Archive for March, 2007

The Best Chocolate in the World!!

I went to The Meadow to get a birthday gift for my mother-in-law.  A lovely starter set of finishing salts and some salt spoons.  This is a lovely store that specializes in finishing salts, fine chocolates, wines and flower. Quite charming. 

I’ve developed a taste for chocolates with salt.  There’s some sort of balance in harmony with the sweetness and richness of the chocolate accented by the saltiness of the sea salt. I overheard the store clerk talking about an Italian chocolate with salt and became instantly intrigued. Okay $6.00 is a lot to pay for a bit of chocolate, even an amount of chocolate that’s about the equivalent weight of about 1 1/2 Reeses Peanut butter cups.  But Holy _ _ _ _! I have never tasted anything so incredibly good.  I never understood how so many people were into chocolate or even compared the eating of chocolate to sex(I’m more of a almond and cinnamon fan myself) until I had this chocolate.

At this price though, this will most likely have to be a reward for a hard week’s work :). It’s far better than a margarita or a martini and at the same cost.

Tasty Nuggets:

Il Cioccolato de Bruco details

Easier collaboration with SME’s via Google Apps?

Google has demonstrated Google apps to the public as a way for groups to establish quick colloboration via the web.  Of course you have to pay for your own domain name. Is this right? it’s only $10 a year.  I’m assuming that where you’re really going to pay is for server space to put and maintain your e-info.

Of course, there are a few things I would make sure are in place before diving into this type of system. 

  1. Regular Data Back up (which I assume we will have to pay for as well)
  2. Web Administration. As the article notes…it’s important to have web trained administration types in place (depending on the size of my effort/company this would be a dedicated individual… god, I hate making people do things on top of their normal job because it insure one or more of three things:  a.) the person responsible burns out b.) the (web-)crap never gets done c.) the crap gets done but it’s crap.
  3. Security. Proper security protocols are set up.  If the material you’re sharing is sensitive then make sure that you can set up a secure, password protected environment.
  4. Intellectual property and Privacy conditions. Also make sure that there is no condition (and that you have this in the form of a legal contract) that because you are storing information on Google’s servers it will be accessed or touched even considered their property because they house it. You are paying for a service, that is storage and access to material, but just as there are privacy laws. If you agree to anything of this nature make sure you review it thoroughly first. 

Nuggets/News articles:

Personality Matching for applications

SAP is…

MS Sharepoint (Many MS products) if the “Trust me Guy” and “Anal Retentive Guy” had a love child it would probably resemble someone in the Microsoft family…



Images are from Creating Passionate Users

Mass Collaboration?

A great post on the possibilities of large-scale collaboration within companies.  This makes sense as you have the best source of intellectual capital from the inside of the company. But if you have the following behaviors and problems in your company, you’re in a world of suck:

  • People are rewarded only for owning ideas and making them happen rather than sharing them – little or no TRUST exists to encourage sharing
  • People and leadership are focused only on the ‘bottom line’
  • Military-type culture and structure prevents breaking ‘chain of command’ when it comes to sharing and collaborating
  • Procedure and process oriented culture discourages applying or investigating unorthodox and unproven methods
  • Management only wants to focus on collaboration of things which it feels provides a ROI – return on investment
  • People have a not invented here attitude which prevents them from opening collaborating and sharing (sometimes it promotes open stealing of ideas and concepts and claiming them as their own)

In large companies that have a set structure and culture (and traditional leadership culture) the new way of collaborating wont fly. Also they’ll probably jump on the band-wagon with trying it only after it’s been proven or the lead exec reads it in an airline magazine and gets a bug in his rear about applying it.

Peanut Gallery Ranting: Art in Academics

Sorry I haven’t been around for a while. I’ve been taking a hiatus.

I like connections. I like connecting ideas or finding connections. Someone mentioned to me yesterday the idea of teaching about art in other academic disciplines, and now I have a bee in my bonnet about the whole concept.  I started mindmapping some thoughts. The mind-map isn’t comprehensive, it’s just a start at an attempt to show how the relationship and connections the arts have to other academic disciplines and explore the topics that could be covered in a course about the subject.

Click the image to view the larger map

Something bothers me (no, aggravates me) about how art, literature and music are received in our ‘practical’ western world.  Perhaps it’s the notion that such disciplines associated with the arts are easily removed or omitted from the curriculum because they have no ‘practical’ purpose or application (in business or the real world).   I should stop here with this line of thought before I become emotional about it.

Art and music are embedded in the sciences and mathematics in patterns and simple to complex structures.  We design we interpret and often imitate natural aesthetics and imagery in the design of objects. Do you remember that little film they used to show us in school called Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land (I actually own  a VCR copy of the this)? Literature opens windows and doors into how we think and act as a species.   How can we interpret how to use the other discipines effectively and be the truly flexible or creative beings that we are without developing a keen understanding, appreciation, and mastery of at least one or two areas of the arts! But some bureaucrats, business men and politicians can be proper dunces about the subject – 1 dimensional.



Food for thought

I started a recipe blog for gluten-free living quite some time ago, but I’m actually going to focus on recording more of my recipes and experiments in this blog.

I know it has nothing to do with learning and instructional design, but check it out.

Companies are like bad marriages

From Creating Passionate Users: Too Many Companies are like Bad Marriages.

I really needed a good laugh. Thank you Kathy Sierra.

That’s true if you ever purchase software and then have to swim through help files to find what you need the help files are not organized or written in a way that’s easy for a user to search for the pieces of information that they need.  But this brings me to a point that’s been bugging me for the past three years: Designing great help and educational materials takes time and early and active participation from the training group!!!

I might also point out as well that products should be designed so that little or no training is necessary, and this is where the Human Factors Engineers or (HFEs) come in.  It may sound strange that a training developer is openly advocating a practice that could literally put herself out of a job, but I do so understanding that there will always be a need for good training and good documentation. At least if we’re designing better products my work will be directed to areas where it’s much needed.

Kathy Sierra points out that “World Class Training Materials” have three characteristics:

  1. User-friendly
    Easy to use when, where, and how you need it.
  2. Based on sound learning principles
    i.e. users actually learn from it, not just refer to it.
  3. Motivational
    Keeps users willing to push forward to higher “levels”

All three characteristics take time to build and design. Though if a training organization starts building usability practices and training it’s folks to identify when training interventions are not user-friendly and correcting them accordingly then you’ve probably got #1 nailed down.  #2 requires careful analysis and definition of the performance goals of the project or product. This requires more than just content experts throwing their design over a cubicle wall.   The project developers and designers must tie the design directly to the initial requirements (including user performance requirements), and training and the Human Factors Engineer should have direct exposure to the design as it’s being built.  The training developer can provide insight to the designers when it appears that the process or tasks will be difficult to learn. The HFE can let them know when the interface is a real pain in the butt for the user (and help them correct the design so IT IS NOT).

However, when you work for a company where engineering and design take the front seat…the Training and HFE roles are seen as an ancillary parts of the product development process. Consequently, it’s often hard to integrate Training and HFE activities into the process.  It gets even worse if you have to develop tools or products on a short time cycle.  The HFE has no time to provide input to the design of the tool or interface and the training developer must crank out sub-standard training materials because they don’t have enough time.

I believe that true incorporation of Training and Human Factors Engineering is a big change in behavior for some engineering companies.  It takes both a cultural change in understanding the value and how to apply both functions and areas of expertise correctly. It also takes leaders at the top who get the value and actively champion the best utilization of both groups instead of just paying them lip service.  I’ve seen our activities treated as ‘support’ functions and take a backseat to the others.  I’ve also seen HFE expertise and function as a whole being misunderstood and under-utilized. Yes, it’s true that you can’t have a product without a design, but how can you make it work if you haven’t assessed how the users are going to adopt it or have a plan for making it possible for them to do so?  There’s an ugly answer to this question and it sounds like this: “It doesn’t matter because the users don’t have a choice. They have to learn how to use the tool no matter how hard it is to use or learn.” But I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the price that we must pay if we want to develop products quickly and without good usability practices and standards in place. The users will be frustrated, but tough termites, they simply have to deal with it. 

Some people may argue with me and say spending too much time on usability design and training will cost too much time and money.  On the training side, I believe that if at least three conditions are met this becomes easier:

  • Acceptance of Training: Leadership from the top down accepts, understands and champions the value of training and knows what it means if training is being involved correctly. Training partners design engineers, project team, etc. also understand and accept the role of training.
  • Business Process in Place: Training has a standard business process and practice in place (note business process is flexible – not a rigid procedure as for manufacturing) for developing training and have them incorporated the overall product design and development cycle.
  • Organized use of Learning Assets: Training organization has a well organized series of adaptable re-usable learning objects designed (there’s a great deal of efficiency gained). 

Oni, Accordions and Sheep… Oh my!

My husband thought I could use a night out to see the theater this weekend and he was right. 

I’ve always been a great fan of puppetshows and the art of puppetry ever since I saw “The Magic Egg” fairy tale performed at my elementary school. It was no surprise that the Vertigo of Sheep offered some needed release through both comedy, absurdity and empathy for the human condition. Plus, I don’t care what century you’re in, watching puppets punching each other can just be plain funny.

The puppetry itself and the movements of the very talented puppeteer reminded me of the magical Circus created by Alexander Calder. The exhibits of the whimsical creatures created by Calder and the film depicting their performance is to this day one of my most favorite exhibits at the Whitney Museum in New York.

Thingumajig Theater:

On a side note, inspired by the performance, I went and bought an inexpensive ukelele and chord guide and instruction booklet.  It’s been sometime since I’ve picked up an instrument, and somehow, it felt good.


Stronger Teams Blog

I’m becoming a bigger fan of this blog each time I visit.

Here’s a great post on “Using short-hand communication within teams.”  It’s true if outsiders are incorporated into a team it may take some time for them to learn the team’s language and vocabulary…. can we say… ACRONYMS?

Another great post on ” 8 essential elements for trusting teams.” Social exchanges, showing enthusiasm, & using technology. We work in a global and virtual environment the first item is the hardest to achieve.  I’d be really interested in learning about more ways to make the social exchange happen better with virtual and international teams.


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