The Bay Area response to foreclosure

I spotted this article a little while ago, discussing how one man responded to having his house foreclosed.

The front yard of Williams’ home is strewn with boxes, furniture and trash cans. There’s even some of the home’s air conditioning duct work lying on the lawn. That’s not the only part of the property left in shambles. The inside of the house is just as messy.

And just in case anyone needed an explanation for his actions, Williams also allegedly left the bank a big note –– using spray paint. The words painted on a wall near the front door are hard to make out but it appears to declare: “Brought to you by Deutsche Bank… Eat it.”

My favourite part though was the response from (who I’ve declared my amusement of here, here, and here):

Makes sense. Milpitas isn’t in the Real Bay Area. Full of savages. I hear they’re starting to eat babies because house prices are so low. 


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Microsoft Live Search – trying to increase their referrer percentage artificially?

I’ve noticed a lot of my traffic supposedly is coming from Microsoft Live.  However, looking at the referring URLs, something fishy is obviously going on:

  01 May, Fri, 09:10:38  
  01 May, Fri, 09:19:00  
  01 May, Fri, 10:51:20  
  02 May, Sat, 15:55:08  
  02 May, Sat, 17:43:10  
  03 May, Sun, 11:49:51  

I can only conclude they’re trying to increase their referrer percentages to try and increase ad spending.  I’d be interested to know if anyone else has noticed this, or can perhaps explain it.

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Google doesn’t trust us with our search queries anymore

A trend I’ve noticed lately is that Google selectively ignores and “reimagines” my search terms.

(actually, it also habitually drops my search entirely. There are bugs in both the new Google toolbar, and a bug in iGoogle that goes back at least a year, where my first search takes me back to a blank Google page in any version of Firefox)

For example, if I am looking for a verb in particular, it will often change its tense.  For example, searching for “carmack suggest” has the first result matching “carmack suggested”.

Another example is suggesting all sorts of “alternatives” in your main page of results.  Check out the results for “first person“.

3 results for “first person”, followed by three results for “third person”, then a suggestion for “first person narrative”, followed by the rest of the results.

These irritations are manageable.  The search that inspired this post tonight was the search for “irobot lighthouse instructions”.  I put in fresh batteries to my lighthouse, and the light didn’t come on, and there was no obvious ‘on’ switch.  So I had a look online to see if I could find an instruction manual (much more convenient than digging through old papers and/or boxes).

1. iRobot: 500 Series: Virtual Wall® Lighthouse

– 11:11pm

The Virtual Wall Lighthouse uses an invisible infrared signal to help iRobot Roomba® achieve the most efficient and thorough room-to-room cleaning. – 55k – CachedSimilar pages

2. iRobot: Redesign Root: 500 Series: Virtual Wall® Lighthouse

The Virtual Wall Lighthouse uses an invisible infrared signal to help iRobot Roomba® achieve the most efficient and thorough room-to-room cleaning. – 55k – CachedSimilar pages
More results from »

3. Irobot Lighthouse – Compare Prices, Reviews and Buy at NexTag …

Irobot Lighthouse – 6 results like the Sunbeam iRobot Roomba Virtual Wall Lighthouse, iRobot Roomba 500 Series Virtual Wall Lighthouse – 80201, – 73k – CachedSimilar pages


10. iRobot Roomba 535 Robotic Vacuum with Lighthouse Technology | TV News

iRobot Roomba 535 Robotic Vacuum with Lighthouse Technology – Very great deal! Everything instructions said it would do, it did, recharges fast and – 26k – CachedSimilar pages

Searches related to: irobot lighthouse instructions

irobot roomba 535

irobot looj

irobot roomba 560

irobot roomba 570

irobot vacuum cleaner

irobot blu ray

Tip: These results do not include the word “instructions”. Show results that include “instructions”.

I like that tip at the bottom, where of course you’re not looking, basically saying “we’re ignoring what you asked for”.

If what I’m searching for doesn’t turn up decent results, at least show me that if you can figure out what I mean (in this case I should’ve searched for “manual”).  “irobot blu ray”?  I wondered if I was the only one to be so frustrated with Google lately, so of course I turned to Google Blog Search, and it tried to redirect me to port 9.  What is going on?!  Suspiciously, the first result for “google poor search results” is an article about Wikia.

Between the poor search results, numerous bugs on Gmail (I enjoy sending all my emails -1 minutes ago) and Google Reader (scrolling still doesn’t work properly), the awful search wiki, and never mind the numerous reports recently of Google stealing people’s money, my opinion of Google’s previously stellar product quality is starting to get quite tarnished.

Posted in Rants, Web products | 4 Comments top 20 job sites

PC Magazine listed its top 20 job sites today.  There were three Monster sites on there: Monster (#11), Trovix (#17) and USAJobs (#19, although they don’t appear to be in any particular order).

The bit I noticed of course was:

Trovix‘s free search engine makes the job-search process more personalized. Users input their work experience and qualifications and the site matches results to what info they have given. Trovix also has an innovative feature called Job Map, which allows you to type in your location and see on Google Maps how many jobs are available in your area.

My one bit of production-facing JavaScript ever.  I’m happy it got a mention.

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I love data – part 3

I noticed tonight that the GPS error on my running watch means that when I look at the data in aggregate, it creates quite a nice heat map of my favourite runs.

I might try and figure out a way to show this over time.  The Palo Alto/Mountain View runs build up during winter, and then during Summer I do far more runs by the bay (when I don’t need street lights to run after work).

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I love data – part 2

Recently I took my Garmin Forerunner GPS watch with me and left it switched on while I had a helicopter ride with Sundance Helicopters to visit the Grand Canyon.  Exporting the data to Google Earth allows me to recreate in excruciating detail  the flight we took for family and friends.

Here’s the trip as a whole:

The entire helicopter trip

This is the airport we left from:

Las Vegas Airport

Flying down the strip was pretty cool:

Las Vegas strip

The landing site (top down view here) and picnic area:

Sundance Helicopter tours landing site

I was pretty amazed by the terrain data in Google Earth.  It’s been a while since I had a good explore through it (I also noticed a lot more 3D buildings too, kudos Google for all the great recent updates).

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The difficulty of simple design – part 2

In my last post about design simplicity, I touched on the difficulties involved in what does and doesn’t make the cut for a design.

Recently I noticed a forum post where one of the developers behind Plex (a really amazing media centre application for OS X) had to defend removing features.  I still think their reasoning is correct, but due to user backlash they decided to put the feature back into the next version.

This is the main reason for feature creep and too many options.  People have different tastes and use products for different purposes.  The problem is, by kowtowing to existing users, you continue to alienate potential ones that you didn’t even realise you were alienating.

So let’s say you have a feature that tests equally well – 50% of your users love it, and 50% of your users find it confusing and difficult to use.  Do you keep it (to satisfy the 50% of users) or lose it (to preserve simplicity)?  What about you have two different versions of a feature that you have A/B tested and each are equally popular in those tests?  It can be tempting to even provide both!

However to preserve a simple design, it’s at this point you need to make a subjective choice.  You need to evaluate:

  • What will be better for the product’s image?
  • What will provide extensibility for future plans?
  • What provides a qualitatively better experience?

For instance — you may be trying to choose between a dropdown list and a radio button.  Which to choose?   A dropdown list takes up less real estate — is that important? Do users find it easier to make a choice if they can see everything all at once, as with a radio button?   Is the list of options going to grow in the future?

As a designer or usability expert, it’s easy to get caught up in always finding the “best” user experience or what the user “wants” most, but it’s important to remember that some aspects to design cannot be measured or quantitatively known.  A simple design will go a long way to giving your design universal appeal and application potential.

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Completeness versus permanence

I realised something interesting tonight. For the first time, for a huge number of people, all of their personal correspondence will be neatly catalogued and saved. This is thanks to the pervasiveness of email — both people and businesses.

And unlike old boxes of letters, this correspondence is easily disseminated. Gmail has made me pretty fastiduous about keeping my inbox clear — however, with great search, most people don’t even need to organise their email. What this means is that all aspects of my life — travel bookings, concert tickets, bills, short notes, long catch ups, letters back home from holidays, photos sent, job applications, arguments with my brother, and so on — are being neatly stored and catalogued for the future. No lost filing cabinets, nothing thrown away, no mould or water damage.

It’s a stunning thought really — with Gmail specifically, people are now far more likely to have a permanent email account with enough storage to keep using indefinitely without deleting anything. Imagine how useful this information will be in hundreds of years for researching history.

But there’s the rub. I won’t cover this too much, as data ownership and safety is a much-discussed issue, but what happens when/if Google is acquired or goes out of business? What if they decide to close the account, or they have a catastrophic server failure? I have Gmail offline and Thunderbird to back up my mail (which most Gmail users won’t do), but even in this case, who knows what web browsers and mail readers will be like in the future — even if I own a local copy, will I be able to read it?

Essentially we’ve traded simplicity of archiving for the difficulty of maintaining the archive into the future. Previously you could just take a letter and throw it in an archive box and put it in an attic. You never had to touch it again and it would maintain its state. Now you need to find different ways to keep your data available and safe. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if we actually end up with fewer sources of archived data, but they will be more complete. It’s certainly interesting wondering how this is all going to shake out…

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The difficulty of simple design – part 1

The hardest part of being a designer is choosing what goes into the product.

Deciding what should and shouldn’t go in is actually a very difficult choice.  You don’t want it to be overcomplicated, but you want to have a competitive edge.  Sure, it seems easy — just throw out whatever people don’t need and put everything else in.  Unfortunately every user is different.  I read an article which claimed that people only used 20% of Microsoft Office features, and so 80% should be removed.  Unfortunately, each person uses a different 20% of the features.

So how do you decide what goes in without overloading your product?  The easiest features to be sure about are the ‘standard’ ones.  What are the must-have aspects of your product to make it work?  What does everyone love about your competitors?  Put these in!

The rest?  While usability testing will give you some idea of what people would want or like, a user saying they’ll use something in a usability session does not mean they will actually use it.  To decide what might be used, you will need to use some of your best judgement, some user feedback, but most of all, pick features which are ambiguous.  People will always do surprising things with your product.  How people customize and appropriate a system for their own use is called “articulation work” in design academia, and the more ambiguous you make your design, the more people can appropriate it in innovative and surprising ways.

I think Twitter is a great example of articulation work.  Ostensibly it’s just a status update system.  However, people use it for all sorts of things — microblogging, link sharing, ad-hoc meetings, connecting with corporations, getting the news, etc.  What facilitated this was a simple system with a few key features – such as the “@” and “#” operators, and a real time search.  From these basics, the community began using it in new and unexpected ways.

So when you’re trying to keep things simple and to decide “should I put this feature in?”, wonder “how might this be used in other ways?”  It’s much better to put in one feature which can be used in a multitude of ways, rather than overload on catering to everybody.

However, the question remains — how do you decide which treatment for a particular feature makes it in?  For example, say you allow a user to select something via a drop down or with radio buttons, and both test equally well.  How do you decide which to use without providing alternative methods of interaction?  I’ll cover that in part 2.

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I love data

I’m intrigued by how much the data collection of my exercise influences how much I run. Suffice to say, I never run quite as far or as often when I don’t have my Garmin or Nike Plus kit.

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