Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dream Jobs and the Test Drive

I had a brief exchange with someone about creative burnout recently, moving this post topic to the top (under bras). The fact is, sometimes burnout is more serious than just a temporary task malaise and means you should think hard about what you're doing for a living, not just the current task or current boss.

BUT: Sometimes the current job is just the current job, so don't over-react, either. I've seen 3 people have a bad time from either overwork (dotcom era) or bad roles (at a good company) and change careers very dramatically. One opened a record store in Seattle, and 2 became chefs. I'm not saying they were bad decisions, except maybe the record store; but sometimes you need to try out another company first.

Or, you need to try out the job you think you want, and see if it's really better. That's the service provided by this interesting company, Vocation Vacation. That bookmark goes to the photographers' page, which I occasionally stare at.

The idea is that you go on a vacation where you work with someone in the career who acts as a mentor and shows you the ropes. It's like an internship, only shorter, and probably for older folks like me. If you saw the movie "In Her Shoes," there's a great career switch in there, from high-powered stressed lawyer to something much more fun, along these lines:

Dog Day Care Owner.Do you sit in your office and wonder what Rover is doing at home? If you dream of your life going to the dogs, then this VocationVacations® holiday is for you! Dog Daycare owner Heather Stass would love to share her passion as Top Dog at K9 Capers Doggy Daycare.

Heather has extensive experience working with animals. She has a Bachelor’s degree in animal behavior and multiple years of kennel management experience. As a Dog Daycare owner she belongs to the North American Dog Daycare Association and the American Kennel Association’s Dog Daycare Division. She has owned K9 Capers for four years. more...

Before you completely ditch your job and current career, try out a new one and see if it's really that much more fun. Or, in another bold move, do two at once for a while. That's how one of my friends did it -- she sleep walked through her old bad job (remember, virtually no one gets fired for not doing much) and started up her new career after hours and on weekends, till she was ready to quit the first one.

If you're self-employed, having two jobs at once, either two clients, or two different professions, is another way to stay energized. You always have a backup and an escape from what you have to do Right Now.

Finally, if you're thinking about changing jobs, here's another kick-in-the-pants if you still need it: The Right Career is Yours for the Taking.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stephen King on Writing -- And Design

I like this no-nonsense essay by Stephen King, Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully - in Ten Minutes. I think it applies to doing good design as well.

Here's my remapping to design:

  • "Be talented" should go without saying. Design is an art, too, even if it's data-driven. There is still creativity involved in knowing how to ask the right questions and take insight from the data.
  • "Be neat" may be my own weakest point -- I'm a sketchy ideas person, and struggle for the pixel perfect after the big insights. But I keep trying and see it as a self-improvement challenge.
  • "Be self-critical." If you haven't thrown away a bunch of ideas, and can't show that you have, you're probably not talented. The same goes for photography or any other art that takes practice to do well. Idea generation is easy, choosing the right ones for the right reasons is the skill part.
  • "Remove every extraneous feaure." That's my redoing of King's "extraneous word." It's about clean design -- it's harder to get to the core than it is to throw in everything you thought of. It's also braver, faced with the "featuritis-sells" mentality that even some (most?) customers have in saturated markets.
  • "Never look at a reference while doing the first design." Hmmm... In the spirit of letting creativity run free, I like this. But I need to think some more about its applicability here.
  • "Know the market." Know the users, know the competition, know the business. Don't work in a creative, monk-like vacuum. Your work won't be very smart and your clients/company will stare at you funny when you present it.
  • "Design to improve someone's life." King had "write to entertain," and I lean towards keeping it at the same sentiment even for a professional product -- but instead I think this is about more, like elegance, and beauty, and that "wow" moment that people get from using something that works well and does exactly what they didn't know they wanted it to do!
  • "Don't design if you've stopped having fun." If you've turned into one of those hurt, tired people who feels like no one gets it and you're wasted there, you can't be Jonathan Ive at Apple. (I don't know if he's tired, but he did stick it out and it eventually paid off.)
  • "Take usability input and use the design or start fresh." King's point is about how to weigh feedback: if you hear different things from everyone, you can probably ignore it safely; otherwise, take it seriously even if you don't like it.
  • "If it's bad, kill it." Too few companies can do this; designers themselves need to be able to do it with authority to their own ideas. You're a hack if you don't know how to filter your own ideas. Remember, ideas are cheap! You are paid to be creative, right?
Successful people are generally also practical, and King really brought that home to me. In fewer words than I would have done, to be sure! His introduction story makes a few other good points: Even people who are talented need critique and input from more experienced people to get better at what they do. They need to be receptive to that. And not everything they design will be for a domain they know something about. It's part of the talent of a good designer to get into the heads of potential users, to do the research to understand them as input to the design process.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Giveaway of the Day

I've been tracking Giveaway of the Day for a little while now, and I've liked some of what I've found on it. If nothing else, it's a way to find out about smaller utility programs and new tools you don't know about, and you can't beat "free" when you want to try one. The hook here is that you only get a window of 24 hours to install and activate each one, so you have to keep up with the site if you want to catch something you want. And then they hope you tell other people so they get sales by word of mouth. I like the model.

Today's Giveaway was a nice tool to clean out your Windows startup apps (I kept wondering what the heck was slowing me down on one laptop); the other day I got a simple video cutter that helps the YouTube crowd splice stuff together and chop out scenes. More and more of these things are being described as simple and easy to use. Yay!

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cheap Tickets

Over the weekend I caught up on Lifehacker, and found a bunch of posts and comment posts related to finding cheap airline tickets. Some were quite surprising to me -- like shop between 12 and 1am on Wed morning when companies update their records.

TripStalker -- a bot utility that continually looks for your best price and notifies you when it finds it.

Lifehacker thread of comments on this topic.

Another link collection on cheap ticket gimics.

Lots of people mentioned Sidestep (I use occasionally) and, and travelocity doesn't fare too badly in the listings.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Excel Tricks

Gotten off Information Aesthetics, and making my weekend a thing of beauty (well, also the good weather helps): Lightweight data exploration in Excel, from Juice Analytics.

This is so simple it's genius. I feel like a dork for never thinking of it. These are some lightweight way to create visuals like sparklines inside your Excel spreadsheet using really simple formulae. (This will be built-in in Office 12, but meanwhile, why wait?)

The bar graphs are built using the Excel REPT function which lets you repeat text a certain number of times. REPT looks like this:


For instance, REPT(”X”,10) gives you “XXXXXXXXXX”. REPT can also repeat a phrase; REPT(”Oh my goodness! “,3) gives “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! ”

For in-cell bar charts, the trick is to repeat a single bar “|”. When formatted in 8 point Arial font, single bars look like bar graphs. Here’s the formula behind the bars:

As the guy notes, when you're doing data exploration, you don't want to struggle to figure out which values created which outliers. Big plots are nice for an overview, but you still have to do work to figure out which items generated which points. ("Data brushing" is the common technique in infovis circles for getting this kind of info, but it's work to implement.) Why not get at what you want right in the spreadsheet itself, so you're looking at the data and the visual right at the same time? He has a good example showing the value of this in action.

The followup responses to his original post got even better. Check out these tricks to do this kind of stuff:

Updated to add: Here's even more fun off Juice! Tufte-style charts in Excel, with a downloadable file to play with.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Tips for Frequent Flyers

I was just booking an international flight, and faced with a lot of flights by many carriers in the same price range, I decided comfort was my primary goal. It was surprisingly hard to find a good resource that spelled out which airline and which equipment offered the best seats for this. Nevertheless, here's one article, more focused on users of laptops than on people with legs: Mobile Computing: Tips for Frequent Flyers.

It's the Boeing 777 that comes up winning on legs and outlets. Maybe this time I can get some sleep and if not, do some work. (Oh, and for those who know me, just because I'm small doesn't mean I don't like to stretch occasionally!)

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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Pendant for Airplane Sewers

My version of a cool tool: the Thread Cutting Pendant. In my quilting class this morning, this was shown to us in the "notions" section of class, where they demo cool tools for making sewing fun and not tediously and horribly difficult. (Can you tell I am a failed quilter? After an accident with my cutter last night...) This pretty pendant looks like jewelery, but there is a fine blade inside the notched edges that will cut thread. "You'll be able to get it on an airplane so you can sew there, they'll never know it's a blade." What a sad world when sewing ladies can't get their tools on planes without 007-style disguises.


Friday, November 19, 2004

How to make a gigapixel picture

These Dutch scientists, after a lunchtime bet, built the world's biggest panorama shot out of 600 single shots of Delft. I'm still trying to load it. (Updated: Got their site, but could they have picked an uglier city angle? I don't think so. Now why didn't the Parisians do this?) They had to build new tools for most of the operations, due to scale issues. No kidding. BBC NEWS Technology How to make a gigapixel picture

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43 Folders: writers block

Found on Boing_boing, I liked the flavor of this advice, especially the turn-off-the-network-connection-you-moron stuff: 43 Folders: Hack your way out of writer's block.


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Apartment Therapy: Temporary Wallpaper

If you're living in an apartment, but would like to decorate the walls without getting in trouble: Temporary Wallpaper at 'Apartment Therapy'.

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