Sunday, March 30, 2008

That Felt Great!

My last blog post about running was way back in early November, when I ran the Manchester Half Marathon. While I was really pleased with finishing that run in a respectable time (with gas to spare), things went downhill from there.

By late November I had a nagging pain on the inside of my right shin. I started to have that "uh oh" feeling when I noticed the pain would get worse during my runs. It would feel great for mile 1, then start to bother me in mile 2, and then get worse and worse. By the second week of December I knew it wasn't good, and I actually took a week off to see if it would go away. No dice there, and December was a horrible month of running on and off, but mostly running in pain. By Christmas I knew I would not be able to run my favorite race of the year - the Hangover Classic 10K on New Years Day (is that a great name for a race or what?).

And then came an absolutely agonizing run on January 4th, and I knew I had to throw in the towel. A visit to the doctor followed by an X-ray confirmed what I had suspected for over a month - a stress fracture in my right tibia. This is a very common running injury, and my symptoms were text book - particularly the part where the pain gets worse during a run, not better (as with many muscle injuries, which feel better when the muscle warms up).

The cure? No running for 6 to 8 weeks. Ugh, there goes my stress management program!

I completely shut down (exercise-wise) for January and February. My orthopedist gave me the OK to start using my Precor elliptical trainer about four weeks ago. A follow up X-ray last week looked good, and so today was the first day I got to go out for an honest to goodness run.

It was a modest (and slow!) two and a half miles, but boy did it feel great be out there running again. The run wasn't without trepidation - will it start to hurt again? But I think I'm good, even though I am still "listening" to my tibia now several hours later - is it OK? Does it feel normal? That isn't a pain, is it? Funny how you get gun shy, and then start imagining the worst.

But for tonight I'm being optimistic, looking forward to getting my fitness level back up to snuff, and looking forward to my normal yearly pattern of events - the National MS Society Ride the Vineyard 100K bike ride in May, the Londonderry 5K (killer hill) in August, the Union Leader 8K in September. I need to find a new 10K for October, as I hear the beautiful Bridges 4 Friendship 10K won't be back this year. Then the Feaster Five Mile on Thanksgiving, and before you know it right back to the Hangover Classic for the first day of 2009. The year slips by, race to race.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Springtime in New England

My backyard at about 8am this morning. Guess I should wait another week to bring the motorcycle out of winter storage, eh?

Springtime snowstorm

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cisco TelePresence!

I had my first encounter with a Cisco TelePresence video conferencing system yesterday. Holy cow, the future of video conferencing is here, right now.

If you have been around any number of large U.S. corporations in the past 10 years or so, you have likely run into a number of largely unused video conferencing systems. I've seen a variety of the old PictureTel systems (like this one)in three different companies, and from what I have seen they tend to sit silent and unused in the corner of conference rooms, taking up space and gathering dust. The user experience of those systems was just horrible. The user interface always seemed confusing. The video lag disconcerting. And, frankly, viewing a whole table full of people on a 26-inch television screen really wasn't "just like being there." It was a horrible experience, and those systems didn't add much of value over just the phone connection.

To be fair to PictureTel, they have been acquired by Polycom, and I'm sure they must have really nice, high end video conferencing too. But my experience was with the Cisco system. The system I used looks exactly like this:

Cisco TelePresence

That photo really doesn't even do it justice. The whole experience has "wow" written all over it. I'd love to know who was in charge of the overall experience design, because they did an outstanding job.

The primary user interface is the phone you see on the table. Turning the entire system on is as simple as two touches on the touch screen - one touch to open the phone directory, and a second to dial the remote location. When you dial... ring, and then *bam*, it's on. The video screens are turned on, the cameras are turned on, the audio is on. It's beautiful.

What is so compelling is the people "across the table" from you are life size. There's something just so compelling about that. And the detail is amazing - that's what high def gets you. And absolutely no video lag. And, of course, perfectly color balanced cameras. It all adds up.

The audio, too, is just so well done. In the photo you can see the microphones, which are embedded into the table top - no moving them around, no messy wires. The speakers are embedded in the area below the video monitors, and there are three speakers - one below each monitor. When the guy on the right side is speaking, you hear his voice from the right speaker. Likewise, the woman on the left is heard from the left speaker, and those in the center from the center speaker. The directional audio cue is really effective.

There are a ton of other little details in the design. Like how the physical table in the room is actually a full oval, and the monitors are butted up against it. This helps create a nearly seamless visual flow from the physical table to the video table. It's a beautiful touch that shows an attention to design detail.

You can see the shared presentation area in the picture above too - look below the center video monitor and you can see a slide being projected (ah, they should have had the laptop showing that slide too, but what do you want for a marketing photo?). Putting the presentation area down there was a brilliant thought. Sure, looks obvious after the fact, but I can imagine that it wasn't easy to stumble upon that solution.

I applaud whoever was responsible for the design. They paid attention to experience, and thought about the details. Nicely done.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

NH UPA March Meeting this Wednesday

The NH UPA March meeting is this coming Wednesday night, March 26. Looks like a great topic. It is open to the public, but you gotta RSVP to info@nhupa in advance. See you there?

Topic: Expanding User-Centered Design in the 21st Century or Why Design Thinking is the Next Big Thing.

Speaker: Sarah Bloomer, Sarah Bloomer & Co.

Wednesday, March 26th
Refreshments & Networking: 6-7:00PM
Meeting: 7:00PM – 8ish

Liberty Mutual
150 Liberty Way
Dover, NH 03820

What is design thinking? Why is it important? What does design thinking mean to the field of user centered design?

Take a closer look: it seems design thinking heavily leverages user-centered design...

Stanford University recently set up a new Institute of Design (the, founded by, amongst others, David Kelley and Terry Winograd, big names in interaction design. Its website boldly states "we believe design thinking is a catalyst for innovation and bringing new things into the world."

Business Week Online includes a section on Innovation, where design is a major theme. And in his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink says that the new MBA is the MFA. He claims we are moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. And people with design thinking will lead the way.

This talk is an overview of how design thinking is finding its place in companies worldwide, and how user-centered design is being applied across many fields, from organizational design to product design.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Buzzword - Worth the Buzz

Last night I saw Rick Treitman and Robby Shaver talk about Buzzword at the monthly BostonCHI meeting.

It is usually difficult to really "wow" a BostonCHI type of audience. Not impossible, but difficult. But with YAWP (Yet Another Word Processor)? I mean come on, a word processor? We are supposed to get excited over a word processor? Are you serious?

Yes. Serious. These guys did it. Frankly, Rick had me sold very early in his part of the talk, when he said:

"If you are going to build something new, build it beautiful."

(Yay, a new quote to add to my list of favorite design quotes!)

And that very much was the theme of everything they talked about and showed us all night long. Beauty and elegance. Design that resonates. (Note to self: go re-read Gelernter's Machine Beauty.)

Buzzword is a Flash-based word processor that works inside a browser. It has some collaboration features built in, but I think what resonated more with many of us in the audience is that it was designed with a fresh look at the solution space, and with an elegance that isn't often seen today. An Apple-like elegance, you might say.

I was quite interested in what I could glean about Robby's design process, as his role was (is) that of the design lead. No surprise to me, his is a design process rooted in creating interactive artifacts (wanna call them prototypes?). He made an interesting comment about steering away from wire frames, and instead creating pixel-fidelity interactions. Hmmmm, pair that up with the Business Week Tech Beat post last week about Apple's design process and "pixel perfect mockups." I see a design tension here between fast (sketching) and fidelity that I find myself mulling over and over. Can it be that Robby just glossed over the phase where he considers ten ideas to concentrate finally on one or two?

They talked about creating an Adobe AIR version of Buzzword. That, I think, could be a killer app in the word processing space, and I'll be watching for it. In the meantime, check out Buzzword. And if you get a chance to see Rick or Robby talk, don't pass it up.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bored? Restless?

I know. Let's try some door surfing.

Garage Kitty door surfing

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Concert Report: Richard Shindell @ Tupelo Music Hall

Patti and I were back at Tupelo Music Hall last night, this time for the sold out Richard Shindell show. As I mentioned in my review of the recent Susan Werner show, Richard is unsurpassed in the art of telling stories via his songwriting.

Another thing that shines in Richard's songwriting is his ability to turn a phrase in a way that catches me in wonder and amazement. One example from a song last night is the first two lines of the third verse of Kenworth of My Dreams, a song about selling it all to go on the road as a trucker:

A lot of folks just shook their heads
Convinced that I’d lost mine
They said living in a God-damned truck
Is just a waste of time
That to spend your life behind the wheel
Ain’t as great as it might seem
I just thanked them all and left one night
In the Kenworth of my dreams

I love the cleverness of those first two lines. Another snippet that always gets me like that are the lines from There Goes Mavis that juxtapose two colors:

Then out of the blue
There’s an orange canary
On our driftwood flagpole
Shovels down Boys! — step away

This song, by the way, is about a canary set free by her little girl owner ("Now’s your big chance, Fly away!"). But those two lines, with the clever use of "out of the blue" followed by the contrasting orange, are just brilliant.

Richard shook things up a little last night by opening with Transit, which is more typically his set closer. His voice was a little off, but we found out later he is just getting over a cold and he felt so lousy earlier in the day that he thought he was going to have to cancel the gig. Thankfully the show went on, and by the third song or so his voice was full strength and he admitted that he was feeling much better.

Richard told an amusing story about Transit which I hadn't heard before. The central figure in Transit is Sister Maria from St. Agnes’s Church in Paterson , NJ. Now, this is all made up - when writing the song he needed a church, and St. Agnes's just popped into his mind. And he needed a nun, so he pulled Sister Maria's name out of his imagination. Except, as it turns out, there really is a St. Agnes's Church in Paterson, NJ. And even better, there really is a Sister Maria at St. Agnes's. And even better, he recently received a letter from none other than Sister Maria which said, in its entirety:

Dear Richard,
Please drive safely.
          Sister Maria

Priceless! Go read the lyrics and you'll understand.

We were treated to two new songs which are likely candidates for his next album. "Clara" is an upbeat and humorously amusing ditty about a mule, and "Balloon Man" is about a local character in his adopted hometown, Buenos Aires. Neither were instant killer Shindell songs to me, but who knows what I'll think after hearing them more.

The setlist (all songs written by Richard unless noted in parentheses):

Kenworth of My Dreams
Northbound 35 (Jeffrey Foucault)
Balloon Man
Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (Pete Seeger's allegorical anti-war song)
Cold Missouri Waters (James Keelaghan)
Sitting on Top of the World (Traditional)
Reunion Hill
Hazel's House
Are You Happy Now?
So Says the Whippoorwill
There Goes Mavis
Encore: On A Sea Of Fleur De Lis

The opener was Meg Hutchinson.