the top of the technological scale have started to fall back to the middle of the pack. Without adequate funding, they can't even consider upgrading their existing infrastructure to include such systems as digital video systems, in-car ticketing and reports (integrated with a centralized police data repository), and voice-activated computer support. In my ride-along with Officer Dye, I could see how that last feature alone would make their task so much easier. For some reason, driving at top speeds to come to someone's rescue and typing on the laptop to find out the details of the situation are mutually exclusive activities (or should be).

We talked about a number of other issues, but one of the big questions they had for us was how they could better tell their own story to the public. Unfortunately, the local media doesn't always talk about the areas where law enforcement is meeting with success. Often the focus is only on the much more rare situations where things don't go well, or when an individual falters and falls short of the high standards we hold for those in positions of authority. Of course, those stories must be told. To be fair, though, shouldn't we also get to hear about the other 999 times when these heroes live up to those high standards?

My idea? Most businesses have scores of testimonials on their websites (mine included). Maybe the police should have a few of those on their site. I'm sure that there are more than a few people around town who have had positive experiences with our law enforcement agencies who would be willing to tell their stories.

So, how do you think the Police and Sheriff's office could better get the (good) word out?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Truth, Part 3: Teach the Children Well

This is part 3 of my report on Leadership Ann Arbor's Law Enforcement Day. If you haven't already, you might want to read part 1 and part 2, first.

This afternoon, while grocery shopping I actually witnessed a crime. I had just rounded the corner and I saw a young man grabbing bags of candy from the shelf and stuffing them in his coat. Seeing me, he started heading toward the exit. I followed behind and notified the cashier of the situation. Unfortunately, they were unable to catch up to him before he hopped into a car driven by an accomplice and sped off.

He got away with it this time, but, eventually, he might just get caught. If he's young enough , if there's enough evidence, if he's been caught enough times, and the judge in question takes it seriously enough, then he might end up in Washtenaw County's Juvenile Detention Center.

After visiting the Washtenaw County Jail, right across the parking lot, our tour continued on to the Juvenile Detention Center. What a difference!

Where the jail was almost forty years old, the juvenile facilities were only a little more than four. Where the jail was staffed (at the best of times) by one Washtenaw County Correction Officer per twenty inmates, the juvenile center had one counselor for every ten residents. Where the jail was all hard floors, gray walls, and antiquated equipment, the juvenile center had carpeting, bright colors, and the most modern computer-based control facilities.

Obviously, the detention center is not just a jail for kids.

This facility is designed to educate, foster accountability and responsibility, and, in general, try to turn the residents away from the dark path that they've started down. The counselors help the kids (most ranging from 12 to 17) to deal with anger and hostility. They provide all of the residents with a personalized educational curriculum. They even have an internal economy based on good behavior and meeting their personal goals.

So, what's the biggest problem they have?

Getting the local justice system to actually sentence kids to spend time there. The Center actually has excess capacity. Somehow I think many troubled young people, like my young shoplifter today, would do better with 90 days at the detention center than they would being sent home with Mom and Dad.

But that's just my two cents.

So, have you ever witnessed a crime being committed?

Read the final part.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Truth, Part 2: Jailhouse Blues

Continuing my report on the Leadership Ann Arbor Law Enforcement Day (you might want to read part 1 first).

As I mentioned yesterday, my group toured the Washtenaw County Jail. Our guide, Lt. Gary Greenfield took us all through the complex. Of course, we couldn't actually enter the cell blocks, but we could often see into them from the hallway.

As we toured, Lt. Greenfield told us that the inmates were ostensibly housed in different section under different conditions based on their rating, a score from one to ten, basically from those who were least to most able to get along with others. Due to overcrowding, there weren't very many who scored higher than a six. The score was based on a combination of factors including the crime committed, recent behavior, and extenuating circumstances, including the inmates mental faculties and whether he was going through withdrawal from substance abuse.

Incidentally, the latter was a factor in the only signs of actual violence we witnessed. When someone is first admitted to the facility, the staff processes them through four holding cells. Two of these are reserved for those who are going through withdrawal. While we were there, a young man in his twenties was pacing back and forth in one of those cells. He would periodically slam himself into the plexiglass divider and scream for his drugs. Even being that close to someone so clearly out of control left me a bit unsettled.

Other than that one exception, though, the few inmates we saw were uniformly polite. They would excuse themselves if they had to walk through our group and would respond to any questions the Lieutenant asked them.

This was something that I noticed while there and was underscored by Lt. Greenfield. The officers at the institution go out of their way to interact with the inmates. Apparently this has reduced the incidence of violence. In fact, we stopped by J-Block, which is a dormitory style area housing up to fifty inmates. Looking through the window, we saw that there was only one female guard, Officer Carla Wilson, on duty. When a number of our group expressed concern for her, she came out to tell us about how successful and rewarding her job is, helping these men deal with their problems. She should know -- she's been doing it for 16 years!

Overall, from the people I met, the impression I received from our visit was one of watchful compassion. Despite lack of funding and overcrowded conditions, the goal is to house the inmates without forgetting that they are human.

Officer Wilson put it best when she said, "I'm not just here to watch them. I'm here to ask them how I can help."

More tomorrow.

So, could you handle a job like Officer Wilson's?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

Jail Cells"You get all the justice you are willing to pay for"

Last Wednesday was our most recent Leadership Ann Arbor day, Justice and Law Enforcement Day. I had a two-part series a couple of weeks ago about my homework for this day, my ride-along with Officer Dye.

This was, arguably, the most interesting day of the series for me thus far. And I couldn't even tell you exactly why.

We met at the Chamber offices first thing in the morning for a quick overview of the day. We then split into three groups, each with its own tour destination. One group went to Cassidy Lake, a boot camp-like alternative minimum security facility primarily focused on young men and women from 18 through their mid-twenties. The second attended Dawn Farm, a facility which helps those with chemical dependencies in a farm-like setting.

I was in the third group. We actually got to see two different locations, the Washtenaw County Jail and the Juvenile Detention facilities, right across the parking lot from each other.

I don't know what I expected when I walked into the jail. We as a society have so many images of jails as places of violence and cruelty. What I saw when we visited had only one incident of what could be loosely described as violence. For the most part, I got the impression of people just doing the best they could.

But let me start at the beginning.

When we arrived, Lieutenant Gary Greenfield greeted us and led us on a tour of the facilities. He told us that the jail had been built almost forty years ago. The archaic analog and mechanical controls bore silent proof of that. At its opening, it had capacity for around 200 inmates. As years passed by, the county "upgraded" that to its current level of 332. One aspect of those upgrades included turning the gymnasium into dorm-like facilities with rows of bunks. Despite this increase, though, the jail still suffers from overcrowding, regularly holding between 350 and 400 inmates.

And here is where the quote at the beginning of this post comes in.

According to Michigan's Jail Emergency Overcrowding Act, if a state of overcrowding exists for more than 30 days, local judges review the existing inmates in order to recommend those who should receive a 30% reduction in sentence. If that doesn't relieve the overcrowding, Sheriff Dan Minzey is required to reduce all sentences by 30%. So, an inmate who had served nine months of a one-year sentence would be released. If this still didn't solve the problem, then the jail would go into a lock-down situation. Lock-down means that only those committing certain capital crimes could be given jail time.

I don't recall any specific ballot issues which I voted against, but I know I probably had the mindset of "Why spend anything on them? They're criminals". Now I have a clearer picture of the consequences of that attitude. No one thinks they want a jail in their community and they rarely want to pay to house those nasty people near them.

Guess what? If we don't pay, if we don't show support for our corrections department, then we don't have to worry about an institution full of criminals in our midst.

Those criminals will be walking the streets.

Makes you think, right?

More tomorrow on my visit and the rest of Law Enforcement Day.

So, have you ever gone on a tour of a correctional facility? What did you think?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

(Don't) Sign Me Up!

Junk MailI just read a post on Seth Godin's blog where he talks about computer-generated responses (or at least responses that appear computer-generated) and how, in the end, they do exactly the opposite of their intended goal (encouraging you to continue a relationship).

This reminds me of one of the minor irritations of attending the local Chamber of Commerce's networking events.

Actually, it's not so much attending the event, it's the pre-registration that is the problem.

The folks who organize these gatherings ask potential attendees to pre-register. They do this for good reason as they need to have a rough head count for the purpose of providing food and such. You also get the added "benefit" of being on the list of attendees. The reasoning behind this is that, if someone wanted to meet you, but didn't get the chance, they could find you on the list. Great idea!

Unfortunately, what often happens is that bad networkers (often new members or guests) take the names and contact information and use them to pad their mailing and telemarketing lists.

Now, I don't mind listening to stories about what someone does for a living. When I sit down to chat with someone, there is an implicit understanding that we are going to share experiences and try to find a way to help each other. These other types, though, are just trying to cram their commercials down my digital throat.

The end result? If I meet them at an event, I struggle to head in the other direction.

Yes, if I were a truly good person I might try to help them understand the error of their way.

I guess I'm just not that good.

So, how would you deal with such a situation?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Releasing the Inner Tiger

TigerThis one is a bit more personal than usual, so feel free to skip it if it makes you uncomfortable.

Today I was reading Pamela Slim's blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation. In the article I was reading, "Is your inner tiger choking on a short leash?", she was talking about how many people suppress their inner passions and end up suffering for it. She struck a chord in me when she wrote about watching a child, who others perceived as quiet and almost emotionally stunted, suddenly came alive when offered an opportunity to participate in martial arts.

Why should this touch me? After all, everyone who knows me, knows that I am a rampant extrovert who loves to show off in front of a group. I travel all over the world. I started my own business. How could I identify with a withdrawn child? In fact, I always get a laugh when I tell people that I'm working on getting over my shyness.

The funny thing is, for the longest time I was the quiet one. I always played it safe. I never stepped outside my comfort zone. I dreamed of being an adventurer, but somehow that always seemed to be sometime in the future.

Then, on my 30th birthday, even though it wasn't my idea, I joined Keith Hafners Karate. I'd love to say that a miracle occurred and suddenly I was ready to sky dive and bungee jump, but that wasn't the case. I still pretty much played it safe, but something was changing inside me, almost from that first class.

One night, about a year after I had started, I was preparing for my promotion to Green Belt. As a part of our promotions, we had to do a "line drill" -- a series of free-style moves (punches, kicks, etc) moving in a line across the floor. In the past I had always practiced my series of moves over and over and always made sure that they were moves that stayed well within my capabilities. I wasn't worried about hurting myself. I was just afraid I might fall on my face -- figuratively.

Suddenly, as if a door had opened, I realized that I didn't have to play it safe. If I tried something a little more challenging, I would still have my audience's respect, even if I failed. No one would laugh, but I knew they would cheer. So I tried something a little harder. And you know what?

I succeeded.

And with that one success, I was able to fuel larger attempts. Soon, I overcame my fear of needles and now I give blood regularly. I, who used to stay home, rather than deal with the uncertainty of going someplace new, have traveled to the Cascades in Oregon, hiked the Cinqua Terra in Italy, and visited the Buddhist temples in Kyoto, Japan.

And, of course, most recently, I've given up my stable job at the University of Michigan to pursue my dream of having my own business.

So, what's my take-away from all of this? I guess I'm not sure. Maybe part of it is that you can have all the desire in the world, but if you don't take that one step, you are worse off than if you had never had the desire in the first place. Passion is not enough. You need action to make it come alive.

I think the other part is that in order to be successful, we have to build our muscles slowly (whether they be physical, mental or emotional). If, instead of just trying a tricky Karate move, I had instead tried my hand at Formula One racing, my resulting "crash and burn" would have been more than just physical.

And likely I would have written off the whole "try new things" idea as a Bad Plan.

So, what do you think stops you from pursuing your passions?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Going Live

spider webSo, yesterday marked the first day of the rest of my website's life. Yesterday I went live on the new look and new functionality that I've been working on in my spare moments for about a month now.

Is it exactly what I wanted? No.

I wanted a full news archive facility, I wanted rotating testimonials at the bottom of each page. Some of the layout stuff wasn't working the way I wanted it to, so I had to give up on it until a later date. I really wanted to upgrade the look of my e-zine (for both the email version and the archived version on the site). I would have really loved to put the site under a content management system (CMS), like Drupal.

For all that, though, I'm still pretty happy.

It's a new look. It even has a logo (and everyone needs a logo, right?). It has some news stories about my company. This blog and the e-zine both have homes there. It even has place markers for a lot of the things I want to add in the future.

And, it gives me a place to start.

The best websites never say "Under Construction". The best websites just always are under construction. The minute you stop adding to and updating your site is the minute it becomes a brochure site (and who reads a brochure twice?).

So, what's the most exciting thing going on with your website? Tell us what it is and link to it in the comments.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

It's Obvious! (That I'm an Idiot)

Check Engine LightSometimes I feel as if I intentionally seek out situations to make me feel stupid. Then there are other times when I think the world is just out to get me.

Yesterday, while driving near my home, I happened to glance down at the dashboard and saw the sight that brings chills to every driver.

"Check Engine Soon"

Oh, great. That usually means about a $500 repair, if we're lucky.

So Lisa and I drove down to the dealership to have them check it out. After all, we were planning on driving up to Manistee to visit my folks this weekend and I really didn't feel like driving in a dicey car all the way out there. The added tension would do nothing for my sweetness-and-light disposition.

Before they would do anything at the dealership, we first had to agree to pay for the analysis. $115 dollars up front. Ouch! Of course, we didn't really have much choice, so we signed on the dotted line and headed back home.

About an hour later, I got a call from the good folks at the service counter. They had solved the problem! Hallelujah! So, what was the problem? Was the frammenjantz bent? Did you have to replace the confabulator belt? Oh, yeah, I know a lot about cars. No, it wasn't anything like that...

The gas cap was loose.

Now, did I feel like an idiot? Yes. Especially considering that Lisa had suggested that I check the gas cap. Of course, I didn't think it could be that as I had last filled the tank four days ago and had been driving around ever since. Still, I guess I do get an entry in the "stupid husbands" competition.

Men, if you don't know about this event, just ask your wife or girlfriend what she and her friends talk about when they get together.

In my case, though, I would like to plead extenuating circumstances. I submit, that if an error code indicates that there is a problem with the engine, then the likely problem is the noisy block of metal, rubber, and plastics under the hood of the car, not the gas cap. That's kind of like telling someone with a hangnail that they might need orthopedic surgery on their left foot.

Fortunately, the dealership took pity on me and gave me the special "car idiot" discount of only $57 for the whole job, including analysis. Must have been my lucky day.

So, have you run into other misleading error codes?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tech Confusion

Lisa painting eggThis weekend was our annual Easter egg coloring down in Perrysburg, Ohio at my mom's house. This year was a bit quieter than normal as my brother and his family weren't able to make it. Ordinarily the kids add a lot of noisy excitement to the gathering. Ah well, maybe next year.

I spent a fair amount of time on Saturday working on my mom's computer setup. Most of the stuff was just about tweaking a few of her online systems (blog, website, etc) and occasionally writing out some clear instructions on one aspect or another. So, now she can use the Meebo chat tool with her blog as well as incorporate a survey into one of her posts.

So, this leads to a little bit of a rant:

Why is it that we technologists have such a hard time creating tools that intelligent, but technically unsophisticated, people can use? Do we have some sort of disdain for the "unwashed masses"? Or is it more about what authors Chip and Dan Heath refer to in their book Made to Stick as the "Curse of Knowledge" (i.e., those who have knowledge can't remember what it was like not to have it and so assume everyone can see the situation just as clearly as they)?

Come on techies (and I include myself in this list)! We need to take that extra hour or so to provide a few simple, concrete examples of how to use these beautiful tools that we build. Make them clear. Make them obvious.

Because technology without users is just so much wasted space.

So, what was the last techie widget that left you frustrated?