Monday, December 12, 2011

Travel game with Google Street View

During my recent Karos Health trip to Chicago for RSNA, I accidentally discovered a fun game to play using my iPhone and Google Street View. On this and previous trips I’ve emailed photos to my son to show him some of the sights that I see. Often the pictures are taken while traveling from one location to another.

On this Chicago trip, my son noted in an email that one of the pictures I sent was similar to one that I had sent him during last year’s trip. I responded that it was probably the exact same view, as I would have taken both pictures while riding a bus between our hotel and the conference site. The next day he sent me an email showing me that he had found a similar picture on Google Street View.

My Picture

Street View Picture 
And thus, a new (for us, anyway) game was born.

Every day for the remainder of the trip I sent him a new photo, and he found corresponding shots in Street View for all of them. At first, I included clues in my emails, but eventually stopped and just let him discover clues in the the photos themselves. He didn’t have any trouble.

My Picture

Street View Picture
This turned out to be something that makes a business trip more interesting for my family. We might even continue the game here in Waterloo.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Karos Health visits RSNA

Last week I was in Chicago with my Karos Health colleagues for the 97th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. That’s a bit of a mouthful, and around Karos we just refer to it as RSNA. It’s an important annual event on our company calendar, as the Technical Exhibits portion of the assembly — essentially a trade show — provides an opportunity to meet with a vast number of healthcare hardware and software vendors.

We were at the event last year as well, but with a much more modest presence.

This year, we had our own booth, and many of the meetings that we had with partners and customers were held there. We had four demo stations, in contrast with our single station last year, and there were several occasions when we had multiple demonstrations going on. As with last year, we were quite proactive in arranging meetings ahead of time. In an encouraging development over last year, we saw more people who sought us out in our booth based on a recommendation or having a specific problem that they hoped one of our products could solve.

We introduced a new product at this year’s event and I was happy to be able to demonstrate it in its current early state. People were engaged, we got some good input and feedback, and the product looks like it meets a real need.

The event was a complete success for Karos. We could not have expected a better experience than we had. Now the work of following up on potential opportunities begins.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Serious play at Felt lab with uxWaterloo

We had a great uxWaterloo event at Felt lab yesterday, and Paul Goodwin and his student team from REAP were wonderful hosts. There were plenty of interactive display toys to play with, and lots of opportunity for “thinkering” with like-minded people who attended.

Darin White has a nice summary in the form of a photo essay over at his always interesting makebright place. We’ll have more at uxWaterloo soon, too.

Thanks to everyone for coming out and making the event a success.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

uxWaterloo design workshop with REEP

Last Thursday the uxWaterloo meeting for October featured a new kind of activity. While we had done design workshops in the past, we had never previously had a design workshop focused on a real-world problem.

REEP Green Solutions, a Waterloo Region not-for-profit organization focused on the environment, is working on a web application that’s intended to help consumers understand the case for making upgrades to their homes that will increase energy efficiency. REEP approached uxWaterloo for help, and Thursday’s design workshop was the result.

Working in small groups, workshop attendees brainstormed initial designs to deliver a compelling user experience for the application. REEP team members provided input, answered questions, and otherwise provided context for the design work. They had previously provided personas to work from, and a high-level functional description of their vision.

While the timeframe was ridiculously condensed — the meeting was only 90 minutes from start to finish — the workshop was a great success. Everyone seemed to have a great time, with many interesting ideas emerging from the action. The REEP team was excited by the ideas they saw and heard, and are already thinking about next steps.

Steve Jobs

I’m surprisingly saddened by the passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs, a man I never met. I’m also feeling surprisingly reflective. I can’t think of any other company or person whose products have had such a profound impact on my daily life for such a long time.

The Mac wasn’t the first computer that I ever used, but my first Mac made a liberating, empowering, and lasting impression on me. I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that I would not be doing what I’m doing in my career as a designer without the Mac and later products from Apple.

I think that my best response today is to use my Mac to try to make the world a better place. I hope that I can have even a fraction of the impact that Jobs had.

It feels overwhelmingly fitting to finish off this short post by saying that I wrote it on my iPad.

Monday, October 10, 2011

2011 Oktoberfest Parade

I enjoyed another Oktoberfest Parade with my family this year. We live near the parade route, and it’s a short walk for us to get there and set up our lawn chairs. The beautiful weather seemed to bring a out a larger crowd than I’ve sometimes seen in years past. Personal highlights included some sort of precision rake team from the City of Kitchener, the Fergus Pipe Band, an implausibly cool float from the Waterloo, Wellington, Dufferin & Grey Building & Construction Trades Council, and a very mobile giant airplane balloon that was helpfully identified as “Inflatable Airplane” on the WestJet sponsorship banner that preceded it. Fun stuff.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Jazz Room finds its groove

I’m a bit of a jazz fan, and I was excited at the news last winter that Waterloo Region would soon be home to a jazz club. Even better, the Grand River Jazz Society (GRJS) planned on presenting weekly live jazz events.

By September the society had opened The Jazz Room at the Huether Hotel in Waterloo, and had generated some real buzz around a musical art form that has been around for a century. They have performances planned for every Friday and Saturday for the next several months.

The venue has been open for a few weeks now, and I finally made it out this past Saturday night. I’ll note here that I’m no music critic, and I won’t try to review the music in any way, other than to say that it was terrific — having been to many jazz performances over the years, I do believe that jazz really is an art form that is at its best when experienced live.

My friend Michel and I arrived for our evening of jazz at around 6:30pm, getting supper and enjoying a set of solo piano by Glenn Buhr. Having arrived early we had great seats in front of the small stage, which made it easy to get immersed in listening to the music.

The headliner for the night was Kollage, represented in a quartet form — it’s usually a sextet — by its leader Archie Alleyne on drums along with pianist Stacie McGregor, bassist Artie Roth, and trumpeter Alexander Brown. Again, the music was terrific, and listening to Archie’s stories drawn from his decades-long career was a real delight. The three sets of great music from Kollage were enthusiastically received by the audience.

On a final note, the venue itself is warm and inviting, and has a great small club feel. Of course, that’s what The Jazz Room is, but getting the vibe right is still a tricky balance. GRJS has done a great job in preparing an intimate space for live jazz. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the experience is enjoyable all around.

Waterloo life has gotten better with the arrival of The Jazz Room, and I’m looking forward to returning there soon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stephen Hawking Centre at Perimeter Institute

Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute had a very public celebration of the opening of its new Stephen Hawking Centre on September 16, 17, and 18. I’m only getting around to marking that celebration now, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t floored by the experience of attending many of the events over those three days.

My family and I, in various combinations, enjoyed a tour of the new facility, the Physica Phantastica exhibit, three different pubic lectures (George Dyson, Hod Lipson, and Julie Payette), and a Science in the Pub session on creativity. Wow.

The highlight for me, though, was to be in the audience for the introduction of Xiao-Gang Wen as the first holder of PI’s Isaac Newton Chair. That was a moment that was striking for any number of reasons, not least being the presence of the Perimeter Institute’s founding benefactor Mike Lazeridis, who clearly has a  real interest in its mission and success.

The variety of events was amazing, and the crowds that turned out to mark the occasion and celebrate science are a great indication of the pride and support in the community for PI. In turn, the visible and ongoing commitment by PI to its Public Outreach program makes for an thoroughly engaging community experience.

What an extraordinary institution to have in this community.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Karos Health goes to a career fair

I’ve written several times here about working at Karos Health, most recently about our co-op recruiting event at the University of Waterloo. Only a week after that event, Karos Health will be present at the Partnerships for Employment Career Fair on Wednesday, September 28, from 10:00am until 3:30pm at RIM Park in Waterloo.

Partnerships for Employment provides an opportunity for students and alumni from the University of GuelphUniversity of WaterlooWilfrid Laurier University, and Conestoga College to meet with employers and to learn more about the employment opportunities available. Karos Health happens to have several software-related positions open, and we’re looking forward to meeting with potential candidates at the fair.

If you’re planning on being at the event, and are interested in working at Karos Health, please drop by and see us at booth 77 and say hello. We’d love to meet you.  For that matter, please feel free to talk to me any time about career opportunities at Karos Health.

This post originally appeared on the Karos Health blog in a slightly different form.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Karos Health co-op recruiting event at UW

Some of you may know that I work at a Waterloo-based software company called Karos Health. As I’ve written about in the past, Karos Health recruits students from the University of Waterloo for co-op work terms. It’s only September, but we’re already looking ahead to the Winter 2012 term and we’re actively looking for software developers and software testers.

To that end, on September 21, from 11:30am to 1:00pm, Karos Health will hold a recruiting event at the Davis Centre on the University of Waterloo campus. We’ll be in The Fishbowl, happily chatting with anyone who wants to learn more about of working at Karos.

You can read more about our co-op jobs now, or just plan on coming out to the event and learning about us there.

We’re a small startup with a terrific team that already has products in the market and customers who are excited by what we’re doing. We’re collaborative, smart, and committed to creating great products while having fun doing it. At Karos you’ll have a chance to try different things, get your code into shipping products, test new product releases and make a meaningful difference to health care providers and patients. And, once a month, you’ll be fed the best waffles you’ve ever eaten.

If you’re at all curious about working at Karos, this will be an opportunity to talk to many of the people, including current and past co-op students, who are creating the software that powers our products. Want to know what tools we use? Or how we manage our source code? Or how we practice Scrum and other Agile techniques? This is the place to find out, and to hear about why your next great co-op job might well be here at Karos.

No RSVP required. Just come by the Davis Centre, enjoy some free food that we’ll provide, and learn about working at a terrific software startup right here in Waterloo.

This post originally appeared on the Karos Health blog in a slightly different form.

Some Apple products are imperfect by design

I’ve been using an Apple iPad 2 for a few months now, and have enjoyed it tremendously. One aspect of it that stands out is the deliberate imperfection that Apple has introduced into the design of the Smart Cover accessory. I’d go as far as to say that Apple has embraced Wabi Sabi, the Japanese aesthetic which accepts, and even demands, imperfection and transience as an important aspect of beauty.

The Smart Cover that I have on my iPad is leather. Out of the box, it wasn’t quite pristine, but had a lovely texture. In the last several months, though, it has acquired an uneven patina through daily use, along with more noticeable scuffs and marks. It’s no longer perfect, if it ever was, and it now provides a striking contrast to the aluminum and glass ‘perfection’ of the iPad. It completes the iPad, providing a visual warmth and a organic feel that the cover-less iPad lacks.

The unique imperfections have marked the iPad as ‘mine’ — distinct from an iPad that someone else might own — as effectively as the combination of apps, books, music, games, and other bits of data that I’ve installed/assembled/created on it.

Apple is, of course, aware of the inevitability of these ‘imperfections’. The packaging for the smart cover includes a notice: “The leather Smart Cover is crafted from high-quality, naturally treated material that gets its color from a rich aniline dye. Some color may rub off during use.” (Emphasis mine.)

Beautifully done.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A new post, written on an iPad

For some time now, Google has been in the midst of a major refresh and consolidation of the design (and implementation) of its products. As of Wednesday this week, that design work has now extended to Blogger, the platform that I happen to use for this blog. At first glance, the new Blogger looks and works great. One major benefit of the revamp is that I can now write and edit posts on my iPad. That wasn't possible on the previous version — or, at least, I wasn’t able to do so. The update doesn’t appear to be optimized for mobile — in fact, it’s a little flakey — but it does work. Maybe there’s more to come?

This post is about about little more than creating a test post on my iPad, while also taking the opportunity to express my admiration for what they've been releasing these past months. Google+ has been getting the bulk of the attention, but there’s great work being done on their other products as well.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It turns out that Apple is not perfect

I’ve been having trouble with my Apple TV, and decided to pay a visit to the Genius Bar in the recently opened Apple Store here in Waterloo to see if I could get some help. I had been unable to address the problem on my own, or via a bit of Web research, and I wanted to experience the Genius Bar in action.

My three boys and I went to the store on a weekday afternoon, and I was surprised at how busy it was. The place was packed with customers and employees. I made an appointment to consult someone at the Genius Bar, and my sons explored some of the products on display. They had a ball, and nobody tried to interfere with their fun.

Come appointment time, I explained the problem I was having to Darcy, the friendly and knowledgable genius who was helping me. After exploring some options and trying to reproduce the problem, Darcy eventually decided to replace my Apple TV (a solution that I discovered upon returning home turned out to have solved the problem). The latitude given to Apple Store employees appears to be about as wide-ranging as I had previously heard. It was a great experience.

So what makes Apple less than perfect?

After making my appointment, I received an email from Apple confirming the time. The email included a link to an Apple Store iPhone app. I decided to try installing it, and clicked the link in the email to do so. The App Store application launched on my iPhone, but instead of seeing the Apple Store app, I saw a message saying “Your request could not be completed.” I asked Darcy about it, and he told me that the Apple Store iPhone app isn’t available in Canada, and that he’s not sure why the link is included in emails for the Canadian stores.

It’s an extremely minor issue, of course, and it didn’t at all bother me that I couldn’t download the Apple Store app. It is, though, telling that such a minor thing stands out in a customer experience that is otherwise exemplary all around. It’s just not quite perfect.

Monday, July 25, 2011

July uxWaterloo beer gathering

The last year has been a busy one for uxWaterloo. We’ve had some great speakers and workshops, and our meetings always feature great discussions around a range of UX topics.

For our July 19 event we decided to kick back with an evening of informal conversation and beer. We met at the Brick Brewery in their hospitality lounge, where the beers were a welcome antidote to the hot and humid weather, and the discussions as rich and varied as always.

We’ll be meeting there for August as well, and while there’s no guarantee that the weather will be as hot and beer-appropriate, there’s always the great company and chance to meet new people in Waterloo Region’s UX community.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Square to Square

This past weekend was a busy one, with lots going on in Waterloo Region. The highlight for me was Sunday’s square2square event, during which much of King Street was closed to motor vehicles between Kitchener’s Civic Square (in front of City Hall) and Waterloo’s Public Square. My two youngest sons and I bicycled from one square to the other, and the boys enjoyed the thrill of the (mostly) open road.

There was a lot to do between, and at, the two end points. My favourite discovery, though, was the remote-controlled model boats cruising the water in Kitchener’s Civic Square, courtesy of  Golden Triangle Marine Modellers (no website, alas). One of the modellers, Paul, was kind enough to let both my boys pilot his tugboat for a while, and both did so without crashing into other boats or the concrete sides of the pool.

The next square2square event is Sunday, August 14, and we’re all looking forward to it at our house. Thanks, and congratulations, to the cities of Waterloo and Kitchener for organizing these events this summer.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Canada Day (Independence Day Edition)

It’s been too long between posts, and may stay that way for a while. Here’s one that marks the recent Canada Day holiday with pictures of our fireworks from July 1 (and its aftermath), posted on the day that our neighbours to the south celebrate their Independence Day. Enjoy.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Delivering overnight at Karos Health

Last Friday we had our second FedEx Day at Karos Health. Our first FedEx day was, to me, a prototype to see how the event would work at our company. That first try was a great success, and we resolved to do it again. While the details of our approach are slightly different than those at the company whose FedEx Days inspired us, Atlassian, our take on the concept is similar in spirit and purpose. (By the way, it’s called a FedEx Day, as you have to deliver something overnight.)

For our second event I had two goals in mind for my own activity. The first was to learn more about Ruby on Rails, a programming language and framework combination which I had begun investigating earlier in the week and with which I already had built an exceedingly simple application for creating and managing patient records. My second goal was to explore an approach to publishing documents as defined by IHE. I picked one of the simpler scenarios (use cases, in IHE parlance) to try to deliver on:
A patient in the emergency department has all her relevant available documents retrieved via 240 XDS transactions. As initial triage of the patient is done, an additional document regarding diagnostic results for this patient is registered in the XDS Document Registry. Currently, there is no way for the Emergency department to learn about the existence of this new information. With a publish/subscribe infrastructure, the initial query to the XDS Document Registry would be accompanied with a subscription request, as a result of which a notification would be sent to the 245 emergency department. The subscription will be terminated once the patient is no longer under the care of the emergency department's institution. 
— from “Unexpected Notification Use Case”, section 26.4.1 of IHE IT Infrastructure Technical Framework Supplement: Document Metadata Subscription (DSUB) (PDF)
Put another way, an emergency department physician has requested an imaging study, such as an MRI, for a patient. The requesting physician needs to see the results, provided as a document, as soon as they are made available by the radiologist who read at the study images. A notification alerts the physician that the result document is available.

Working with two of my Karos colleagues, I used Rails to put together a simple web app prototype focused on what a physician might see on a smartphone (an iPhone, for demo purposes, as that’s what I use every day) when receiving a notification that a document has been made available or updated. We used a simple script to push notifications into the prototype’s back end, which dutifully made them available to the different colleagues that we were demoing to. Each notification includes a link to the affected document, which can be viewed right away. Happily, the prototype worked well and I’m thoroughly enjoying Ruby on Rails so far.

It was fun to build and show the prototype, and fun to see all the other results that emerged from a day of directed play at Karos. We’re all looking forward to the next FedEx day at Karos.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

UW co-op recruiting event for Karos Health

Today, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm, Karos Health will be hosting a recruiting event at the Bombshelter Pub on the University of Waterloo campus. We’re looking for co-op software developers to join us for the Fall 2011 term, and we’ll be at the Bomber in force to extoll the great benefits of working at Karos.

While I’m obviously biased to some extent, I do believe that Karos offers a great opportunity for a meaningful work term experience:
  • Interesting work on shipping products and/or research projects
  • A smart and experienced team to learn from
  • A great atmosphere
The event gives potential co-op employees a chance to talk with our development team, as well as with past and present co-op students. Drop by to chat, and to eat some of the free food that we’re providing. Hope to see you tonight!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My new/old wireless music player

I recently acquired a couple of pieces of technology that are pretty much at opposite ends of their respective lifecycles.

One is an Apple iPad 2, which I’ll write about another time.

The other is a product that represents a technology that was enormously disruptive to the music industry of its time. This product, and others like it, enabled anyone to listen to recordings of music in their home — no need to go out to hear live music, or to learn to play an instrument and make your own music.

I now have a Victrola manufactured by the Victor Talking Machine Co. in 1917! I’ve had 78 RPM records in the house for several years now, some of them in album form, and it’s great to have a portable (well, luggable), wireless device to play them on. It doesn’t use electricity — just wind up the spring-driven turntable, put the needle down, and listen! What’s striking to me is that my new/old Victrola functions as well today as it did when it was first built almost a century ago; I doubt that my iPad 2 will be able to make that claim.

I already knew that the steel needles that pick up the sound from the grooves of a 78 RPM record should only be used once, as they wear out and a worn needle will damage records. One fascinating bit of information that I didn’t know previously, though, is that different needles will produce different tones when playing records. Needle selection is an important, and personal, choice when listening to these records, and I guess technology lovers of any era love tweaking and tuning their toys!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The prototype is done, let's ramp up!

I wrote a little while back about the Research Entrepreneurship Accelerator Project at the University of Waterloo. The program got up and running for this past winter’s academic term, and saw a team of six students working on a prototype of an online marketplace in which artists and other content creators provide creative services for owners of Christie Digital MicroTiles. I was lucky to be able to work with the student team, as well as with the extended REAP leadership team.

Last Wednesday was the end-of-term presentation for the inaugural student REAP team, and I was happy to be able to see them present the results of their project to representatives for Christie. While I had seen the team’s work at various points during the project, the students still managed to surprise me. Their presentation was in the form of a play in which the team acted out the the scenarios that they had created in support of their design work. This was delightfully unexpected, but perhaps shouldn’t have been given that REAP is an initiative of the Arts faculty that happens to build cross-disciplinary teams.

Fittingly, the first REAP term was something of a prototype itself, and the lessons learned by everyone involved are already being applied as preparations move forward for the spring REAP term that starts in May. There are multiple projects lined up this time, with some interesting ideas to explore. The recruiting process is in its final stages — last night I had a chance to meet the student candidates for the next REAP teams —and  I’m looking forward to supporting the new teams on their projects over the coming months.

Monday, April 11, 2011

We'll be right back after this short break

I’m sure that most of you reading this will have seen Google’s Gmail Motion announcement on April 1, or one or more of the company’s many other foolish initiatives on that day. I love that they play this stuff straight, and that some of the jokes can be pretty ephemeral (like showing search results for “Helvetica” on that day using the widely-disparaged type face Comic Sans).

There are also hidden bits of whimsy in Google products that have been a round for a while, but which still make me smile. The question in search results for “recursion” is a favourite of mine. And when I occasionally look in my Gmail spam folder for missing messages, the ads that link to recipes that use Hormal Spam® are always welcome.

Message: Loading...
Sometimes the bits of whimsy are quite fleeting, but no less delightful when I notice them. I only recently discovered the messaging provided by Google’s chat functionality within Gmail. The company’s attention to details means that there are usually helpful status messages that explain what’s happening: “Loading...”

Message: Unable to reach Karos Health. Please check your Internet connection.
When there’s an interruption in service, Chat will try to reconnect. Again, a message provides details on what’s happening: “Unable to reach Karos Health. Please check your Internet connection.”

Message: “...and, we’re back!”
Of course, there’s also a message when the connection is restored. Evocative of a television talk show host announcing a return from a commercial break, the message “...and, we’re back!” is easy to miss, as it typically lasts only a few seconds. That means, though, that it’s also unobtrusive and it doesn’t get annoying. Lovely stuff!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Randomly generated assessment: Mark designs better

At Karos Health we’re always trying to improve the way we work. To that end, we recently enjoyed some Agile coaching from Declan Whelan. Declan is well-known in the Waterloo Region and beyond for his deep knowledge and passion for all things Agile, and his presence Karos was a welcome one.

During a presentation/workshop, Declan shared some of his findings into his review of our development practices. One of the artifacts that he showed was a tag cloud created using Wordle, and which was based on notes that he took during one-on-one discussions with the team. I’m  big fan of Wordle, for both the insights that it can provide into a source text as well as the aesthetic appeal.

In the case of Declan’s Wordle, an unexpected juxtaposition of words was particularly delightful for me. The first image shows the original image that Declan showed. The second image highlights the randomly-created, found phrase that caught my eye. Sometimes, little discoveries are a lot of fun.

Declan’s Wordle

“Mark designs better”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Research Entrepreneurship Acceleration Project

I’m involved with a great initiative at the University of Waterloo. The Research Entrepreneurship Acceleration Project (REAP) brings creative academic and private sector experts to explore new technologies – especially those involving interactivity, responsiveness, and digital display environments – in order to spark “research entrepreneurship.” The program hires a small team of students each term to work on a project. REAP is currently looking for students for the Spring term. All the details are below. Please spread the word, or apply if you’re interested.

Research Job for Spring 2011
The Research Entrepreneurship Acceleration Project (REAP) is looking for part-time, extracurricular paid student positions for Spring 2011. We are looking for students who are:
  • Creative
  • Entrepreneurial-minded or interested in learning how to be
  • Group-oriented
  • Results-oriented
We need students with any combination of these technical skills:
  • Graphic design 
  • Machimina and game engine design
  • 3D graphic rendering or animation
  • Kinnect-style interactivity design
Benefits include:
  • Designing cool content and applications for leading edge technologies
  • Learning business, project management, group, and presentation skills
  • Expanding your professional resume
For the Spring 2011 term, we will be designing a proof of concept for a ‘Virtual Whisper Room.’ A virtual whisper room uses a game engine to create virtual environment in which avatars of customers interact and play with early-state product/application ideas too expensive – or to difficult – to design and render in the real world. It would combine graphics, machinima, a Kinnect-style technology and MicroTiles (Christie Digital’s newest display technology). Its main purpose is to show rather than tell – to allow people to experience new ideas so that designers and entrepreneurs can gain invaluable feedback during the early stages of prototyping ideas for new products. In order to be considered please:
  • send your resume to reap.uw at gmail dot com by Monday April 5th 2011.
  • reserve Monday April 11th 2011 7–9pm for a mandatory info session. More details about this night after your resume is received and reviewed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose at Karos Health

I’ve written before about a book by Dan Pink called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates. I’m a big fan of the book, and the three simple things that Pink says matter to people who are working in creative positions, or positions that don’t just involve repeating the same kinds of tasks again and again.
  • Autonomy. Ideally, over what you do, when you do it, who you do it with, and how you do it.
  • Mastery. Your abilities are finite, but infinitely improvable; improvement demands effort; and mastery can never be fully attained, which is part of the allure.
  • Purpose. Within an organization, use profits to reach purpose, emphasize more than just self-interest, and allow people to pursue purpose on their own terms.
My experience at Karos Health has been one that delivers on all three.
  • We practice Scrum and other Agile product development techniques, which gives a lot of autonomy for team members.
  • We’re always looking for ways to improve on what we do and how we do it, both as a company and as individuals.
  • People find a sense of purpose in different places, but health care is an area that delivers on that for me.
We’re looking for people to join the Karos team and help build great products and a great company. Have a look at the positions that we currently have open and give some thought to how you might fit in. Feel free to get in touch with me directly if you want to learn more, or just send in an application. It’s a fun and rewarding place to work.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March roars in like a lion

Last week was a bit of a blur as March roared in with the usual commitments at work keeping me busy and several extra-curricular activities added to the mix.

Wednesday started with Communitech’s Tech Leadership conference, an annual event that provided a great opportunity to meet people and engage in conversations. It also featured a pretty impressive lineup of speakers. I have to confess that Geoffrey Moore’s keynote presentation was a slight disappointment; while he’s a dynamic speaker, the material didn’t seem to add much in the way of new insights to what he has previously published. This particular crowd has to have been pretty familiar with the concepts of crossing the chasm.

The next session for me was with Scott Berkun, whose talk on the Myths of Innovation picked up on the theme of his book of the same name. I’ve heard Scott speak before and knew that I would enjoy his talk, and I did just that.

Following Scott’s talk, I travelled with him and my uxWaterloo conspirator Bob Barlow-Busch out to Quarry Integrated Communications in St. Jacobs, where Scott had agreed to do a special uxWaterloo lunch time talk. The theme was creative thinking hacks, and the format was completely open and driven by questions from the audience. It’s the same format that Scott used when he last spoke to the group, and it works well.

Wednesday evening was spent at Design Exchange Waterloo, where I acted as an industry panelist along with a couple of members of the local design community, Graham Whiting and Tammy teWinkel. The event featured enlightening presentations and lively conversations with many students. The hardest part was deciding which teams to give awards to, but after much deliberation we were able to arrive at decisions. The next event will likely be in the fall, and I’m looking forward to it.

Thursday was, of course, TEDxWaterloo. I hadn’t planned on attending, but some last minute schedule changes and the timely appearance of tickets changed that. As with last year’s inaugural event, it was a day of stimulating and inspiring presentations from some distinguished speakers. It was all terrific, but the most delightful surprise for me was Ben Grossman’s presentation on the hurdy gurdy, an ancient musical instrument with which Ben made some striking music while he was on stage. Moreover, between the two sets of talks, Ben provided wonderful background music that, for me, enhanced the many conversations that I had.

Sprinkled throughout the week were a few meetings with some of my fellow Ignite Waterloo organizers as we make plans for our next event. More news on that later.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The lion and the trackpad

Apple has released a version of the next version of Mac OS X, code-named Lion, to developers. That’s a fairly standard step on the release road for the company’s OS updates. In an article at AppleInsider, though, I noticed this interesting tidbit:
The new multi-touch gestures are designed to take advantage of the larger click TrackPads on more recent MacBook models, which could make them more difficult with older notebooks. Another strange quirk, people familiar with the developer preview said, is two-finger scrolling is reversed: to scroll down on a webpage in Safari, users must push up with their fingers, which is the opposite of how it works in Snow Leopard, but the same directly as scrolling on the iPad.
I’m pretty sure that nobody at Apple, or AppleInsider for that matter, reads this blog. Anyone who has read my previous post on scrolling from March of last year, though, will know that the change doesn’t feel like a strange quirk to me. It feels like the right direction to go, and Apple is clearly addressing the collision between old and new interaction paradigms.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Design Exchange 2011

It’s been a busy month, with the most recent Ignite Waterloo event and planning for uxWaterloo keeping me busy outside of my day job. I haven’t done a blog post here in a while, and I thought I’d start to catch up by letting you know about an event that I’m peripherally involved with.

Design Exchange Waterloo 2011 is a student-organized, design-focused forum that’s happening from 6:00pm to 9:00pm on Wednesday March 2 in room 2218 of the Tatham Center at the University of Waterloo. The DXW website is currently light on detail, but I can share a little more information that I know about. The coolest thing about this forum is that includes ten groups of students from four different areas (Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Environment, and School of Computer Science) presenting their design work. There also will be ample opportunity to discuss design, incubate ideas, and connect with a diverse group of students and industry professionals through their shared interest in design.

To that end, the organizers are hoping to see people from the off-campus community join the students for what looks to be a lively event. I can say from my own past experience that it’s well worth attending. At the last event, back in 2009, I even met a student whom we subsequently hired as an intern at Primal Fusion, an outcome that may have been unusual but which was more than welcome all around.

Here’s a my understanding of the agenda for March 2:
  • Introductions
  • 5 student presentations
  • 30 minute snack break (mingle period)
  • 5 student presentations
  • Awards for Best Presentations, Most Innovative Design
  • Concluding Statements
Should be an interesting event.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A fifth Ignite Waterloo is coming

I’ve been involved in organizing Ignite Waterloo, which produces a series of events in Waterloo Region, since the first event in 2009, and it’s been amazing to watch the events grow in popularity since that inauguration of the series. We now easily attract well over 200 people to these things, and, as I was telling someone last week, we have relied pretty much on word of mouth and social media to spread the news about our activities. Of course, there’s much more hard work than that to get an event off the ground — and there are many people who make it happen — but it’s been a big hit with audiences and speakers alike with very little traditional communications.

The next Ignite Waterloo event is scheduled for Tuesday February 8 at the Communitech Hub in Kitchener, and even though we only announced the date and venue on January 11, we’re already pretty much sold out. Still, try to get a ticket if you want one and see if you can get lucky.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Adding albums to the music mix

I spent some time over the holidays updating the music on my iPhone. That’s something that I do periodically, as it has far less capacity than would be required to hold my music collection and I like to vary what I listen to. The sources for the tracks are varied. Some I download from iTunes and other sources. I often digitize music that I have on CD. Less often, I digitize music that I have on vinyl albums or 45s, and doing so recently got me thinking about mix tapes.

I’ve created them, in the distant past, and enjoyed the reverence for the form in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (in both novel and film versions). Still, it had been many years since I made a mix tape, and even a few years since my last round of vinyl digitization. In the intervening time I had filtered from my memory just how out tedious it can be to digitize more than a few tracks. I retained only a fuzzily idealized notion of savouring each track while it is transferred to digital form (or, as I did in days gone by, cassette tape). That notion holds for the first few tracks, but the novelty does wear off! Here’s a simplified version of the steps required to digitize a track:
  • Connect the turntable to the computer.
  • Pull the record from it’s sleeve and put it on the turntable.
  • Start the turntable and drop the needle on the track; set recording levels to be loud but not so loud that distortion is introduced during the loudest passages.
  • Once levels are set, drop the needle again, but before the piece starts.
  • Start the digitizing/recording.
  • Enjoy the track while it plays.
  • When the track has finished, stop the digitizing/recording.
  • Remove the record from the turntable and replace it in its sleeve.
  • Edit the digitized track to eliminate any silence at the start and end of the track.
  • Add track to iTunes and add meta data to taste (Track name, Artist, sleeve art, etc.)
  • Repeat as necessary.
Obviously there are workflow optimizations available (e.g., record a batch of tracks, then edit them, then add meta data), but it’s still a laborious process. It was even more so in the past when the target was a cassette tape and the process included selecting tracks to efficiently fill a fixed length tape, manually minimizing silence between tracks, and creating cover artwork by hand.

Anyway, in the end I realized that I don’t at all miss the tedium of creating mix tapes the old-fashioned way, or digitizing analog formats. I do, though, love listening to the iPhone-age equivalent of mix tapes.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A bottle of correcting fluid as a metaphor

I’ve written before, and given an Ignite talk on, the use of metaphor in product design. I occasionally see an icon and wonder if it is recognizable as an object from the real world, and hence whether the metaphor is clear. Here’s an example from Pages, the document creation application that is part of Apple’s iWork product suite. The preferences dialog includes an area for specifying the behaviour of auto-correction of things like capitaliztion, quotation marks, and so on.

The odd thing to my mind is that the icon appears to be a bottle of correction fluid, something used to correct mistakes on documents created using a typewriter. As with using “cc” in email, the metaphor refers to a pretty old technology that is used by far fewer people today than it was in the past. Beyond that, it refers to a tool that is manual and pretty finicky, about as far as automatic as you can get. I wonder how many users of Pages in 2011 have never seen, let alone used, a bottle of correcting fluid? That is, for how many people is the icon unrecognizable and, hence, ineffective as a UI metaphor?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Usability of passwords

Like many people, I have a large collection of online accounts to manage. Examples for me include various email accounts, Twitter, and this blog. My large collection means that I have many passwords to manage. I like to think that I create passwords that are reasonably secure as well as being memorable for me, but its an annoyance to do so on a large scale.

Despite their many drawbacks passwords are currently a pervasive part of online life. While it’s easy for some to mock users for using unsafe passwords, a more nuanced approach is to understand that people are quite adept at circumventing security that gets in the way of their goals. Donald Norman has written eloquently about the challenge of designing a usable product with security in mind.

Some of the usability challenges around managing passwords were reiterated for me when I recently updated the passwords associated with my various online accounts. By sweeping through all my accounts at once, I got a concentrated look at various design solutions used by service providers to support password management by their users. The results were decidedly mixed in terms of usability. This message on restrictions in creating a password wasn’t unusual:
When changing your password, please remember that it must be between 5 and 8 characters in length and should contain both letters and numbers. Special characters (e.g. #, &, @) must not be used as they will not be accepted by the system. Passwords consisting of all letters or all numbers are not recommended.
While the message is clear, the underlying restrictions make it hard to come up with a secure, yet memorable, password. (As an aside, I’ll add that while I have my own strategies for creating and using passwords, I’m not going to describe them here. I hope the reasons are obvious!)

There are approaches to password creation that improve things a little.

One popular UI widget provides immediate inline feedback on the strength of a password that a user has defined for an account. I found several examples during my recent updates. Here’s one in particular that shows the feedback when I type in a terribly weak password for the account.

A screen showing feedback for an unsafe password

Not bad. The wording isn’t optimal but “Unsafe password” gets the job done. Here’s what appears when I provide a more secure password that includes a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters:

A screen showing feedback for a strong password

Again, the wording isn’t optimal but “Very strong” is fairly clear and also reassuring. Of course, the feedback is only useful when the guidance that it provides can be acted upon. Here’s what I see after trying to save the new password:

A screen showing feedback for a strong password that the system won't accept

It turns out that my “very strong” password choice is too strong for this service!

Obviously, security is far from an easy problem to solve, and no single solution fits all needs. Having said that, this particular example from just one small sliver of a secure system is clearly bad design from a user experience perspective. The initial feedback is accurate in its assessment of the security of my desired password, but it’s irrelevant because the system won’t accept the password. The later feedback comes at a point in the workflow where it’s more frustrating than informative.

If passwords have to be a part of a product or service, design for them in a way that doesn’t needlessly decrease usability.