Tuesday, December 29, 2009

“All Meanings Depend on the Key of Interpretation”

So said George Eliot, of poetry.

Since I like to look for meaning in everything, I find it interesting to think that meaning can change based on new findings, a key, or a change in context.

Lately I’ve been reading Proust Was a Neuroscientist, by Jonah Lehrer, my new favorite author.

In Proust he looks at authors and artists (Whitman, Eliot, Proust, C├ęzanne) who knew and expressed truths about man, the brain, and science long before 20th century science. The science of their time, perhaps, forced them to look inward for the truth. They tried to understand the mind and were “most accurate, because they most explicitly anticipated our science...this art endures, as wise and resonant as ever.”

George Eliot in Middlemarch wrote “we are a process and an unfolding.” Only until recently biology held that the brain was a genetically governed robot, a set of cells that did not divide, unlike every other cell in our body.

Neurogenesis Is Born
Through a series of experiments misintrepreted or ignored, this belief held firmly. But in 1989 new observations began to alter these scientific “facts”.

Elizabeth Gould at Rockfeller University, discovered that chronic stress was devastating to rat brain neurons, but that the brain healed itself when the stress was removed. Over the next 8 years she painstakingly quantified her findings in rats and monkeys.

The science of neurogensis was born. “The textbooks were rewritten: the brain is constantly giving birth to itself,” Lehrer writes.

Now here is where it gets interesting to me.

“The mind is never beyond redemption, for no environment can extinguish neurogenesis. As long as we are alive, important parts of the brain are dividing. The brain is not marble, it is clay, and our clay never hardens,” Lehrer writes.

“High levels of stress can decrease the number of new cells [regenerating]; so can being low in a dominance hierarchy.” But when changing to living in an enriched environment, adult brains recover rapidly.

The implications are worth pondering. Think of the repression of women in a dominance hierarchy, think of slavery, think of those who live in poverty, think of good zoos and bads zoos, think of stark work environments, think of isolated young mothers, and so on.

How we think about these situations now has new meaning. And there are further implications to growth and happiness.

A New Key
The ramifications are profound and just now, in the last 10 years are being explored.

For example, scientists have discovered that antidepressants work by stimulating neurogenesis, implying that depression is ultimately caused by a decrease in the amount of new neurons, and not by a lack of serotonin.

We have a new key for intepretation.

Newborn brain cells make us happy.

Again ponder the implications, we need to be ever learning, seeking to enrich our environments for ourselves and our children, making workplaces more about cooperation and less about dominance, and excising stress from our routines and helping others to bring about these changes.

Learn something lately
As Eliot wrote in Middlemarch, the “mind [is] as active as phosphorus.”

“Since we each start every day with a slightly new brain, neurogenesis,” Jonah Lehrer points out, “ensures that we are never done with our changes.”


More reading:
Antidepressant action in mice, NIH
The Science of Prozac

Monday, November 9, 2009

These really work...

7 Tips for Messy Times, by Mark Hurst

I haven't accomplished the single To-Do list just yet, but emptying the Inbox every day is essential and possible.

Check out the other suggestions!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Okay, Some Things Are Just Too Funny

Check out these recession cases for your iphone...just 99 cents. Hilarious!

Watch this guy demo the "assembly".

Go for the "bail-out bundle" (10 for $7.99) and treat everyone in the office!

Their Q&As rival Woot for a hoot!

Q) Is it waterproof?
A) No, so dont put it in the dishwasher

Q) Is this case flammable?
A) If you light it on fire it is

Q) Does it come assembled?
A) no, see our animated gif for a step by step demo!

Q) What device does this case support?
A) iPhone 1G + 3G + 3GS

Q) How does this case stay together?
A) It has locking tabs at the bottom and top of the case, as well as an adhesive strip to keep the case held together

Q) Can I use this case to microwave my frozen pizzas?
A) I dont see why not, although we cant insure quality taste

Q) Will this case make me awesome?
A) I think that goes without saying

Q) Is there a warranty?
A) no, it is cardboard after all

Q) Can I get a paper cut on my ear while using this case?
A) My first guess would be no, but anything is possible, we dont promote unsafe use of the recession case

Q) How long will the case be sold?
A) as long as it needs to be to get us out of this recession! or while supplies last

Q) Does it come with a screen protector?
A) no, we are in a recession!

Q) How long will the product last?
A) forever as long as you don't destroy it!

Q) Is this case made from recycled cardboard?
A) 100% of only the best for you!

Q) Will the product scratch my device?
A) no! its cardboard not brick!

Q) Is the CM logo impressed on the case?
A) this is known as the "peoples case"

Q) Will this product be sold at case-mate retail locations?
A) Nope! The recession case is sold exclusively here at case-mate.com!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sometimes You Have to Retreat, A Little

In a previous posts I went off on how Twitter was a total waste of time.

I still feel that way, personally.

But for the last couple of weeks I've been giving it a try as a way to be "in the know" about social networking and the latest buzz.

I started out much the same way GetItDoneGuy did and followed the same pattern: rekindling old friendships, following those who post good content, then following a few celebrities.

It didn't take long to unfollow celebrities (or celebrities' PR people really), except those that appear more authentic (love Ann Curry...breaking news, a few personal tweets).

I definitely don't follow all who are following me. Who are you anway?

I also happen to agree with copyblogger about the challenge to my writing and editing skills, composing and recomposing a 140 character tweet to convey as much meaning in as few words as possible.

As haiku is to poetry.

I've learned a bit from Jakob Nielsen about adding more punch, though I don't do formal iterations. Just informal ones in my head. See his tips on what's good, what's bad and when to Tweet.

I definitely recommend front-loading, which is a technique I learned from Mark Hurst in his book Bit Literacy, regarding e-mail subject lines and the first paragraph in the e-mail. State your purpose and call to action immediately.

Still, plenty of evidence that Twitter will fade as a fad, though:
Why Teens Don't Tweet
Facebook Exodus (can Twitter be far behind?)

But not just yet...Why Adults Have Fed Twitter's Growth

Until then, follow me: ellenking (at least for a little while longer)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Clever Customer Service and Humor

Who's Al?! :-D

Nothing like being clever and making me smile to engender good feelings about your company and your customer service.

Thanks Better World Books.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

About Making Analysis Visual

In the last few weeks I've used the approach to competitive analysis as explained in this UX Matters article, Differentiating Your Design: A Visual Approach to Competitive Reviews, by Michael Hawley.

We have been looking at imagery on the web to spot trends and see how others are effectively or ineffectively using it. This method is working wonderfully and really tells a great story about where we can differentiate our design from our competitors.

I love that the analysis isn't focused solely on usability, but emphasizes the factors you and your stakeholders think are important. The key is in getting the right dimensions or spectrums with which to measure.

Now that I've been through it once, it'll definitely be in my bag of tricks.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Crisis of Credit Visualized

I love visual explanations, you know it. This is storytelling at it's best, inspiring. This little piece made something very complicated easier to understand and I was entertained along the way. Diagrams like this make crazy complicated ideas understandable, especially when animated. Take a minute to look at the whiteboard sketches too.

Crisis of Credit

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Good Day

The other day I was working through an online tutorial and at one point, I thought, "Wow, that's cool!" In an otherwise slow and repetitious lesson was a bright flash of light, a new thought, a gem.

Maybe that's all there is to a day, a project, a job, or even life.

Maybe it's just a few sparkles of mica in a long stretch of gray sidewalk.

The next thought was about something I told to my boss years ago as a new designer, "If I can open up Photoshop every day, then it's a good day and I'm happy." Well, that's a fairly simple formula for happiness.

In the children's book A Good Day by Kevin Henkes, it's as simple as freedom, love and food.

So after some thought here's what I've discovered. It's a good day when I can help someone be happy, make something, or learn something new. It's that simple.

What makes a good day for you?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Twitter is the junk mail of the digital world

Twitter is to the digital world as junk mail to the paper world, the static of the radio world, the snow of the early TV world, the Solitaire of computer games, the annoying dinner-time telemarketer, the mass of billboards once cluttering our highways and obstructing America's vistas.

It is the just latest fad that has somehow turned noise and distraction, and lately marketing, into an art form consisting only of half conversations and a series of quips and glib one-liners, masquerading as human interaction and conversation.

Rather than strengthening relationships it is soaking up valuable time and attention better spent with living breathing humans in real meaningful dialog, or giving an honest day's worth of work to your employer, or even just keeping your eyes on the road.

Despite the current wave of publicity it will fade as other internet fads have. In the meantime, if I want to know what you're doing, I'll invite you to lunch and you can tell me in more than 140 characters. We'll enjoy a real conversation.

Tom Chi and Kevin Chang's Twatter Comic
Trouble with Twitter
Let Them Eat Tweets


There is no greater harm than that of time wasted.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Where some companies put their marketing dollars

Oh that more companies would spend their marketing dollars as wisely.
Our philosophy...Take most of the money that we would have spent in paid marketing and instead put that into the customer experience and then let the repeat customers be the true marketing.
~Tony Hsieh of Zappos @ SXSW Conference

See YouTube video

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Every workplace should have this rule

Jerks, bullies, mean-spirited people. Name them what you will. They are people who persistently leave others feeling demeaned and de-energized; usually those who have less power and social standing than their tormentors.

Bob Sutton says that the best test of a person's character is how he or she treats those with less power.

When a person is consistently warm and civilized toward people who are of unknown or lower status, it means he or she is a decent human being. Small decencies not only make you feel better about yourself, but can have a ripple effect through your team and department.

More about the concepts in this book in future posts.

Read Bob Sutton's places and people that use the rule.

Friday, February 13, 2009

. . . that performance management should be like. . .

...good typography, a balanced interplay between positive and negative space, with focus on the positive.

No one pays attention to the negative space, alone, in a letterform. It's counter intuitive (pun intended). When the counter becomes dominant the beauty and function of the letterform is lost in a jumble of shapes that have no meaning.

Likewise emphasis on team members' weaknesses render their positive contributions meaningless.

Strokes, terminals, shoulders, ascenders, descenders, serifs--line and shape make up the contour map of the alphabet. A repetition of curves, verticals, horizontals, and serifs are combined to bring variety and unity to well-designed fonts.

I once read that the greatest potential for growth is in one's areas of strength. Recognizing these strengths and cultivating them through activities that thrill and challenge a particular team member can help them accomplish exponential results personally and as part of a team.

Focus on the positive. Foster the strength. Allow the counter space to support the whole, but recede into the background.


The most important thing I have learned is that legibility and beauty stand close together.
~Adrian Frutiger