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developing like a duck July 31, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Technology Trouble.
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Last night, just to reassure myself that I’m not a horrible web designer*, I sat down and built myself a personal homepage using only CSS for layout. There isn’t a single table tag anywhere in the code.

And then I breathed a sigh of relief: I really do know how to use CSS to lay out web pages. It’s just that my company builds pages that aren’t compatible with basic web technology.

Example: yesterday I was assigned to build a new microsite within our main site umbrella. So I opened a new document in Dreamweaver, brought in our usual includes for navigation and metadata, and began coding.

And quickly discovered that CSS layouts are only compatible with our sites to a certain point.

In the end, I had to use about twelve tables to make sure that all the borders were correct and all the gutters remained constant. Then I had to code CSS hacks to make the site work in non-IE browsers, because of course management only has IE on their computers. I swear the day I quit I’m going to put a CSS hack that says “if you’re using IE, you need to switch now, because IE sucks”**. That’ll teach my company to be cross-browser compatible.

duckI’ve often complained to my co-workers that I can’t use anything I’ve learned to make our websites better — without server upgrades, I can’t use new versions of VB.Net; without commitment to cross-browser compatibility, I can’t design CSS layouts; without managers who understand design, I can’t implement 21st-century design principles. All I can do is keep bashing websites together, making them look nice on the top and forcing them to paddle madly underneath — all of my sites look like what the clients want. I just wish the back-end didn’t look like this:


http://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

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* Don’t hold this page up as an example of my design. It’s a WordPress template. I just selected it off a list.

** Hey, Microsoft, don’t sue me for that. I don’t have any money.


That Guy’s Tips for Not Looking Stupid on the Internet, #1 July 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Technology Trouble, Tips for Not Looking Stupid, Unsociable Networking.
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Your Facebook status update is not the place to have a conversation.

Everyone’s on Facebook. Odds are good you’re on it right now — or you at least have a FB tab open somewhere on your browser, even if you’re not looking at it at this very second. And odds are even better that you’ve got a relative on Facebook who doesn’t know exactly what s/he should be doing right now.

My mom’s best friend joined recently. Here’s two recent status updates of hers, with her name changed to protect her identity:

Patricia Smith Zimmerman Thursday it is. Hopefully the weather is good for the pool after as well We will speak tomorrow to confirm what we are doing and a time.

Patricia Smith Zimmerman Hi just touching base and wanted to know if you located Rachel’s address. Let me know when you can get together. Hope all is well Patti

So, what did Patricia do here? Simple: she posted a status update that should have been a personal message or at most a wall post. If Patricia is concerned about the weather (“Hopefully the weather will be good for my pool day tomorrow.”), then she should post that. And no one wants to know if “you” — whoever “you” is — located Rachel’s address. Who’s Rachel? Why should we care?

I suppose the argument there is “why does anyone care about the minutiae of your life?”, but then, you could just un-friend someone who’s not interesting, right?

Anyway. As you begin using Facebook for job-related purposes or trying to find a new job, remember that you not only need to keep track of what you’re posting so it doesn’t embarrass you but also so you don’t look stupid.

I’m not sure how many of these “Tips for Not Looking Stupid” I’m going to do, but just in case, here’s the first.

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fire yourself July 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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Yeah. Right. That’ll happen.

Hidden in there is the concept of pooping on someone else during brainstorming, but I’ll address that another day.

the performance of strangers July 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?.
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Early last year, my now-ex-boss brought me in and we worked together to create one- and two-year traffic projections for our website network. The problem is: we can’t actually predict the way people will behave to 100% accuracy. Not only has the economy tanked lately, but for the past 14 months, so has web traffic.

My boss was fired, though not because of the lack of pageviews. I am, however, quite certain that would have happened eventually.



Posted by That Guy in Management, Technology Trouble, The Two-Year-Old.
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This is how management views websites. (Click for bigger.)

This is how management views websites. (Click for bigger.)

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk, working on our sharepoint site when I heard, from over in the meeting vortex, the sound of the Two-Year-Old saying, “that’s so awesome, I love that!”

Which is manager code for “no one outside of this building will care”, but that’s another story.

Anyway, that was followed by the six most dreaded words any web designer or developer will ever hear:

Put a button on the homepage.

Yeah. Way to screw up the designs that marketing and web worked so hard to create to promote the entire company. Way to ruin our promotional schedule by saying “my stuff matters more than anyone else’s stuff, and that’s too bad for everyone else.”

But here’s the thing: a really good design is expandable in some ways, but doesn’t have room for a big graphical button. If there’s space in the design, it’s highly unlikely that a big vertical rectangle that says, essentially, “CHECK THIS SHIT OUT” is going to look nice amid genteel text and small accent images. Most designers use very few graphics these days anyway.

Managers don’t care. They just want their stuff to appear.

This is what managers wish websites looked like, when you get right down to it — as simple as possible, brightly colored, big letters and big graphics, saying how awesome the company is, and showing very simple links. Because really, as nice as our work usually is, content consumers are often not that bright and they need to be led.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a big graphical button to cram into one of my designs. Never mind the fact that people don’t even see graphical buttons because, in their brains, they are ads, and we’ve all trained ourselves to stop looking at ads.

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it actually is rocket science July 27, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Technology Trouble.
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Now THIS is rocket science. (CC license information at bottom of post.)

Now THIS is rocket science. (CC license information at bottom of post.)

First, the Dramatis Personae:

Len: A preproduction guy.
Andy: An art guy.
Becky: A layout production person.
Me: That Guy.

Date: Last Friday.

8:10 a.m.

Me: phone rings as I’m rebooting my computer Hello?
Len: Hey, TG, I just wanted to let you know we got a photo for that nonprofit project. Len proceeds to explain the nonprofit project in two brief sentences. I’m heading out, but I wanted to let you know it was there so you could put it on the layout.
Me: exasperatedly All right. Thanks.
Len: Andy put it in the art system.
Me: dejectedly, because the art system is completely independent from every other computer system in the building, and it would’ve been faster to just e-mail the photo to every single person in the company Got it.

8:12 a.m.

Me: dials Becky Hey, Len got this photo, but I’m still getting booted up. Gives Becky the project number. Can you drop the photo in the folder for that project?
Becky: Um… where is it?
Me: It’s in the art system. Len told me Andy put it in there.
Becky: What’s it called?
Me: I’m not sure. My computer’s still booting up. pauses Look, just give me ten minutes and I’ll take care of it.
Becky: No, no, I got it, I’ll figure it out.
Me: Okay, thanks.

8:14 a.m.

Becky: walks over to where Len is still hanging around even though he’s been off the clock for 15 minutes Hey, Len, where’s that photo for project 123456?
Len: Andy put it in the art system. raises voice Hey, Andy, where’s that photo?
Andy: It’s in the art system.
Becky: Which drive? What did you call it?
Andy: It’s in the art system D drive. Becky rolls her eyes; the D drive is the “dump it in there with everything else” drive. I don’t remember what it’s called.
Becky: Andy–
Andy: Do you want me to send it again?
Becky: No, I’ll find it.

8:17 a.m.

Len: yelling across the room Hey, Becky, did you find that photo?
Becky: yelling back Yeah, but I can’t use it.
Andy: also yelling What’s wrong with it?
Becky: It’s been manipulated too much.
Andy: What do you want me to do with it?
Becky: I’ll get another version. Len, where is it? General e-mail?
Len: No, that doesn’t work anymore. All e-mails go to our personal accounts.
Becky: Okay. she grumbles I’ll find it.

8:30 a.m.: I boot up my computer, go into the D drive, figure out the photo based upon the time Andy sent it, drop it in the folder for project 123456, and put it on the layout. Elapsed time spent working: 90 seconds.

About ten minutes later, Becky came over and triumphantly announced that she’d found the photo and moved it over, or tried to, but it was already there. So she didn’t, because she didn’t want to overwrite someone else’s work. I thanked her and went back to writing this blog entry, incredulous at what I’d seen and heard. I guess it actually is rocket science around here.

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Photo attribution license:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/oneaustin/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

the work pyramid July 24, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Pictures, Seen Elsewhere, Wasting Time.
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For your Friday, here’s something a little lighter that you can share with your co-workers as you all try to find new ways to goof off:

work pyramid

I particularly enjoyed the “lunch” segment — though we don’t tend to reminisce about lunch much here, I know that when I go out with folks here we tend to spend at least ten minutes figuring out exactly where to go. Unless, you know, one of us wants something specifically. And as for my other favorite part… well, fantasy football season starts soon, and no fantasy sports activity except March Madness consumes so much time and energy, even more so if co-workers are playing against each other and money (or, more importantly, pride) is on the line.

nobody poop! July 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Free Food!, Inexplicable Memos From Above, Wasting Time.
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In my e-mail yesterday morning:

In order to repair a leak in our main water line we will be shutting the water to the building off, we’ll get it back on as soon as possible.

In other words, someone needs to get on the paging system and say: “NOBODY POOP!”

Anyway, about five minutes later I got this e-mail:

After further review the plumber has determined that the leak is in a different line, so the building water supply will be restored in the next few minutes.

That was 10:30. When I went into the kitchen at 12:30 to grab my lunch, the water was still off. At 5 p.m., half an hour before quitting time, the water was still off. I was really tempted to work from home today, but the water, thankfully, was back on.

Photo by Jacky Jazzowl

Photo by Jacky Jazzowl

Boy, am I glad I didn’t have to poop.

When your building is having water issues, it can be a real pain, and not just in the ass. Not only can you not use the toilets, but you can’t wash your hands, you can’t fill your water bottles, you can’t add water to your oatmeal or condensed soup, and you can’t wash out your coffee mug.

Speaking of coffee mugs, you also can’t make coffee if there’s no water. And coffee is undoubtedly the lifeblood of offices, more so now that fewer people are smoking — which was the social event of the 50s and 60s, or so I’m told by people who were in the workforce then. Coffee provides a nice little window of time which incorporates the selection, the cleaning of the pot and filter system, the brewing, the pouring, the adding of the milk and sugar, and the blowing of the steam. Add to that all the time you spend talking as people come in and out of the break room, and the slow, patient Hot Coffee Walk back to your desk (during which you pause to talk to everyone you possibly can) and you’ve killed between 15 and 30 minutes.

No other activity at work wastes more time with more imagined legitimacy than a coffee break, and without water, there’s no coffee. And without coffee, you have to do actual work.

Perish the thought.

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my own office July 22, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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Since I only gave you a video this morning, here’s a little bonus post for you.

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

I completely identify with this pie chart. Except that I don’t have my own office, and when I did, I never used it anyway.

make some mo’! July 22, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Free Food!, Seen Elsewhere.
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In a strange piece of serendipity, three things happened yesterday:

  1. My co-worker LR complained that, for the third time in a week’s worth of work, the person who finished the coffee did not make a fresh pot.
  2. In the sci-fi novel I was reading, an ensign’s internal monologue said, “realizing he finished the last of the coffee, he knew he would have to brew a fresh pot”.
  3. Another co-worker happened to be playing a Terry Tate, Office Linebacker video on his computer.

You may have seen this before:

It is only polite to refresh the coffee pot when you finish it off. Now, odds are good the coffee will go to waste, but then, that’s why the company provides you coffee, right? So you can make a weak pot of the cheap stuff and if someone like the coffee snob shows up and sniffs it, s/he will simply pour it out and make a pot of the good stuff.

Which you can then go drink.

See? The system works, as long as when you kill the joe, you make some mo’.