Friday, June 30, 2006

Observations at Breakfast

A unique combination of costume and camaraderie come together at breakfast in resort hotels. This morning, I saw square dancers (most of us were slumming it), corporate lackeys in business drag, families (who were not slumming it), some firefighters (they should become gay square dancers), and the staff who were unfailingly polite and oh so present throughout the meal. I hear snatches of conversation. The business woman patiently explains to her patient waiter why she can only drink skim milk. The fire fighters talk and laugh loudly, their smiles radiating throughout the dining room. I'm reading about Joe Lieberman's race in Connecticut, but am gladly distracted by the ambiance.

I don't have a thing to do for hours. I'm not rushing this first meal of the day. I nod to some other square dancers, and Miguel ultimately brings me my check with the cryptic comment, "This is for your convenience." Hmmmm. Probably not. But I don't say anything.

And that's how I end up fat and happy. One breakfast quesadilla down, two meals to go. I'm going to need some weight loss therapy before this is all over.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Reporting in from Disneyland - the Mouse's Brand

So here I am at the Disneyland Marriott, well Walt would never call it that, but the rest of the world would. I got in here about three hours ago. Our rooms weren't ready so I joined up with a couple of other DC Lambda Squares dancers, and we walked down Mickey's Main Street. It's a big deal, 50 years and counting.

We stopped in at a Disney store, merchandise central. It's full of delightful schlock of questionable quality and very high prices. I know, I shouldn't be surprised. This is the store that people go to, to buy gifts for Uncle Bill and Cousin Milly. The stuff is so tacky and weird that you actually have to ask the friendly mouse associates what some of the stuff is. Very strange, and most of it is made in China. It has a foreign edge to it, as in Alien or Predator.

We were out in the sun too much, and I got a little burned. I'm in my room now recovering from my consumerist experience. I bought a mini-Minnie backpack. It's cute, and it goes with my Goofy hat. It brings on a creepily innocent moment when you realize you're closer on the mark than you thought. I suppose I could get into a mouse fetish.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Full Circle, Michael Thomas Ford

I've been reading Full Circle, Ford's new book. I think it's better than his two previous novels. It's not great literature, but it's good summer reading. Ford is a good storyteller, and some of the sex is pretty hot. What I don't like about this novel, though, is that the protagonist is a whiner. He's perpetually (at least through the first 325 pages) in search of himself, holding himself up to personal scrutiny, then doing dumb things.

The book is best in giving a personal story of Vietnam. The novel is at its worst examining the main character's relationships. He's always wondering why things turn out bad, well, he's basically a clueless jerk when it comes to the people that he loves. He's figured that out pretty much by this time in the book; he just doesn't know what to do about it.

The book also has a lot of convenient name dropping. Coincidence plays a huge part of the story, too. Part of my head mutters, "Totally unbelievable." The other part points out that the story wouldn't go anywhere if blind, unbelievable coincidence didn't play a part. And, well, it's his novel, so what the hell?

So, I think I'll go and finish it this afternoon.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Rocky Mountains, Yeah!

The conference ended at noon. So after lunch, I rented a car and headed up for Estes Park to see some mountains, and to visit my brother, Steve.

US 36 winds up from Broomfield into the mountains. The road between here and Boulder is a freeway, but it quickly becomes a windy, two-lane highway. The university is on the east side of Boulder, and has what I think are some high-rise dormitories. Their architecture fits right in with the landscape - some interesting buildings from the freeway. Many stoplights later, I had navigated through Boulder, and on the west side of town I picked up two hitchikers who were on their way to the Rainbow Gathering near Steamboat Springs. They were two very friendly characters, and a little strange, with perhaps a few neurons misfiring. The older guy wanted to leave Boulder, because the woman he had been seeing realized that he wasn't Mr. Right. He spent the winters in Arizona, and the summers traveling around the country. The younger guy was from Minnesota and was preparing for about a month at the gathering. Very interesting folk. I dropped them off at the edge of Estes Park.

With advanced cell phone technology, I called Steve and he guided me to Aspen Avenue, and his home. I talked with him and his wife for a bit then he and I headed for a walk around town, some ice cream and coffee, and a visit to a couple of galleries. On the way we encountered a cow elk that had just given birth. The sidewalk was blocked off, but the cow certainly was quite able to defend her territory and her calf from any pedestrians. She bullied all comers.

Then we were attacked by the happiest dog in the world. This pooch was in a penned off shady backyard. He would take a ball and drop it on the sidewalk, clearly training all passing pedestrians to pick the ball up, then toss it back in the yard. This dog was so full of joy! Wiggly, happy, bursting with enthusiasm. So for about 10 minutes we engaged in a deep dialogue with fido (a German shorthair in extremely good athletic condition), throwing the ball into bushes, trees, benches, and he would retrieve the ball, run to the fence, and drop it at our feet outside the fence. We learned a lot about dog slobber, happiness, and catch. It was a moment of pure delight in the late afternoon in Estes Park. What a perfect metaphor for a perfect life well-lived.

The gallery we went to had some wonderful sculptures and paintings, a little pricey for my pocket book, which was fine with me, and probably a relief for Ron. I don't suppose he'd like a $1250 work of art in the living room. After the gallery, we drove up to Lily Lake and the St. Marys lodge.

We ended up eating dinner at a very nice Mexican restaurant. I thoroughly enjoyed vising Steve and Lesley. I don't get to see them very often. Steve and I have very different views of the world. Sometimes, I feel it gets in the way of our love for each other. I miss the closeness that we once had, but I love him dearly and want him and Lesley to have a wonderful life. I want him to know that I care for him and wish for him the blessings of an abundant life in his faith.

After dinner, I spent a while showing him my pictures of the Glacier trip that Ron and I took. Just going over the pictures with him brings back the trip to me. I told him that the family was planning a similar trip for Yellowstone two years from now. I hope he and Lesley can join the rest of us. I'm going to do what I can to get them there.

Then I came back to the hotel, had a beer, and wrote this.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Storytelling at the Company

John C. Thomas from IBM gave us the inside dope on corporate storytelling for usability, although he probably wouldn't call it that. He had a compelling story in his presentation about the Walking People. In the Iroquois life, storytelling was key to survival.

Throughout this conference the recurring theme of my conversations with other people is the notion of self/personal identity, and public interface/normative expectations. I believe the latter gets in the way of the former. We tamp down the passion, the pain, the joy, the hate, the lust because we want to be loved. We want to fit in. I judge myself in terms of how I think other people are judging me. Maybe no one is judging me. Maybe nobody really cares, except what I may be thinking about them.

Of course, I may be wrong, and is it a story if nobody listens?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Presentation and Identity

I've had two very interesting conversations here at the conference over the last couple of days. Last night at the opening reception, I talked with one of the presenters from the tutorial that I had taken earlier in the day. In the tutorial, he asked how many of us had blogs. I think four of us raised our hands. Then he asked why did we have blogs.

My answer in the tutorial was kind of half-assed, because I don't think that well on my feet. But at the reception, he asked me if he could read my blogs, and I told him okay. I told him that it was very difficult for me to tell him where to find them, because it was (at once, so public) so personal. Funny thing about that.

Then I went into my "All of us think we are normal" talk, and ended with it's our public presentation - what the world sees - that's what we construct as normal. What's personal is what's beneath the clothes, makeup, skin. And it's anything but normal. It's a cauldron of attitude, fear, shame, passion, guilt, in short the very motivation for the presentation. It's our public presentation that people love, and it so unnerves us, because what's underneath that presentation, that which no one knows or sees, is what we really our, and it scares us to death.

So, the speaker in today's last session is a professional storyteller, and she spoke about storytelling, primarily as it affects the imaginations of children, and how it should be part of the public school curriculum. Afterwards, I went up and talked with her about storytelling, and I connected it with my blogging experience. It's here, right here reader, right on this blog where you can read it, that I feel vulnerable, raw, disoriented, and fearful. It's the very same place from which storytellers tell their stories. The honest storyteller is compelling because the tale is one that touches the heart, and finally enlivens the soul. I write my blog because it turns me from a technogeek into a very human geek.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tidbits I've Heard

If the toolbox metaphor didn't exist, would we create it and put it in our toolboxes?

Users consider tasks to be obstacles in the way of achieving their goals.

This Week, Colorado

I'm hanging out at the Omni Interlocken just outside of Denver. I'm at a conference of the Usability Professionals Association (UPA). This is my third or fourth time. I like this conference because it's all about results. The people who attend are mostly practioners, and usually young ones, at that. I feel like an old man. The only people my age are some of the presenters or consultant predators looking for lucrative engagements. I'm also a bit out of step, because many of these folks come from usability shops, and I come from the business product side of the house.

I like the questioning, the sharing of ideas, the sets of usability methods that people are talking about. It's a good way to checkpoint my own practices, which because of circumstance, often are not the best. Some of these people practice state-of-the-art usability, and I practice seat-of-my-pants. But we're all trying to do the same thing - create a better experience for users. Of course, we hope it increases our business, or web traffic, or what other metric used to measure success.

I talked with a consultant with which my company used to do business. We had an interesting talk, and I'm hoping we can talk again before the end of the conference. He had some interesting perspectives on the progress (regress?) that usability has taken at home. He had a unique view of some decisions made about how to proselitize usability in the company. I think we lost the usability war, but I'm trying to win skirmishes one day at a time. It's been a difficult transition, and usability is hard to manage out of a product group. I think the awareness is in our company's development, QA, and management groups, but no clear vision of how to make it happen.

My brother and I talked last night. He lives in Estes Park, about 45 miles northwest of here. I'm going to rent a car on Friday and drive up there. It's been a year since we've seen each other. We had a long phone conversation last night. I love the guy dearly.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

666 - The Omen!

Pattie, Grace, Mom, Katherine, Michael, Happy
Pattie, Grace, Mom, Katherine, Michael, Happy

You betcha! 666 is an omen all right. Actually, in my life the real omen is 66, a sign of strong family ties and traditions. My grandparents were married on June 6. My parents were married on June 6. My Dad was married on June 6, twice. My stepmom was married on June 6, twice, and her first husband's birthday was on June 6. Seems like a pretty strong thread.

So forget the movie. I called my Mom and told her how fortunate I feel to have had grandparents, parents, and siblings and step siblings for whom family means sticking together in the difficult times, caring for each other, helping out, getting together across town or across the continent. I'm grateful for their love, and I think June 6 is probably our family holiday, or should be.