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Stupid Business Practices

January 31
After a week of feeling blah, this is one Friday where I just felt like being pandered to. For the first time in well over a year, almost two, I rented a movie. I guess it’s because of my lack of a TV that I stopped. After my last move, I decided not to buy one, and I’d call that one of my best decisions to date. I have a DVD drive in my computer and a reasonably nice monitor, so I decided that I’d be okay with that and went to get something. Rogers Video was where I ended up, the same one I use to go to frequently. I wanted to hit up the smaller independent place just down the street rather than the evil national chain, but I already had the membership so that’s where I went instead. I browsed the store, looking at the recent popcorn fare, trying to figure out what I actually could bear watching. My choice was between The Bourne Identity and Minority Report, so I chose the latter because I own Ludlum’s book and I’d rather read it first, then catch the movie. (Although sometimes it’s better to do it the other way...) I grabbed the DVD, walked to the counter, and handed the clerk my card. He swiped it, looked up, and asked if I usually rent from another store? Let me take a break for a second and rant, if you’ll indulge me: the Rogers Group is Canada’s largest media conglomerate, dealing with things like video and game rentals, cable and internet, and wireless communication. They’re in the communication business. So why the hell do they have such a hard time hooking their stores up to each other?? Try renting a movie at a Rogers Video with a Rogers Video rental card, and if it’s a store other than the one you got the card at, you have to go through the whole signup/verification process again! Anyway, I’ve had this exact same problem with this exact same store. I said, no, I have rented here many times, what’s the problem? He replied that I wasn’t in the system, and had I rented recently, say in the past six months? I told him I had not. He said that was the problem — the system deletes anyone who hasn’t rented within six months, and I’d have to sign up again. I started handing him my drivers license, then I paused to consider. Actually, nevermind, I said. This is when he gave me an incredulous look, and asked somewhat sourly, what, you’re not going to rent then? I replied I was, thank you, but not from you. Instead, I’m going to walk right across the street (pointing with my finger) and rent from the other store, because I don’t like your practice. He said all it takes is just for me to give my credit card and drivers license info again. I said I’d done it before, and since I don’t rent often, I don’t want to go through this every single time I decide to in the future. Sorry. And I walked out the door. I walked into the smaller store, happily signed up using the exact same process I’d have had to go through at Rogers, grabbed Minority Report, and walked home. But not before detouring, tapping the window, slamming the DVD up against the glass and asking the guy at Rogers how he liked them apples. Well, no, I lie — I only thought of that later. But the point is that stupid business practices drive customers away. Sure I haven’t rented recently, but that doesn’t mean I won’t start again at some point in the near future. And when I do? Yes, Rogers Group, you lost your chance with me. I’ll support Telus, Shaw, and the local movie shops before I give you another dime.

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Time Management

January 29
Expounding on a cliche, Jeremy Wright wrote an article for A List Apart last year detailing his strategy for time management: The Pickle Jar Theory. Lately I’ve had to reconsider my own time management, and come up with a way of getting through the day without cracking under the stress. I jump back and forth between large, make–or–break projects that take ultimate priority, and menial, every–day tasks that distract from everything else but still need to get done. What I’ve found myself doing is falling into the trap of stressing when I have 8 things on the go at once, without pausing to consider that 6 of those 8 things are two hour jobs at best, and I can have them all done by week’s end. Taking a breather and prioritizing helps. But my best method of coping is this: 25% to 35% of my day is spent addressing odd jobs, the rest on bigger projects. If I spend my entire day on the big ones, the little guys keep piling up and stress me even more. If I spend the whole day catching up on the little ones with the thought that I’ll work on the larger projects the next day, my plan is inevitably crushed when I get a whole new slew of little jobs immediately after I finish. This is my method. For better or worse, it seems to be working. The little jobs seem trivial when dealt with in small chunks, and the big ones are more manageable if progress continues daily.

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Redesign upcoming.

January 20

’Tis the season for re-designs, it seems. Fresh new year, fresh new look. Yours truly is no exception, but sadly it’s not as easy as a CSS update for me.

Despite the wonderful promise of a “site-wide redesign done from one single file”, those of us who live a dual life in standards-compliant, bleeding edge code as well as high-end pixel editors and the like know that this promise doesn’t ring true.

There’s far more to a fabulous design than positioning text. An incredibly well-done minimalist approach is something to be admired; I love this style when done right, but have never been able to emulate it myself. I need control of my pixels. I need to put splashes of detail here and there. I need the ability to not conform my design to the rigidity that CSS sometimes enforces.

Sorry, I seem to have wandered there. Point being, here are some (non-clickable) glimpses of Mezzoblue, v3. Daring new colour scheme.




8/22/03 update: ahem.

Let's all consider this post officially retracted. I'll leave it up for historical curiosity; I don't believe in erasing the past.

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Blue Spark Pre–Release

January 15
If you’ve ever maintained a web site with an FTP program and a text editor, you know what I’m talking about when I say that there has to be a better way. Well, I thought about that so long that I finally did something about it. If you are using IIS, make sure to check out Blue Spark. The past week I’ve been putting together this tidy little self–contained program that allows you to administer your text–based files on the server itself, rather than having to worry about multiple transfers back and forth. Viewed through a web browser, Blue Spark is plain and simple, but effective enough to be useful. Note: While officially designated v1.0, I thought of a security update this morning that has to happen. I’ll be working on that the next few days, so if you download a copy now, make sure to come back and grab the update if you plan on using it for any length of time.

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Why digital photography sucks.

January 13
I’ve noticed through two digital cameras and multiple scanners that something’s not quite right about digital imaging technology. I always attributed it to the inherent differences between CCDs and traditional film, but my knowledge ended there. Found on Slashdot, this lengthy Discover article details the next revolution in digital imaging, called X3. It turns out we’re only getting, quite literally, half the picture, as CCDs capture only a single channel (Red, Green, or Blue) at a time and interpolate the rest. Based on the knowledge that the Green channel is used quite heavily in actual image detail, CCD manufacturers create a mosaic of sensors that capture 25% of the red and blue light in an image and 50% of the green. The rest of the colour data is interpolated based on surrounding pixels. This approach introduces complicated, ugly moiré patterns and discards about two thirds of the available colour data. Using a layered silicon approach, X3 offers digital technology the ability to capture all available colour data for the first time. The resulting images are sharper, brighter, and much more representative of the source image than traditional methods have allowed. This is the point where digital will really take off as an alternative to film.

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The trouble with Wacom…

January 10
I had a Wacom graphics tablet for a while. I liked it at first since it made sense to use a pen for my masking/brush–work in Photoshop. But this was back in the days of the early Pentium (well, for me, anyway — we’re talking 1997 here) and my computer was just too durn slow to use it effectively, so I gradually stopped. These days I have one connected to my work computer, but it just takes up space on my desk. I almost never touch the thing. Many designers swear by them, but I never could get the hang of it. When using a pen, I expect immediate feedback underneath the tip. The disassocation between my hand and my eye that Wacom’s tablets force manages to throw me off. Using a mouse isn’t a problem, but the feeling of holding a pen makes me expect the output to take place underneath its tip, not on a monitor off to the side. In the past few years, Wacom released a new product line called Cintiq which combines an LCD screen and a tablet in one. Aside from the colour problems an LCD introduces, this is the logical next step in the tablet evolution and might just be where I buy back in to the technology. The problem being that even the 15" model runs almost $2,000 US. I think for that price, I’d be better off buying a pressure–sensitive TabletPC.

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Apple releases Safari

January 7
One more reason to skip silly browser–detection rituals and dish up pages that mesh with the W3C — Apple released Safari today, a brand new browser based on a non–IE and non–Gecko (Mozilla, Netscape) engine that nevertheless supports major web standards. Suffice it to say the potential audience for such a browser is limited by Apple’s 4% market share. Ever notice how Netscape 4.x enjoys that same tiny percentage of the market these days, and people still bend over backwards to support it? I’m willing to wager Safari support will be slightly less of a priority for the same developers. Just a thought.

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Marketing Bad. Useful Good.

January 4
I received an envelope in the mail the other day proclaiming that “Opening this envelope could change your life!” I did what any rational–thinking person would do — I threw it in the recycling bin unopened. It got me thinking though. How easily words so salacious bounce off of those living in the modern age. Without a moment’s consideration we outright reject them as typical marketing cruft. This is what advertisers are doing to us; by continually bombarding us with messages designed to attract, stimulate, and captivate, we are becoming more and more desensitized to statements that should mean much more than the hollow, self–serving promises they do.

the job

Before Christmas, I worked on a job for a promotions company. While not technically a bait–and–switch campaign since they did make available the product advertised, the focus was to obscure the real reason anyone would visit the site by aggressively promoting their other (much more profitable) offer. The job disgusted me. Going against everything I knew about good design, I was asked to confuse and agitate people by luring them away from the goal of their visit. And as it turns out, I did a great job of it, too. The term “selling out” keeps rattling around inside my head, but I try to justify that, as an employee, I can’t pick and choose my jobs. Somehow, the reasoning sounds a little forced. Putting myself in a user role, I could envision doing two things if I came to a site like this one: I would rage at the flimsy marketing ploy and leave immediately, or I would persist and click on every damn thing until I found the product I originally intended on getting. Maybe I’m even in the majority, but it only takes a small percentage of side–tracked users buying the “upgraded” product to flag a campaign like this a complete success.

doing it right

The tactics I’ve mentioned are the stuff of a marketer’s dream; they serve their own needs beautifully, but the person winding up on the other end of the promotion is left feeling confused, numb, and maybe even cheated when they realize the reality delivered turns out to be far less enriching than what they were promised. If only companies would try spending a fraction of the time and money used in promoting their product to make it better; we might start seeing some radical change in core business philsophy. If products were released that served an actual consumer need, instead of a company’s own need for more income, they might be surprised at how well they sell with little or no help on their own part. Look at Google’s example — two guys started a company with the basic idea that they wouldn’t “be evil”. They built the better mousetrap, and quickly became a) popular and b) profitable. Resisting the urge to sell out that many companies succumb to, they have succeeded far beyond what anyone could have originally imagined after first seeing their spartan, unadorned site. Simply because they’re useful, relevant, and look after their user’s needs as well as their own. If you build it, and build it well, you don’t need to spend half your income promoting your product. If people have a reason to buy it, and keep buying it, you will succeed.

service is where it’s at

Service over self: it’s a simple, quaint little philosophy that hearkens back to the day of the General Store clerk. Somehow in the haze of advertising, branding, and all the other -ings that get their own department in a modern company, we seem to have forgotten about it. But apply it to today’s business climate? Funny enough, that might just work.

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