Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Studio Journal Episode 14 – Finally, one about the UX of small sizes

I know I framed this journal as a series of posts about the user experience of living in a small studio apartment and yet the first dozen posts were mostly about the moving process.  I thought the topics that I covered were interesting and somewhat relevant to the theme, so I included them.  But now I want to try to focus more on the original “UX of small” theme.

Appliances:  I never really thought about this before, but a refrigerator that is ¾ the size of a standard model  only fits about half as much stuff.  The electronics in the back is about the same size and the insulation requires the thickness of the sides and door to be the same size.  So to make it ¾ the size, they have to cut the interior in half.  You don’t notice it at first because the design changes are subtle.  But there are only two rows on the door and they are very slim.  The drawer on the bottom for produce is deceptively small and there is only one. 

This winds up changing a lot of my eating habits in ways I wouldn’t have guessed.  I used to cook for a week and store the leftovers in the fridge or freezer.  Can’t do that now.  I used to buy some staples in bulk, can’t do that now. And I have to go shopping more often.  I actually had to toss some leftover pizza – not because it was old but because there was no room left.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Obvious relationships are often illusions

I am going to use a controversial example so that I can get everyone mad enough to comment.  But as a strawman, the concept behind this message is really important to get, so please don’t let belief-resonance prevent you from seeing it.

We know that one of the strongest predictors of whether an adult might commit acts of domestic violence is whether they experienced them as a child.  This can be either as a victim of child abuse or as a witness of spouse abuse.  Unfortunately, it seems to be a self-reinforcing cycle of violence.

We also know that low income families are more likely to have acts of domestic violence.  I am not going to guess at the reasons, but it is a very unfortunate reality.

We also know that the NFL has a greater representation of people who grew up in low income families.  They are hardly low-income after a few years as overpaid pro athletes, but this doesn’t seem to break the cycle of violence I mentioned earlier.

If you control for this chain of factors, NFL players do not commit domestic violence any more than the general population.  It is not due to the violence of pro football.  It is not due to the culture of acceptance that has emerged in the league. It is not the pathetically weak response of league officials.  The origins happened much earlier. 

It is easier to visualize the more direct and concurrent effects of these other variables.  That makes them jump to mind much easier and stronger.  But . . .

Of course, the reverse might be a stronger argument anyway.  A strong culture against domestic violence could counteract and perhaps break the chain of domestic violence.  Stronger responses from teammates, coaches, teams, and the NFL central office could do a lot towards preventing it.  Better awareness through the kinds of programs that are just now being proposed could nip tendencies right in the bud.  So these things all should be done.

But when looking for the original cause, attributing it to these things is an illusion caused by representativeness, confirmation, availability, salience, and other cognitive processes that frequently lead us wrong when looking for cause-effect relationships.

Now back to my first caveat – I am using this as a visceral, controversial strawman.  I have seen some evidence that this is the case, but not enough to be sure. On the other hand, there is also not enough data to say that the league (culture, behavior, or otherwise) is the cause.  My point is simply that it is easier to jump to the conclusion for proximate causes than it is to look for precursor variables and root causes.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Studio Journal Episode 13 – fun electric bill issues

Please explain if this makes any sense to you.  I got my final bill from my electric company at the old apartment.  According to them, my daily electric use quadrupled in my last ½ month, despite being pretty consistent for 4 years.  I emailed customer service telling them that there is no way I would pay the bill unless they could come up with some rational explanation for how this could be the case.  If anything, it should be much less since most of my electricity-using belongings were packed, including my TV and computer. 

So I just got the explanation.  They didn’t check the meter when I moved out.  They checked it at the end of the month as usual and billed me for half and the new resident for half.  WTF ?!?!?  How is that possibly fair?  If I was not paying attention, I would have paid for a whole lot of electricity use that was not mine.  It probably wasn’t the new resident either – I bet that the complex had the A/C cranked during the in-between day when they were getting it ready for the new person.  They also probably plugged in various commercial strength cleaning appliances and whatnot.

To their credit, they did make an adjustment.  They used my history as a benchmark times the number of days and billed me for what I probably used.  I am sure this is higher than what I really used, but much closer than the first bill.  So shout out to them for at least a little intelligence.

I also just got the first bill in my new place.  This one was double my usual.  But at least I know why this time.  My realtor told me that he had the A/C cranked for 48-hours in advance of my move-in.  The first day was to help the new paint dry.  The second was so that the apartment would be comfortable when I moved in.  Of course, the movers had the door propped open, so all of that A/C was gone in 5-minutes.  In theory, I told the electric company I was moving in at 5pm on the 1st, so that is when the billing should have started.  But I am just going to swallow this one and pay it in full without complaint.  I only have so many battles in me.

Inside the Mirrortocracy

I don’t remember how I found this pair of articles (here and here), but they compose a really interesting take on hiring in the tech industry and probably generalizable to a lot of fields that have “cultures.” (You will understand the quotes in a moment).

If you are familiar with the idea of identity-resonance (which I blog about a lot both here and at EID)
One form of identity resonance is in-group resonance.  We feel more comfortable with people who we have things in common with, often based on race, belief, gender, age, or archetypes like clothing, music, food.   It makes sense that this would evolve because it is much easier to predict what someone will do when you can model their thinking in your own mind.  It is also safer because in-groups evolved from our tribes, which helped us defend against out-groups (other tribes).  So it is natural and visceral and in the ancient areas of the brain, which makes it often unconscious.

The Mirrortocracy articles apply this to hiring.  There is a lot of research, some covered in the articles, that an applicant is more likely to get considered, interviewed, and hired when you share these in-group attributes with the hiring manager.  They often don’t even know they are doing it.  But it leads to unfortunately insulated and isolated companies because these similarities also mean you probably think alike.  Less innovation.  Less creativity.  More susceptibility to Groupthink. Less ability to recognize and deal with large changes in your industry.

This happened a lot in the dotcom book with startups.  Everyone walked around in their jeans and t-shirts and played foozball.  They were 20-something white males.  Perhaps they could have used a little more diversity.  The same thing can happen in the 3-piece suit worlds of investment bankers and lobbyists. 

This is where the term mirrortocracy comes from.  If you look like what your management sees in the mirror every day, you advance.

Studio Journal Episode 12 – Life is too short

I completely lost Thursday and Friday at work (a topic for another day maybe) so I have to work this weekend.  I made my weekly trip over the shelter to donate a bunch of stuff (I am really trying to do that every week now).  On the way, I noticed that today was the Waltham town fair.  So I walked around for a bit to check it out.

Then on the way home from there, I passed by the Waltham Farmers Market, which is on Saturdays  through the end of October.  So I walked around for a bit. 

Here I am at 3pm and just getting to work.   But living close to things like town fairs and farmers markets is the main reason I moved to downtown Waltham.  So I don’t regret my morning distraction for a second.

Life is too short to waste it seeking immortality.