Ask Stupid Questions

Here’s some advice you wouldn’t expect. If you really want to know how a person understands something about the world, consider asking a “stupid” question. You know, a question that you surely should know the answer to. For example, if a user says that it would be great if your website were “faster”, you could ask something like, “So, what do you mean by ‘fast’?” I can almost guarantee that the answer will surprise you. First, the person will probably look at you a little silly, but keep a straight face…they’ll give you an answer within a few seconds.

The point here is not to make yourself look stupid, rather, it’s to get at a basic understanding of how the world works from another person’s perspective. With regard to the example above, I’ve heard lots of responses to the “What do you mean by ‘fast’?” question. For some people, especially those with a technical background, “fast” means that pages appear quickly when you’re clicking around on a site. For other people it means that you’ve got some problems with your workflow. These people feel silly clicking all over your site to get things done, especially in comparison to those new cool Web 2.0 sites they’ve used.

So if you have a feeling in your gut that you don’t understand where someone is coming from, don’t be afraid to ask a “stupid” question. Get back to basics, it’ll help you see the world through the eyes of another.

The Bird

Hit up the Bluebird last night. T’s boyfriend, N, is in a band that was playing…check out Percival Potts. Watched the band, had a beer, talked with B about his theories on women and relationships, payed my tab, and headed home. Others were headed to another bar, but I was just so tired from the night before that I had to get some sleep.

Drinking heavily really takes its toll on me…or maybe it’s the staying up late that kills me. All I know is that whenever I stay up until 2 or 3 and am drinking, the next day is a total loss. I napped for 2 hours yesterday and got next to nothing done. It did not feel good…I need to keep that in mind next time. T told me her theory that when you go to sleep after drinking your body is working so hard recovering that it does not allow you to reach REM sleep. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but could be at least partially true. If you don’t get enough REM the results can be tremendous and immediate, leading to short temper and sleepiness.

Right now I’m waiting for another T to show up to school so we can prepare for the lecture we’re going to teach tomorrow. That’s right, as of tomorrow I will have taught my first college class. I guess I did that once in undergrad as well, but I only got 10 minutes to discuss a topic, now I get an hour and ten minutes! Should be fun…nerve wracking…but fun.

Update on what I’m reading:

Studying Those Who Study Us by Diana Forsythe

Design Research: Methods and Perspectives by Brenda Laurel

by Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg

Interaction Design by Jennifer Preece, et al.

W3 School SQL Tutorial
(Great free computer tutorials here!)

Et c’est tout.

Some Random Randoms

Turns out my blog is leading to some thought in others…that’s a plus. Just had a mighty fine debate with B about beauty on the web. He made a very valid correction to what I said earlier: Style sheets did not cause the web to become more beautiful. Rather, added beauty on the web caused the invention of Style Sheets and other tools to allow for more control. The technology does not invent the need, rather, the need invents the technology! Great stuff…

I watched the first two episodes of Dead Like Me in the last two days. Pretty interesting plot line. I won’t ruin it for anyone, you should just try to see an episode or two. It makes some deep theological and philosophical claims about life and death and the afterlife, etc., but leaves just enough ambiguity so that most viewers will *probably* not be offended. And though it deals with death, it is not completely depressing, which is nice.

Bought a little DVD player yesterday. Needed something that would play burnt DVDs. This one seems to work, and was only $41 at Best Buy, so I figured it was worth a shot. I also figure that this one will break just in time for me to get a real job in a few years, so I’ll be able to afford one with nicer features. Guess I shouldn’t count my chickens before they’re hatched, but I will do so anyway.

Still looking for a nice recliner to put in my room. If you see any let me know. I don’t want one that’s big and bulky and old school La-Z-Boyish…but their newer stuff looks pretty hip. If I had real money I would look into outfitting my space with some Herman Miller, but that will have to wait…

I’ll end with an update of what I’m reading now…

For fun:
The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell

For school:
Studying Those Who Study Us: An Anthropologist in the world of Artificial Intelligence, by Diana Forsythe

Design Research: Methods and Perspectives, by Brenda Laurel (layout of this book is fantastic…really made for designers…)

Designing the User Interface…, by Ben Shneiderman et al.

Attractive Things Work Better, by Don Norman

The Cost of Frustration
, by Jared Spool

The Computer for the 21st Century
, by Mark Weiser

Ambient Wood: Demonstration of a digitally enhanced field trip for school children
, by Yvonne Rogers Et al.

Phew…that’s a lot of reading… 😉

It’s getting cold…

It’s getting cold…those around me would probably say it’s not too bad for Indiana, but for me it’s just getting a bit too nippy for comfort. It’ll get into the mid 60s today…perhaps I’m whining, but it just seems a little unfair that the high will reach 83 today at home. That’s a striking 18 degree differential! I know the differential will increase as time goes by, which frightens me. We’ll see how I hold up with respect to weather…for now I’ll just stay sick.

Speaking of which, being sick sucks. This time the sickness has come and gone rather quickly, which is good news because I really want to get back to my exercise and work routine.

I wanted to talk a little about peoples’ folk understanding when it comes to scientific issues. I feel that it’s a problem throughout our society. For example, when I told each of my parents that I was sick, they were sure it was due to the fact that the weather is a bit colder here. In actuality, I’m sure I just caught some sort of virus in this new environment I’m spending time in. Is sickness caused by weather change? In some cases, yes. In my case, this time, no.

If you don’t understand how viruses work, then it is easy to take up a folk science mentality. Likewise, if you don’t understand stem cells, you’re likely to develop a religious outlook on the subject. Now, I do not want this forum to turn into a place to discuss presidential politics-we all know there are far too many pundits these days anyway-however, I will say that GeeDub is a rather ig’nant mofo when it comes to the topic of stem cell science. Does he not realize that these cells, which come from nearly immediately post-conception fetuses, can become almost any kind of cell in the body? This means that these cells can be used to treat everything from neural deformities to cancer. Awesome, no? YES! Ok, enought politico-science punditry from me.

Ok, I’m going to bail, lots on my plate this week. Big test friday, paper due next tues, programming assignment due next mon. Alright, so there isn’t much on my plate this week…but I must prepare for next week at some point!

Current books, in case you care:

Interaction Design to teach to silly undergrads

Interface Culture to learn about the history and future of the interfaces of our lives

Smart Mobs is kinda on the back-burner, but I would like to dive back in when I get some time

Distributed Work … because a little Social Informatics (formerly DCog in my mind) never hurt ‘nobody is definitely a must


So, this whole blogging thing has been rather one-sided lately. You see, I read them all the time these days. I’ve been using this site called Bloglines, which takes all my blogs and puts them into a list, then lets me know when new posts are added to each. Cool, huh? I no longer need to surf to each site and check if there is a new post, because this site does so implicitly. But wait, there’s more! Bloglines also recommends blogs for me to check out based on the ones that are in my list. They give me a long list of recommended blogs, and allow me to choose the ones I want. It’s like going to the bookstore and getting to choose all the books that others think I want for free!

There’s a lot to be said for this Collaborative Filtering. Amazon and eBay use it, but imagine if it were used ubiquitously in the real world. You go to the grocery store and your handheld agent tells you that grapes are on sale this week based on the fact that you’ve bought them in the past. Ooh, even better, your agent tells you that your friend’s birthday is coming up, and here is a list of things that she will probably enjoy based on her Amazon and eBay shopping and surfing habits, not to mention her propensity to go into particular brick-and-mortar stores on a regular basis. Now, there are privacy issues here, but security is a problem for the security people, and I like to consider myself an idea person, not held back by the details.

New tangent: Happy(?) Yom Kippur. The holiday has led to a lot of introspection about religion, my new life, and my old one too. To get all this thinking off my mind, I’ve decided to go to an alternative service today, as well as to a service project. It will probably be in a food bank, but could be planting trees or something like that for all I know.

Another new tangent: I just finished my first major Design (with a capital D) assignment in grad school. I think my group’s work turned out spectacularly well. I only started to feel that way a few days ago. Before that I thought our solution was shaky at best. We put a lot of trust in the technology in order to support our users. I think that’s a good method, because there’s no use to hold good ideas back, especially considering the rate at which technology is improving each day.

This weekend will be dedicated to fasting and reading. Fasting started last night and ends tonight. Reading started last night and ends sometime out in the oblivion. Care to know what I’m reading? I’ll post links:

Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold

Interface Culture by Steven Johnson

What is Social Informatics and Why Does it Matter? By Rob Kling

Computers as Social Networks by Barry Wellman

Gates of Repentance by Chaim Stern (never realized this book had a single author!)

Oh, and probably some