Wednesday, August 12, 2009

North Alabama BBQ

I never knew North Alabama was known for their BBQ!* Yet, I walked into the local Blue Rock BBQ here in San Jose, CA and read on the menu that this is "North Alabama" bar-b-que. Is this a special style of BBQ? Does it taste different from, say, Memphis or Kansas City BBQ? I was born and raised in Georgia, have family in Alabama, went to school in Tennessee, just a stone's throw from North Alabama, but never heard about the famous BBQ from this region until I visit the San Jose, CA restaurant that advertises such a delicacy.

It was good BBQ. You could get a pulled pork sandwich, ribs or chicken, and they came with slaw, beans and bread. Yummy. I'd go back. But I'm still puzzled about the North Alabama reference.

Wikipedia has a bit about North Alabama, and even that page doesn't refer to the famous BBQ.

Well, it remains a mystery to me, but the food was pretty good. I'd be happy to go back again. Sho' nuff.

* to clarify, in the South, and other states in the US, "BBQ" is a specific food -- usually pulled pork, slow cooked on a grill, slathered with sauce and served on a bun. In California, "BBQ" is an activity, where you get together with friends, fire up a grill, and cook hamburgers and hotdogs. Californians are missing out, I think.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Signage at the gym

My neighborhood gym is a great place. It is family-owned, and I see many familiar faces while I'm there. Their signage could use some professional help, however. Words without images don't serve their entire clientele, IMHO.

Each locker room has 2 containers: 1 for trash and 1 for towels (notice both words begin with a "t"). They've tried various signs to note the difference, and have finally settled on these.

Even with the notation, I still see people picking towels out of the trash (or vice versa). It seems the problem could be easily solved by adding a trash icon or a simple image of a towel. No?

Another example: locker room signs. Evidently it takes more brain power to grok "Women's Locker Room" than a simple picture of a female. Who knew! I wonder how many people who weren't paying attention walked into the wrong room. I'm sure I never have (ahem). More and more I see the value of those little make/female icons on restrooms.

Maybe it's not that big a deal, for me. After 8 years, I'm learning the local gym customs. And, on a positive note, they always have pretty flower arrangements to brighten up the place.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants

There are differences between those who have been exposed to electronics all their lives (my kids) vs. those who have not (me).

While shopping for a new Bakugon (the latest craze) at Toys-r-us, my son was overwhelmed with his choices of Bakugon toys to choose from. After staring at the long aisle full of toys, floor to ceiling, he announces that he's going to decide by "deleting stations." Say what?!?

Translation: He's going to rule out entire sections of toys displayed in the aisle in order to narrow down his choices. This makes total sense to him, since the toys are displayed in groups of similar types (accessories are in 1 group, bakugon in another group, toy holders/carriers in another, etc). The process makes sense to me as well, but the "deleting stations" reference is from games he's used to playing on the computer, wii and ds.

It's just another reminder that the world I grew up in is gone, and my kids' world is becomming increasingly foreign to me. Is this the definition of "getting old"?

Good user experience in the parking lot

Footprints can assist us in finding our way. This is especially true in PayPal's San Jose parking lot.

Let me explain. The lot is very large (think 2 oversized football fields joined together by a paved pathway) and is liberally dotted with trees and bushes that provide shade for cars, but they also obstruct the clear path from my car to the front door of the building. Where can I walk and avoid trampling bushes and ivy as I get into the office every morning?

Little painted feet solve the problem! They appear every 15-20 feet and denote a walking path between cars, trees and shrubs. Problem solved! It's simple, low profile, and very handy for PayPal workers. A+ to whomever implemented this excellent parking lot experience.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Getting kids to do what you want -- without nagging

Here's a picture of one of my favorite parenting tools: the clip system. I learned this from my son's 2nd grade teacher. It's a way to provide feedback to my kids about how they are behaving in a way that allows me not to nag, repeat myself, and hover over them.

Instead of constantly warning them when they are misbehaving, I simply say "Go move your clip down." This serves as a warning which lets them know if they continue what they are doing, they will eventually lose a privilege. It also requires that I acknowledge when they are behaving in a way that works for me. Not only can I give up nagging, I can find ways to compliment their behavior when I might not otherwise ("Thanks for being so quiet while we are riding in the car." "You did a great job sharing that candy with your brother." Etc.)

As you can see from the picture, there are multiple levels. Here's how we use it in our home:

. Every day, the kids start in the middle, "Start".

. When they do things that show acceptable behavior (get along with siblings, do what I ask the first time I ask it, show thoughtfulness of others, etc), the clip moves up. When they exhibit unacceptable behavior (whine, argue, shout, leave their mess around without cleaning it up), the clip gets moved down.

. When the clip gets to the top, they earn a privilege. When it gets to the bottom, they lose a privilege.

. The beauty of this system is that the privilege can be anything that motivates the kids. Some things we've had as privileges: 30 minutes of TV time. 20 minutes of computer/wii/nintendo DS time. Taking a trip to the store to buy a toy (with their own money).
Note: We don't usually reward with money. It hasn't been much of a motivator, and we have allowance and extra chores to provide some cash flow for the kids.

What I've noticed:
. My 2 boys love having their clip moved up.

. When the clip gets moved below start, they are seriously motivated to do something that would cause it to go back up.

. With the clip system in place, it becomes the "bad guy", and the parent can simply sympathize ("wow, what a bummer your clip is down there. What can you do to get it moved back up?" "Yipee! You've made it to the top!")

. We have an extra clip for visiting kids (neighbors, relatives) who want to get in on the privilege-earning power of the system.

. The clip system can be used on-the-go. We've used a piece of paper with levels drawn on it and coins as clips when we've been on vacation.

. When I'm really upset with their behavior, I'm tempted to move their clip down and leave it there for a few days. However, every day is a new day, and the system is restored to it's starting position (the clips go back to the middle). No matter what.

. This system can be used to help teach different skills at different ages. We originally started the system just to cut down on the number of temper tantrums. After that, we used it to remind them to do chores, get kids to pick up their clothes/toys, making sure they flush the toilet, etc.

. A drawback: with 2 kids, sometimes the things that move their clips up are different, and they get moved up and down at different rates. This causes a situation that needs to be treated gingerly. On the positive side, competition can spur acceptable behavior.

Here's a picture of the original clip system in the 2nd grade classroom. Compliments of Ms. Y.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More about the IA Summit - #ias09

I recently attended the Information Architecture Summit 2009 in Memphis. As a research and analysis geek, I was interested to learn a little more about how folks contributed to and shared about the event. This group loves to twitter, briefly appearing on its' Top Ten list during the nexus of the conference.

#ias09 is the twitter hashtag for the Summit. (Ironically, the official hashtag was IAS2009 but it never caught on because it was "too long" to type in repeatedly. Funny how the masses can overrule official decisions. I'm sure there's some analysis in that as well).

I went on to ManyEyes and uploaded some data. Here it is:

This represents all tweets with #ias09 from the beginning up until 3/25/09 that appear on

Is it comprehensive? I copied all #ias09 entries that showed up there.

Is it reliable? I don't know... is twitterscan reliable? Maybe the masses can comment on that.

Is it interesting? I think so! But I'm a data geek. For example. "@whitneyhess" is the most common term here. "@whitneyhess" means that her's was the most reffered to twitter handle associated with #IAS09. This is different from "whitneyhess", which would mean that she was the most frequent twitterer for #ias09. That honor goes to @bnunnally.

Even more interesting is that "whitneyhessing" is now a verb. As in "mediajunkie: @bnunnally Thanks for whitneyhessing this talk!..."

Here is some artwork from It's the same data, in a prettier format.
Words can clue us in to many things. I like to call them the keyhole to the mind, as they literally show underlying constructs and themes to how we approach and think about things. We don't often realize this, or take advantage of it, but when we notice it, we get some powerful input!

Many Eyes - Data viz tool for the masses - word art
Information Architecture Summit

Monday, March 23, 2009

The feast of an inspiring conference

I've just returned from a professional conference at the Information Architecture Summit 2009 (#ias09). Now, my head is bursting with possiblities of what might be next, but I must get back to the regular diet of everyday work, incorporating what I've learned:

1. It helps to have a blog and twitter, according to Whitney Hess.
2. We are all User Experience Designers (we used to call ourselves Information Architects).
3. Working as a consultant is risky, demanding, and liberating.
4. Cindy Chastain is an awesome presenter.
5. Storytelling has a lot to teach information architects. (See more)
6. Ducks can be trained to march in a line to and from the lobby fountain at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.
7. IA's have something to learn from slime molds, according to Kate Rutter.

The next anticipated banquet will be the IAI's IDEA Conference. It's inspirational from my brain all the way down to my toes.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Learning Information Architecture from a First Grader

I was surprised to learn that my first grader's class is learning some of the tools I use in my practice as an information architect.

I call them concept maps. His teacher calls them "thinking maps". This one is a concept map of fruit, including apples and bananas. (Note that "fruit" may appear to read "fryit" to someone untrained in reading first grade writing.) I knew that apples are round, but this map teaches me that bananas are "moon shaped". I was surprised to learn that an important aspect of both apples and bananas is that they both have peels, but you can eat apple peel and not banana peel. I doubt I would have included that on my concept map of fruit.

Last fall, IAs spent a lot of money to go to a conference to learn how to do exactly this type of thing. Who knew they could have just learned it from the nearest 6 year old!

I plan to develop my professional skills further by visiting the first grade classroom more often!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Advice For Parents of TeeBall Players

It's little league season again. This will be our 4th year. (Where does the time go?) Another few months of spending a lot of time outside in the beautiful California weather, running to practices and games, trying to fit a hurried meal into an even busier schedule.

It also reminds me of some of the best advice I ever got from a coach. It was our first year, and my son had entered teeball for the first time. He was perfectly adorable in his new uniform, with matching jersey, belt, socks and hat (aawww). Just before our first game, the coach sent an email to all of the parents. I still remember his words.

Please do not get upset or embarrassed if your child’s attention constantly shifts during the games and/or practice. If you have never done TeeBall before, each game is 60-90 minutes of trying to get all the kids to pay attention.... Most of the kids on our team have never played TeeBall before.... It will take some time for them to get used to our routine.

It is normal for the kids to look around, pick grass, get distracted, wander around the field and so on. We’ll just gently try to round them up and try and get them to pay attention. Remember... we want them to have fun....

It's true. They wander, play in the dirt, look at bugs and dig holes. As long as you expect it, it can be funny to watch. For all parents of teeball players, just remember, it's important to have fun.