Interviewing Users

April 29th, 2010 — 9:59am

This is a nice synopsis of Steve Portugal’s virtual seminar on “Deep Dive Interview Secrets” culled from Twitter.

I conduct a lot of user interviews, and most of them by phone. Interviewing by phone makes the rhythm of the interaction much different, and the tips for in-person interviews are helpful.

I would also add that interview topics (but not questions) are great to keep the interview within the scope of research, but I tend to use them for the first two or three for a given project before internalizing them and leaving them aside.

Jotting notes during the interview also really helps when you’ve reached the end of a topic you are exploring, and need to transition to something else. I works well because you are returning to something the interviewee was previously discussing, which lets them know you’ve been listening, and it also provides for smooth transitions. I avoid jarring transitions at all costs because it can destroy the rhythm of the conversation and make people aware they are being interviewed.

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Breville Power Cord

March 24th, 2010 — 12:03am

One of my favorite design details of any product I’ve seen is the power cord that comes on the Breville Juicer. Instructions always tell you that you should remove the power cord from the outlet by pulling on the end, rather than pulling on the cord. Breville creates a simple affordance that not only makes this incredibly clear visually, but makes it the best way to pull it out. Many  power cords are difficult to remove, and pulling on the cord is simply easier with the added leverage. Breville does not really advertise this in any way that I can see, but there get the idea in the photo below. The circle tells you emphatically that it should be pulled….

Breville Power Cord

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Getting Started Barefoot Running

February 27th, 2010 — 11:24pm

I bought a pair of Five Finger KSO (VFFs) after an old friend sent me the Wired Magazine write-up of “barefoot” running shoes, and after reading the second half of McDougall’s book. Running off an on for over twenty years I’ve had some consistent physical nags, for a lack of anything better to call it: aching achilles, lower back soreness, over extended big toes. An ankle sprain from last summer just didn’t seem to be getting better and I always felt unstable running and worried about re-spraining it.  My running and walking heal strike was rather dramatic. The data in the second half of McDougall’s book appealed to me and I headed over the Richmond Bridge to grab a pair of VFFs at Transport.

After running consistently in the VFFs for two months I’m sold.  All of the nagging aches have gone, and my worrisome ankle feels strong and I’ve not had a second thought about twisting my ankles since running in the VFFs. All of what people say about feel more balanced is true. I run in a variety of places including fire roads, single track, sidewalks, and bike paths. Asphalt is like butter and concrete leaves my feet tingling (not in a good way). Single track is always best, but isn’t that always the case whether running or hiking of biking? There are moments of sheer joy that remind me of what it was like running through the woods as a boy.

I know a lot of people have trouble getting started running in VFFs, and more so barefoot. I generally don’t wear shoes around the house, so I think that helped with the foot strength. I’ve luckily avoided most of the getting started issues aside from some blisters on the inside of my foot, which is easily solved with a bandaid or duct tape.

My first run though was really odd. It felt mostly like I had two fish at the end of my legs, slapping against the pavement on a short, flat run on sidewalks around my neighborhood. It was a bad entree. I had read up a bit on getting started and tried to follow the suggestions I read and saw in videos. I am a believer in good form in whatever sport, but forcing yourself into a method clearly is a bad idea. I was just visualizing things poorly. Digging deeper I found two pieces of advice that have helped: one, relax; two, run hills – up and down.

Relaxing my feet help me tremendously find the natural mid-food strike, and let my foot give me the feedback I needed to run in harmony with my body. And by relaxing I mean not only not stiffening my foot, but also avoiding forcing my gate. In running up hill you are required to adopt a mid-foot strike, else you’d just fall over backwards (well, maybe not that dramatic). This combined with the feedback you get from the shoes reinforces what you should be doing. Running downhill was one of the things I was most worried about, but the first time doing it I quickly realized this was going to be much better than what I had traditionally done, which is to rely on my heels as a sort of break to slow me down the hill. Again, running downhill enforces the mid-foot strike because if you don’t you feel pain. That’s pretty effective feedback.

A list of a few of my runs….

More later on all the concerns people have about not giving up their high-heel running shoes…

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Reverse Engineering a Data Model

May 5th, 2008 — 11:23am

I keep finding myself reverse engineering databases in order to understand the underlying data model. There are a bunch of tools out there that will do this including DeZign and ModelRight, both of which are PC only. I generally work on a Mac but have my old PC as a backup. Anyway, it turns out that Visio has a reverse engineer feature. You need to open a new document with the Database ERD stencil and a menu option appears. It works using the Windows ODBC connections, so you’ll need to set that up. I had to download the MySQL ODBC drivers for Windows, and then it was off running. Annoyingly, the table relationships do not get defined unless the original data model has them defined, so that could be some work depending on the scope and complexity of your database, but its a good start nonetheless.

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Italy Day Three – 4.25.07

April 28th, 2008 — 7:42pm

Interestingly, crossing Amalfi’s coastal range is similar in climate to crossing the mountains east of San Francisco. One goes from a cool welcome climate to severe, unbearably hot desert quickly. Still in a jet-lag induced stupor we took the directions to Pompeii from the hotel concierge. They assured us it was easier than getting the trip to Herculaneum. They were so nice and willing. and we were mostly rudderless. We should have known better as the directions led back over the coastal range through Cava.

Setting out in the daylight, the drive up the coastal range was spectacular: lush, green, and bucolic. And dangerous. Rounding a corner on a wide, state road we had to wrestle the punto to an unexpected sudden stop in order to refrain from mowing down a herd of unruly sheep.

Cresting the coastal ridge one is accosted by “the other side of the ridge,” so to speak. Cava unveiled in daylight reeked of baked, third-world industrial drearyness and desert heat. Not good combinations. The driving chaos had not improved from the trip in two days before, and unclogged by dueling buses the traffic flowed much more quickly. This time it was apparent that the road was not wide enough for the combination of speed, oncoming traffic, and cars darting into traffic from side roads when there was a space of more than eleven inches between bumpers. Thwacking another car’s side mirror didn’t even cause a pause for consideration of what had happened. Having driven in various places in Europe even – Sevilla, Spain and Athens, Greece – Cava is a new experience. Traffic in those places seems somewhat orchestrated, as if there is some method to the insanity like following schools of fish. A schools of fish darts everywhere and turns on a dime, but it moves in harmony. Driving in Cava was like multiple, separate, belligerent schools of fish darting at one another oblivious and uncaring of the outcome. The stress is unparalleled, and then one gets through it after making a dozen last second decisions in direction, often at the last minute and just as often illegal. And of course signs that clearly say Pompeii on them with an arrow indicating a right turn. But then in the moment you don’t recognize the icon for the sign or the Italian sub-head beneath the huge lettering for Pompeii that you find out is really the “Pompeii Supermarket” only after you’ve fully committed to making the turn. Emotionally exhausted, we finally found parking outside of Pompeii literally called, in English, “Safe Parking.” Oddly, we did not once consider the safety was for the car or our possessions, but pulling in and parking on the grassy lot we felt safe for the first time since leaving Ravello. Gaby literally put her head on the dash and cried strongly considering staying in Safe Parking rather than going back through Cava.

Despite being emotionally drained Pompeii itself was interesting. It brings to mind the passage from Kirk Vonnegut:

“It posed the question posed by all such stone piles: how had puny men moved stones so big? And , like all such stone piles, it answered the question itself. Dumb terror had moved these stones so big.” –Cat’s Cradle

After the drive and a couple of hours in the afternoon heat it is difficult to really engage with a ruin, especially one as expansive as Pompeii. The coliseum was architecturally amazing. The forum baths were amazingly well preserved and culturally fascinating, and the preserved bodies macabre. We cut the visit somewhat short and enjoyed the walk around the wooded perimeter as well as the main attractions. We also needed to preserve something for getting back to Ravello.

With trepidation in starting back down the state road to Cava, there was a moment of brilliance. This kind of thing would never occur when home, but going down the coastal road rather than back through Cava was illuminating. After a split-second exit and paying twice for tolls, we headed north instead of south we were on highway. The road widened and widened again. We slowly made our way through well-spaced mountain-side villages with smiling school children. And the Amalfi coast in all is beauty was waiting for us as we crossed the ridge. No feral dogs, no mad drivers darting about. Sitting on the cliff-side porch back at the Villia Maria we had the two best beers of our lives and sat and watched the sunset and the canyon below leading down to the Mediterranean.

The hotel had suggested and arranged for tickets at the Villa Ruffolo that evening. Ravello is know for its summer music festival and reportedly one cannot get within miles without reservations a year in advance. This seemed more aligned with the hotel’s knowledge set. The concerto was piano and and violin. Elena La Montagna and Pierfrancesco Borrelli (Piano). Mascitti, Haendal, Nicola Antonio Porpora, Bach Tomaso Antonio Vitali. The day ended harmoneously.

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