Archive for July, 2011

Ring Them Bells

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

One of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, for sure, is “Ring Them Bells.” My friend Kevin turned me onto Sarah Jarosz the other day and on her latest album she does a cover of this song, and it’s pretty sweet. I got looking around for other covers for it, and there are some great ones: (more…)


Monday, July 25th, 2011

The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra (originally Avatar: Legend of Korra) is an upcoming American television series set in the Avatar universe as a spin-off of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It is expected to air on Nickelodeon in mid-2012.

If You See Kay

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

From our Groggers reunion show a few weeks ago in Crivitz, Wisconsin: (more…)

My First Hack Day

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

BarCampNOLA is a two-day affair. The first day is a traditional BarCamp (you can learn more about that from Wikipedia). The second day is a “Hack Day” which goes like this: anybody that wants to shows up and takes part in a marathon of creation. What gets created is decided upon by the organizers of the event. The goal is to go from start to finish in one day.

This years project was to create a web app to showcase the people and talent in the creative community of New Orleans. Portland did it with a site PRTLND, so basically a riff on that.

The room split into two teams: creatives and developers.

The Creatives

The creatives were tasked with things like:

Later in the day, subgroups of the creatives split off, some folks actually designing the site and some folks creating a logo.

The Developers

The developers were tasked with things like:

Kicking it off

One of the first decisions made was that the developers were going to code the app from complete scratch, and do it on Ruby on Rails. A significant portion of the day was spent getting everyone’s development environment set up, so they could run and work on the app locally. A public GitHub repository was set up to keep everyone in sync. Some folks needed help getting that going as well.

On the creative side, naming the site was one of the first things. Lots of great ideas were going around, and they were written down on a whiteboard. (Actually, it was orange, the entire office space was covered in “Idea Paint” so you could write on the walls.) Once the list was large enough, ideas were whittled down. It was amazing to hear people’s honesty pouring out. What different words implied, what was more original, etc. Ultimately the name “NOLADEX” was thrown out and people cheered as it fit the project perfectly. The word is a combination of NOLA (slang term for New Orleans) and ROLADEX (an old analog device for keeping contacts in a spinning wheel).

Early Value

Some of the best stuff and most valuable stuff of the day was the stuff I just described. Now a whole bunch of folks know how to get a Rails environment going on their computer. They know how to use GitHub. They learned a lot about developing apps in a short time.

The name NOLADEX probably wouldn’t have happened in a bubble. Even though it was shouted out by one guy, it was the spirit of the room that created it and celebrated it. That’s group collaboration at it’s best.

The day goes on

With the name NOLADEX, a group of designers went to work on a logo that would fit the spirit. The finished product turned the “O” into a crescent moon (very New Orleans) with the white space being filled in with a burst, which references an actual Rolodex nicely.

The design of the site came together, referencing heavily the PRTLND site. The app itself came together as developers were now set up to work.

The afternoon fell into place just as it should have. Once the major decisions were made, people got to get a little more heads-down into the work. When the creative team had a revelation in how the site should work, the teams were able to pivot quickly and not lose much time. The idea? Have people use sentences to describe what they do, and make the site filterable by the verb in that sentence:

I [create] beautiful websites.
I [teach] children to be better people.

The evening

While the day was theoretically supposed to end at 5pm, it wasn’t until nearly 8 when we were “finished”. The final stroke was having a live website with a live working form on it where new people could be added to the site. While there was much work to be done still, that felt like a success and a good stopping point.

Some final lessons

I met some great people there, but I haven’t listed anyone by name here. It wasn’t about individuals, it was about the group shining as a whole. While overall things were happy and fun, the day wasn’t without disagreements, arguments, and stress. That’s actually good. If there are none of those things then nobody cares, and that’s worse.

I do think that while there are some things a group does well, there are some things that a group does worse on as well. If you took the best developer in the room and had him work on the app all by himself to provided specs, he could have moved faster and likely created a better final product. If you found the best designer in the room and paired them together, they could have finished the thing in half the time. But then what? The community around the project is gone, or worse, turned off. Momentum becomes inertia. Learning opportunities vaporize. Yes there were inefficiencies. This workflow wouldn’t work for a “company”. But the day as a whole worked very well for what it was, and everyone who took part should be proud!

Something Vaguely About Customer Service

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

This, by Derek Sivers, is amazing:

It made me feel like a dick, because I was a bit snarky with customer service today. See, I’m moving, and I need internet service at my new place. So I went to Comcast, which serves my area. Their website is pretty decent. I was able to use the web to set up new service. Well, almost.

A bit whiny, but it’s feedback. I submitted my SSN with the request for service. Then the “last step” of checkout sends you to a crappy looking and weird Java applet to chat with someone from the company. Of course, this is outsourced to someone who can’t speak very well. They paste in user scripts. They try and up-sell the shit out of you. It’s awkward. Worse, they ask you for your SSN AGAIN. Which you have to cough up otherwise you can’t finalize the appointment.

So after my tweet, of course some dude from Comcast notices.

But did Steve actually read me tweet? It doesn’t really feel like it. I said something very specific about Comcast checkout. I don’t like the chat at the end. It feels sketchy and uncomfortable. So when he asked me if there is anything he can do for help, I told him:

I heard nothing further from Steve.

Did I make Steve feel bad? I dunno, maybe. I didn’t tell him to lay down and die. I told him how he really could help me, even if it’s something that he obviously can’t do anything about (part of the problem). I feel a little bad about it but I’m not sure I regret it. If you aren’t prepared to have a conversation about my experience with your product, than don’t offer to help me.