Thursday, July 19, 2007

LinkedIn--Swinging the Pendulum Back on Employment References?

When I first started my adult career, in 1987, employment references were quite routine. It was automatic that if you were applying for a job, the prospective employer was going to ask you for 3 references. Then along came a lawsuit, in which an employee who had received a very negative reference from his former supervisor, won a substantial settlement. In little more than an eyeblink, corporate America switched to a "no references" policy.

That was over a decade ago. The sad part is that the case in question (I'm too lazy to find and reference it) involved a deliberately defamatory reference. A good former employee, a spiteful former supervisor, lies and a lawsuit. There is little to no case law, AFAIK, for a good-faith reference causing a lawsuit. Nevertheless, the No References practice has become common policy.

It does seem like the actual observance has been weakening in recent years. People have figured out that former colleagues and even supervisors will typically give positive references, and may even give some degree of negative reference, perhaps in "code". I see LinkedIn accelerating this work-around, since it makes it SOOO much easier to find "backdoor references".

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Chinese Products Scandals

I'm surprised that the series of scandals over Chinese-made products and ingredients hasn't been a bigger story. Not that it hasn't been covered, but mostly as a series of one revelation after another. It would seem to me that at some point, that would become a mega-story. Just shows how hard it is to predict what news item will get "legs".

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Common Property for Google Widgets: What to Open

I'm slowly getting hooked on the iGoogle personal, configurable homepage. I would like to see the different widgets all have a common, settable property for how to "open" when expanded. Mostly this choice would be New Tab vs. New Window (assuming current tabbed browser editions); could include a pop-up small-browser; and where applicable, "custom default" (as for Google reader, where it has the lovely pop-up).

As Outdated as the Floppy Disk: Limiting Search Results to 10 Items

I can't believe this vestigal feature--defaulting the search results to 10 items--is still with us. AFAIK, it is a relic from the dial-up era that should be ditched. At the very least, the default should be set high, at 50, and the handful of dial-up users can set their own poxy default.

Maybe the is a server-side performance benefit is also keeping this alive?

Poor Useability As A Covert Way to Fleece Customers?

While on the subject of the EZ-Pass economy...we went to the taste of Minnesota a week ago, and found an unmanned pay lot in which to park. It had a kiosk which read credit cards and issued passes, which you put in your windshield.

Anyway, it was drizzling as we parked, so the family and I were huddled under umbrellas as I essayed my transaction. I swiped my credit card, the display blinked briefly, but nothing else happened. No selection menu, no confirmation screen, no ticket spitting out of a slot in front of me. Thinking it had been a mis-read, I swiped it again. Still nothing other than a transitory flash of the display. So then I tried a different card, same result. Finally, I closely read the instructions. They said something about "open the door and remove your pass from the drawer at bottom". So I slid open the door, and of course I found three passes. So I had effectively triple-charged myself for (3) $10 parking fees (adding insult to injury, about the same time, my kids spotted another lot, slightly closer to the event, charging $5!).

I will cop to a bit of "dumb user" error, but only a bit. Every other self-service machine I have ever used has some kind of intervening event between swiping your card, and completing the transaction. At a minimum, there is an "Are you sure? Press YES, and your card will be instantly debited for $10". Or they push out a ticket--in front of you, not behind a window, where you can't possibly miss it. For extra points, they don't permit a new transaction till the ticket has been removed.

(Postscript, not relevant to the main useability lesson: Anyway, I scoured the website if IM-Park, and utterly failed to find a number for reaching a human, so I resorted to calling their corporate switchboard, and two calls later, was able to leave a message, which actually was returned fairly promptly, with another message to me, instructing me to fax in the copies of the tickets; so I am guardedly optimistic that I will get a refund without further ado.)

Am I the only one who finds the timestamp to be a weird place for permalink in Blooger

No, I am not. This site commented on the same thing, and had a nice trick, which I implemented, to make the permalink obvious and CTRL-F findable.

Useability of ALT-TAB

I really like the tabbed browsing metaphor that FireFox pioneered/popularized. But. I also like the useability of ALT-TAB. I don' t know how much is key size and placement and how much is nearly two decades of practiced manual dexterity, but I find ALT-TAB to be invaluable for toggling between windows (as in cut-and-paste scenarios). I just haven't trained my fingers to do CTRL-TAB. Plus the fact that it enumerates through all tabs in the FireFox instance, rather than toggling.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Cringely on Universal UI Platform

Every time I struggle with the UI on a programmable thermostat, automatic sprinkler, or whatever, I think "how much better would it be if all intelligent devices (which is getting to be most devices) could be accessed via a PC interface?" Cringely touches on this in a recent column:

Think about anywhere you see a graphical user interface that isn't attached to a PC -- kiosks, high-end TV remote controls, touchscreens, ATMs, cell phones, digital cameras, VCRs, DVRs, GPS systems, set-top boxes, computer monitors, televisions, elevators, the Toyota Prius, medical equipment, Point of Sale systems, the "cash registers" at McDonalds -- everywhere, really.

In each case, the user interface was probably developed by a specialized team for specific hardware. The team may have limited training in GUI design or usability, the interface may not be portable across new device models, and the development tools may not be very evolved, which would slow the GUI creation process.

Flash potentially solves all those problems AND creates new opportunities.

Flash is well understood, and the development environment is highly evolved and therefore efficient. There are many experienced Flash designers, so the pool of available talent is potentially much larger. GUI design can be done by people who don't require intimately specialized knowledge of the underlying hardware. GUI elements would be portable across device models and even device categories. Think how the right-facing triangle of the "Play" button started on tape recorders, moved to VCRs, and is now on CD players, DVD players, DVRs, iPods, and any hardware or software that records or plays back content.

GUIs would evolve much more quickly and cost less to create. There could be standard interface libraries for all types of uses, and the similar GUIs would lower the learning curve for users. Talented interface designers would be in demand. User interfaces would be potentially upgradeable. More interesting, GUIs could be user-specific: the same cell phone might have a "Grandma interface" for one user, but a very different GUI for teens. And there's no reason why that should stop with cell phones.

Google Reader Widget Needs Font Size Pref

I love the Google reader "widget" that I have on my iGoogle page, and the way it creates an overlay for reading. I just wish I could set the font size larger.

Gmail doesn't let you archive draft emails

I was really surprised to find that I can't archieve my un-sent drafts. You know how it goes--those un-sent Drafts pile up, for various reasons. Sometimes because they are overtaken by events--you get a phone call from a person before you can send the message.

Yes, I could just leave them there, but that's messy, or I could delete them, but that seems like a violation of the core philosophy underpinning Gmail (never delete information). After all, 3 months down the road, I will find myself thinking "I swear I sent that email saying I didn't want to be chairman of the golf fund-raiser next year". Instead of searching for it and failing to find it, it would be nicer if I could search, and find it in an un-sent state, thus explaining why my memory was deceiving me.

Another Google Feat: Outstanding Spam Filtering

In my experience, very, very good performance with both filtering and avoidance of false positives. Server-based filtering, of course. One more reason to love Gmail. And it's free! I just did a check, I see that I have been using it just over 3 years now.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Easy Energy Saver: No-Heat Dry Dishwashing

I read some residential energy expert say that the average middle-class American family could cut their CO2 emissions without breaking a sweat. From an anecdotal perspective, I'm inclined to agree. I'm assuming he means just with short-term changes, not medium-term changes such as ditching the big SUV for something more economical.

The most recent example I stumbled on myself is the no-heat dry option in the dishwasher. I'm not sure, but I think only more recent dishwashers even have this option. Anyway, I have been using it, and it works very well. Glass and ceramics dry almost instantly. Plastics are slightly slower to dry, but only slightly. I would say that no-heat dry works 95% as well as heated drying. Ergo, the wastefulness of heated drying seems about as extraordinarily wasteful as "warming up" a car to run the defroster in order to get rid of some slight condensation!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Promising LinkedIn Feature

Whose Viewed My Profile? is an interesting and tempting (to get you to upgrade your account) innovation.

E-Z Pass Economy, Electricity

NYT Article on the "Ez-pass economy": After an electronic system is put in place, tolls start rising sharply. Take two tollbooths that charge the same fee and are in a similar setting — both on highways leading into a big city, for instance. A decade after one of them gets electronic tolls, it will be about 30 percent more expensive on average than a similar tollbooth without it. There are no shortage of examples: the Golden Gate Bridge, the George Washington Bridge and the Tappan Zee Bridge, among them.

This is a great observation. I think an area where this principle exerts a bad effect is electricity--there is such a disconnection between consumption and billing that many people just don't internalize the value of turning off lights, let along replacing incandescent with CF, or easing up on the A/C.

Still Prefer Answering Machine to Voicemail

While on the subject of voicemail...I've avoided home voice mail for years. In part because I don't like the idea of paying a monthly fee. But also because I doubted that its useability would be as good as a dedicated machine. Well, I have recently had the chance to confirm that belief.

A few months ago we upgraded our phone service not so much because we wanted voice mail, or digital phone, or anything else, but because it was part of Comcast's three-fer $99 deal. So we got voice mail, but I immediately disabled it, prefering to stick with the answering machine.

Then the answering machine died (possibly due to that cat kicking it off the table), and in the interim, I decided to activate voice mail. I don't like it much, for three reasons. One, it is not as obvious as the flashing light on the answering machine (probably solveable with a more expensive, integrated handset). Two, it is much less convenient to access, compared to the "one-click" access for the answering machine. Three, we only get 1 mailbox, AFAIK, versus the 4 on the answering machine. Seeing as Beth gets 10x the messages I do, once we moved to the multi-mailbox answering machine, there was no going back to a shared mailbox for me.

All these objections are solveable, and probably have been solved in some implementations, but until they are there for me, ready for the taking, I'm sticking to the digital answering machine.

Monday, July 02, 2007

An old, unsolved problem: send to voice mail

Operators using corporate PBXs seem to be able to "send" a caller to voicemail, but they are about the only ones. When calling for someone, I would SO much prefer to leave a voice messsage for them, rather than try to dictate to spouse or child, and hoping it gets through. Likewise, when answering our home phone, I would greatly prefer to be able to bounce a caller into my kids' voicemail rather than try to take down details of the proposed outing to the local cinema.

Yet, AFAIK, this feature is pretty much unknown in homes. Perhaps many systems have some way to do it, but if so, the infrequency of use suggest there must be a learnability/useability bug with it. It needs to be very easy and very obvious to do.