Monthly Archive for September, 2003

Sales Adjustments in IT

WorldmachineRan­dom­ly brows­ing the web today, I found that the web shop I worked for in down­town Boston dur­ing the wan­ing days of the inter­net boom, World­ma­chine, appears to be back in busi­ness.

It was just about two years ago that they called all of us into the con­fer­ence room to announce lay­offs and that they were shut­ting the com­pa­ny down. The obvi­ous rea­son giv­en at the time, was lack of new sales.

This I still find inter­est­ing, because the excuse all sales pro­fes­sion­als seem to offer in this dread­ful econ­o­my is that the sales cycle is much longer—sometimes 18 months or more. At my new com­pa­ny, a com­pa­ny which focus­es on local­iza­tion and test­ing, my co-work­ers and I were treat­ed to a sales pre­sen­ta­tion recent­ly, in which the same kinds of excus­es were offered.

Unlike Worldmachine’s woe­ful­ly under­staffed Sales dept., how­ev­er, this team seems to be adjust­ing to the “new” New Econ­o­my. They’ve accept­ed that the IT mar­ket is a shirk­ing pie, and that price com­pe­ti­tion is get­ting too cut­throat. Instead, they are look­ing to new ver­ti­cals for growth.

In Boston, the Bio-tech boom is pro­vid­ing a new mar­ket in the life sci­ences. As drug man­u­fac­tur­ers look to mar­ket their prod­ucts over­seas, part­ner­ing with a top local­iza­tion firm is going to be crit­i­cal. The planet’s pop­u­la­tion is only going to get old­er.

An inter­est­ing the­o­ry our Sales team is going to try, is to group their teams by ver­ti­cal, rather than by loca­tion. Though it may have made sense a few years ago to send your Tokyo team to Hong Kong clients, and your Cal­i­for­nia team to clients in Los Ange­les, the real­i­ty of a long sales cycle and a need to patient­ly edu­cate clients is forc­ing a recon­sid­er­a­tion. Sales needs to edu­cate them­selves first—and to do that, they need more involve­ment from pro­duc­tion and oper­a­tions peo­ple. Peo­ple like me.

The good news is, we are prof­itable, and I’m con­fi­dent that the com­pa­ny I’m part of now is on sound foot­ing. I wasn’t at all con­fi­dent of that in Sep­tem­ber 2001.

<ul>s and <li>s in CSS

I hope some­one can help me with this CSS prob­lem / bug:

<ul> and <li> are defined as such:

ul {
margin:.5em 0 1em;
padding:0;
list-style-type:none;}

ul li {
background:url("/img/bullet.gif") no-repeat 11px .7em;
margin:0;
padding:0 0 2px 18px;
line-height:1.5em; }

But, in Fire­bird for the PC, I get an undes­de­sir­able “sec­ond” bul­let on a:hover:

An illustration of the Mozilla Bug

No oth­er brows­er seems to do this, though I haven’t been able to test a mozil­la brows­er on a Mac. Is it a bug? Or is there a hack that would fix it?

Verizon’s UI, Part II

An update on my Ver­i­zon annoy­ances– After a few weeks of assur­ances and pass­ing the buck, I’ve been told that we won’t be able to get DSL for our new house. No dis­cernible rea­son was giv­en, just a “no”.

So, to put my mon­ey where my mouth was, I decid­ed to pun­ish Ver­i­zon for this by switch­ing our phone to Com­cast.

All this sup­pos­ed­ly “good” dereg­u­la­tion in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions indus­try still leaves those of us in Boston with lit­tle choice. Since we’re already going to pay Com­cast for cable tv & broad­band inter­net access, why not be done with Ver­i­zon for­ev­er?

Now we’ll have 1 bill to pay, and here’s hop­ing that their online man­age­ment is bet­ter than Verizon’s — It can’t get much worse.

Weekend of the Sippy Cup

Fri­day, after a long week of work and anoth­er sucess­ful deliv­ery, I met Pres­ley and Tbone at the Sun­set.

…where I knocked over a pint of Carls­berg on the table.

Sat­ur­day, I vis­it­ed Pres­ley at the din­er, and reached for the paper.

…where I knocked my iced cof­fee into my lap.

Today, Mon­day, I came to work and grabbed a bagel and cof­fee.

…and, some­how when I reached for the door­knob, I dropped the cof­fee on the floor where it went all over the place.

Response from Pres­ley:

ooooo baby. you need a sip­py cup…

Fire Sale, Part I

Well, it turns out that we own too much stuff… so we’re try­ing to sell off some fur­ni­ture in our Fire Sale.

Pic­tures are post­ed tem­porar­i­ly…

Web Standards

There’s been a lot of talk around the web recent­ly about design­ing bet­ter web sites:

I’ve just spent a good chunk of my sat­ur­day work­ing on this very site. Though it may look as near­ly iden­ti­cal to yesterday’s Ned­ward, I’ve done some major over­hauls “under the hood”.

  • First­ly, I’ve made a huge effort to more accu­rate­ly sep­a­rate struc­ture from con­tent. A lot of images are now spec­i­fied in CSS, and stray <br />s rather than clut­ter­ing up the code.
  • I’ve improved the seman­tics of the site. Bye Bye <span class=“title”>Hello World</span><br/> … wel­come back, <H1>,<H2>,<H3>
  • Unordered list bul­lets! What a night­mare it is to replace default bul­lets with cus­tom images… a nice solu­tion was to use our friend background:url

Hav­ing just fin­ished read­ing Mr. Zeldman’s book on Web Stan­dards, believe me, I’ve seen the light. It’s real­ly a shift in think­ing for a whole indus­try of peo­ple like me who designed and built web­sites in the 90s.

Actu­al­ly, for­get about the 90s– the project I work on now, (which is for a cer­tain soft­ware mak­er locat­ed in a cer­tain north­west­ern state), I rou­tine­ly have to deal with and debug some of the ugli­est pro­pri­etary IE code known to man. I almost feel I should apol­o­gize to this client for not fix­ing it for them. Sad­ly, that’s not what I get paid to do.

There is an ele­gance and beau­ty to cod­ing with web stan­dards. And Zeldman’s book is good not because it’s a total ref­er­ence of all things CSS – it’s not — he assumes we all under­stand the basics of CSS. What’s most inter­est­ing about it is Zeldman’s expla­na­tion for why we didn’t code prop­er­ly in the past, and why we must now.

I like Jason Kottke’s point that there are oth­er con­sid­er­a­tions to design­ing good web­sites, such as good seman­tics and acces­si­bil­i­ty. I guess I’m head­ing in the right direc­tion.

Dave Jr.

I am shocked. Anna points out that David Let­ter­man is going to be a father.

I know it seems as if his cul­tur­al rel­e­vance has com­plete­ly van­ished in the past 7–8 years, but he is the guy who trans­formed Late Night TV. You look at The Dai­ly Show, Conan, Rosie, and even The Man Show, and it’s impos­si­ble to imag­ine them exist­ing with­out Dave, (nev­er-mind that only Conan and Jon Stew­art have even approached Dave’s bril­liance).

And if the announce­ment isn’t rea­son enough to tune in tonight, Simon & Gar­funkel are per­form­ing.

Verizon’s UI

Since we’re in the process of mov­ing, I’ve spent a lot of time switch­ing util­i­ties to the new apart­ment.

For a few months now, I’ve been pay­ing our Ver­i­zon phone & DSL bill online, because it’s easy and I don’t need to dig up my check­book. How­ev­er, Verizon’s online bill man­age­ment leaves much to be desired…

Verizon.com welcome screenWhen you log in, the account sum­ma­ry dis­plays the amount you owe, list­ed under “Pay­ment due” (see screen-shot at left). So, I would peri­od­i­cal­ly log in, note the dol­lar amount, and after a few clicks, a cred­it-card pay­ment was sub­mit­ted.

There is a prob­lem with this sys­tem however—the bill sum­ma­ry info is tak­en direct­ly from your last print­ed bill, and is in no way reflec­tive of any pay­ments made since the billing date. This result­ed in us over­pay­ing month after month.

Gen­er­al­ly, it seems to me that a brief account sum­ma­ry should show your up-to-the-minute bal­ance, and click­ing “View Bill” should show your last print­ed bill (which may not show recent pay­ments). This log­ic, how­ev­er, seems to have escaped Verizon’s web team.

Verizon.com page shown when you click View BillInstead of the cur­rent bal­ance greet­ing you after log­ging in, you’re forced to click on “View Bill”, and scroll down the page to a curi­ous­ly phrased line that reads: Total Cur­rent Live Bal­ance as of 9/11/2003 is : $0 (see screen-shot at left).

Total Cur­rent Live Bal­ance. Does that sound like an after­thought, or what? Why on earth would this bit of infor­ma­tion be found in the mid­dle of a past bill, and not on the billing sum­ma­ry?

I can only sur­mise that a lot of users like me start­ed com­plain­ing about the con­fu­sion, so they had one of their back-end devel­op­ers insert a bit of code, with­out both­er­ing to hire a UI per­son and ask them if what they were doing was intu­itive.

Though it may seem like a small issue, I think it is embar­rass­ing­ly bad—because it could cre­ate a neg­a­tive per­cep­tion that online Ver­i­zon pay­ments are a has­sle. And, it’s not going to con­vince users to switch to “Paper-Free Billing”.

Attn: Ver­i­zon, I am avail­able for UI con­sult­ing.

Here Comes The Pixies

The Pixies to reuniteIt’s been rumored for months, but indie music fans have some­thing new to pine about– per­haps Boston’s best musi­cal export since Cheap Trick, The Pix­ies, are reunit­ing for a world tour, and new record.

Now that “garage” bands are all the rage, I can’t wait to see what Frank, Kim and gang can come up with. There’s always that risk that you’ll mess with your lega­cy– and tar­nish your leg­endary band sta­tus with a sad, 40-some­thing exer­cise in mon­ey-grab­bing.

Buffalo Central Terminal Update

Chuck Maley's Central Terminal picturesA while back, I post­ed about a piece of archi­tec­tur­al won­der­ment lying van­dal­ized and dor­mant in Buffalo—the old Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal. It’s a beau­ti­ful Deco train sta­tion from the 1920s, plopped into an oth­er­wise unex­cep­tion­al sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hood.

At the time the sta­tion was built, Buf­fa­lo was still an indus­tri­al and cul­tur­al cen­ter, with a pop­u­la­tion over one-half mil­lion. It was sec­ond only to Chica­go for its tan­gling rail net­work. How­ev­er, by the late 1970s, both the city and the sta­tion had seen bet­ter days. The sta­tion was board­ed up, and the trains instead stopped at a new, strip-mall like park­ing-lot sta­tion not far away.

Well, there is some good news… it seems that some peo­ple do care about pre­serv­ing the city’s her­itage. Despite its van­dal­ized and trashed inte­ri­or, the build­ing is draw­ing crowds—including some Cana­di­an urban explor­ers.

What I love about struc­tures like the Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal is that they were built for the pub­lic to use. It’s absolute­ly unthink­able to imag­ine pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions build­ing such pub­lic spaces today—I think those years have passed, (as have the years of ridicu­lous­ly cheap immi­grant labor).

Here’s hop­ing there is a devel­op­er out there with deep pock­ets and a cre­ative will.

The Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal at a glance:

  • The Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal opened four months before the Wall Street crash of 1929
  • Designed to han­dle an antic­i­pat­ed Buf­fa­lo pop­u­la­tion of 1.5 mil­lion, it cost $14 mil­lion to build
  • The 17-sto­ry office tow­er stands 271 feet high
  • The sta­tion closed in Octo­ber 1979 after years of dwin­dling rail pas­sen­ger ser­vice
  • A 1969 study esti­mat­ed it would cost $54 mil­lion to restore it for office use, and $16.3 mil­lion to demol­ish it