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;

ul li {
background:url("/img/bullet.gif") no-repeat 11px .7em;
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… 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. 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