We’re taking fire!

Kristi and I went to visit my parents today – it was a delayed visit for my father’s birthday, but I’d been sick. Anyways, I’m always amused when I drive through Hartford by the (relatively) new logo for Bradley Airport. To me, it looks like an airliner that is taking ground fire, being shot at by gi-joe style laser guns. Not the best imagery to evoke in this day and age.

Sitting in the library all day…

I’ve been at the library for almost six hours writing the final paper for Man-Machine System Design. I’m opposite a south-facing window so when I look up I’m reminded just how long I’ve been here by the position of the sun in the sky. When I got here it was at the left side of the big window, now its at the right side, and low enough that I have to duck a bit inside the “carell” so I’m not blinded.

The last time I was somewhere with a good view of the sun moving across that sky was probably on a beach. That’s definitely more fun than this, and a good reminder of all the things about the world one can miss for all the day’s hustle and bustle.

Back to work…


The New York Times Magazine had its annual year in ideas issue this past sunday – one of my favorites was Hyperopia, which is the idea that in the short term, one feels guilty for not getting enough “stuff” done, but over the long term, one looks back and wishes he or she had more fun back then.

This is on my mind as I finish off a class (man machine system design) where I really haven’t learned much and the assignments are so long that the professor has to be a sadist of some kind, as I try to figure out what I’ll take next semester (the evening class pickings are lame) and why I’m getting a master’s degree in computer science the first place.

Can you tell a company by its website?

I’ve been looking for a new job of late, so I’ve been looking at a lot of company websites to get a feel for the company. I know the saying is you can’t tell a book by its cover (even though a cover can catch your eye and make you buy it anyway), but can you tell much about a company by its website?

I like to think you can.

The following factors tend to weigh heavily against a company in my mind (especially if they create web applications):

  • Site looks ugly or broken under firefox (I know most people use IE still, but come on. This also indicates they may be writing IE-only webapps)
  • Messy javascript
  • Poor HTML- no css, lots of inline css
  • Bad information design

I understand that a lot of these companies probably outsource their web presence, but I would think that if there were some talented designers at a company, one of them would raise some concerns about or fix the issues above, particularly poor information design.

Here’s a case study. One of my recruiters told me to take a look at Outstart which appears to be in the business of information delivery (e-learning etc) via the web. So it was especially alarming that they didn’t seem to be able to deliver information about their product line very effectively. Take a look at the screenshot below (taken from here). I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of visitors to the page try to click on the product names (in blue, bolded) next to the short descriptions before figuring out that doesn’t work and using the menu at left. Talk about misleading information scent. (Click the image for a larger version)

Lame info design

Other strikes here (besides the different order of the products in the page and in the menu):

  • Parts of the site don’t render well in Firefox. (like the country drop down box) I don’t want to work on an IE-only app again. Ever.
  • The url is ugly and complex. It contains at least 100 characters, many of which are in hexadecimal. They break down into three coordinates on the menu to decide which page to show. Only each id is a 32 hex characters, which means there are 10^24 possible menus, and the same number of possible items per menu, and the same number of base menus. I guess they’re thinking about growth, or adding the entire internet to their menu structure. At 10^72 combinations, they might be able to have a page for every atom in the universe. Way to plan ahead for growth.
  • The HTML is broken. There’s a chunk of CSS before the html tag. No Doctype.

I’d expect more from a company that builds web apps to deliver e-learning, wouldn’t you?

US Centers of Population on a Google Map

I found a document (pdf) on the US Census Bureau site with data on the mean and median population centers of the United States over time. Unfortunately they didn’t stick it on a map so one can get a real sense of the slow south west migration. Fortunately this provided me with a good excuse to learn the google maps API and put the points on a map.

I’ve put the maps up here. I’m not sure I expected the median and mean to be so similar (though unfortunately there’s a hundred years less data for median). The mean ends up further west than the median because the distance of the west coast amplifies the weight of its population.

I was actually looking around the US Census site looking for some interesting data to build a Treemap with, but didn’t find anything yet with a two level hierarchy that didn’t end up at the county level. Got any ideas of something that could be interesting in treemap form?

22 Dollars poorer, 30% less productive

My Viewsonic vp171b display crapped out all of a sudden late last week – just late enough in my school project to be somewhat bearable. It would flicker for a moment, then the backlight would shut off. Turning it off and on a few times usually resulted in it working for a few more hours. I only got the display in October 2005, orthopedist so its under warranty, but still a pain in the butt. $22 to ship it to California and 3-4 weeks without my second display. Good thing I don’t plan on working on anything so involved as to require a second display for a little while.

I’m sure some people must be capable of managing all of Flash’s pallette windows, including the terrible excuse for an editor present in the actions pane without two monitors, but it escapes me how. Semi-interesting Flash note: I did get to find out that the Flash IDE crashes when its running on a second display that gets unplugged.