Archive for category: Worker’s Comp

Hey! Wanna Buy Some Cookies?

06 Mar 2005
March 6, 2005

Psst. Hey you. Yah you. Come over here. Wanna buy some cookies? Uh, I got Trefoils. I got your Do-si-dos. I got Double Dutch, Samoas, and Thin Mints. I even got Lemon Coolers. They’re lo-cal. What’s your pleasure?

Girl Scout Cookies --Thin Mints

The Girl Scouts’ Thin Mints. Pictured larger than real life, but not as delicious.

Thin Mints please. Those delectable chocolate-covered wafers. They seem to melt in your mouth so effortlessly you’re scarfing down a whole box before the first commercial of CSI. THIN MINTS! Ummmmm. I want ’em now and I want ’em bad. It’s Girl Scout cookie time.

I’m not alone. It’s the middle of winter. The weather’s cold and bitter. We’re all on carb overload. And I got the goods. Samoas. So so good and so so bad for you. Full of coconut oil and seventy calories a piece. But, boy, with a Vente Skim Latte they sure make those early morning meetings a pleasure.

I’m a pusher. A cookie pusher.

My source is my youngest daughter in her guise as a Brownie. My wife and I had this all planned. A major factor in deciding to have children in the first place. It was our way to cookie nirvana. And now I’m selling them behind the water cooler at work.

There are a few of us dealers and we’ve staked out our territory. George on the 9th floor. I’ve got the 3rd. I used to split the floor with Beverly but she ceded me her territory when she left for another job. Just in time. Cookie turf wars can reduce office productivity. The cookies, on the other hand, seem to increase productivity. Good moods and lots of sugar. Projects due in February seem to come in on time and on budget.

What parents won’t go through for their children. Some are even dealing on eBay. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Wish I’d thought of that.

My users are hooked. The orders are taken in mid January and by the first of February people are stopping me in the halls to let me know how much they’re looking forward to those goodies. By the third week in February they’re pulling me aside at meetings and by the end of the month, they’re yelling, “WHERE ARE MY COOKIES?” in the elevators. I can run, but I cannot hide.

Last year was my first in the cookie hood. I was nonchalant. “One day, that’s it,” I told my wife. “I’ll bring the order form to the office for one day and whatever I get, I get.” Bam! Fifty boxes just like that.

To be honest, I can’t understand their allure. After all, they’re not Mrs. Field’s milk chocolate chip. I polled each buyer when they came to pick up their stash and they all agreed: it’s nostalgia (most had sold cookies in their younger years) mixed with limited availability (they’re only sold NOW). Some buy cartons and freeze them for the rest of the year.

In our mid winter stupor none of us pay much attention to the nutritional labels of these things. Look at that trans fat. No, don’t look.

I’m happy to support the Girl Scouts (each troop gets a cut of the sales for their own activities). But with childhood obesity such a problem I’d feel a bit better if my daughter was selling something a bit healthier. Building strong bodies verses yummy euphoria. Can I trust you to make the right decision? No, I guess not.

Ok, selling broccoli door-to-door won’t cut it. And I don’t think I’d be as popular as I am this time of the year if it were any other way. But surely we can produce a cookie with a bit less fat and sugar for us parents, I mean, our girls to sell.

There’s a chill in the air but I’ve got my Tagalongs to keep me warm. They’re my real friends. And they’ll be there for me long after my co-workers no longer need me –providing I don’t go through my own booty before I finish writing this post.

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Zoomifying My Life Away

12 Feb 2005
February 12, 2005

Since shedding my higher level administration duties at work a few months back I’ve been able to concentrate on design and geeky things. Being creative in my day job –I’m in heaven.

A few weeks ago we introduced a new section to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Web site: Interact. We’ll introduce small and fun things to do with our collection and be able to highlight some of the virtual exhibitions we’ve created.

Aerial Photograph from In Our Path

Displaying a detailed photograph on the Web has its drawbacks. It’s impossible to get close and explore the image. Click on this photograph I took to view a zoomified version.

Last week I created my first Zoomify. This application allows the viewer to zoom into an image to view details. One of the drawbacks of displaying pictures online is the small size and resolution required for easy Web viewing. Zoomify eliminates this limitation.

Creating a zoomified image is really simple. Drop a very high-resolution file on top of the application and it automatically slices your artwork into hundreds of small easily loaded image tiles. As you zoom in the program accesses new tiles at higher levels of magnification. All of this is parsed through Macromedia’s Flash application. What you’re viewing is a light-weight (in size) Flash movie.

One of our museum’s signature artworks is Larry Fuente’s Game Fish. Made up of hundreds of toy pieces it’s fun to view it on our museum’s walls. However, it’s been almost impossible to appreciate the work when viewed on the Web. Game Fish was a natural candidate for Zoomify. Take a look.

I got so excited by the possibilities, I was zoomifying all over the place. I did a few more of our artworks (which will be featured in the upcoming weeks) then decided to create one using one of my own images: an aerial photograph I took for a photo documentary called In Our Path. Photographed in the 1980s and 1990s this series documented the building of the “last” freeway in Los Angeles (I’m in the midst of updating the design and code for this Web site and Zoomify will be a good addition).

This photograph now has a Tom Clancy, satellite surveillance feel to it. I scanned the 85 MB source file directly from my negative. The larger the file, the more detail you can see (for a truly magnificent example take a look at this 2.5 gigapixel zoomified image).

My photograph is twenty years old but I had never explored its details as I can now (even on a large 40″ x 48″ enlargement). A coworker found people talking in their backyard!

Like all techniques, not every picture is a good candidate for this process. But if you feel the limitations of displaying Web images and want to be able to show image or technique details, try this out. And, until March you can get this application for free courtesy of VRMag and Zoomify.

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Lord of the Rings (Remix)

01 Jun 2004
June 1, 2004

At key junctures in our projects my boss will gather our team together and ask if we can “touch magic rings.” Can all of us agree to sign off on the work we’ve done so far? It’s one of his endearing phrases that has made difficult large scale undertakings, and even project management itself, well, manageable. Bringing order to what was once chaos is hard work. A lighthearted approach (sparking childhood memories of secret clubs and swashbuckling adventures) takes the edge off arduous tasks. One for all and all for one.

Not surprisingly, the rest of us have found that “touching magic rings” has begun to enter our everyday lexicon. “Bob, have you had a chance to look over that PMP? I need to get it over to OMB with a cc to OHR asap. Can we touch magic rings on that?” Rather than rings, Bob and I gently touch knuckles in manly contemporary acknowledgement. I laugh whenever I hear myself say these words. My coworkers nod in acknowledgement. My wife thinks I’m nuts.

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I Won, I Won!

14 Feb 2004
February 14, 2004

My winning bottlecap

Found: one two three four five six seven eight iTunes/Pepsi bottlecaps out of 11 tries. In a vending machine in the basement of my office building. I won. I won! You really like me iTunes/Pepsi.

As usual, I brought my lunch to a midday meeting I was running yesterday. We’re setting up a “cutover” schedule for migrating to our brand new Web site redesign. I opened my special bottle of Diet Pepsi right there in between bites of my brie, apple, and pinenuts sandwich –one must always balance bureaucracy with high class sandwiches whenever possible. It makes project management so much more pleasurable. And the spicy tartness of the Pepsi meshes so well with the creaminess of the cheese (I feel I owe you one Pepsi, so here’s my product endorsement).

It was the best Friday the 13th a Web designer/project manager/bureaucrat could wish for. My exuberant reaction, however, did confirm to my fellow government workers that my management style is a little skewed.

So now I have to make a big decision. Which song should I get with my windfall? My tastes run eclectic and my iPod is filled with everything from Bollywood to Bluegrass to Disco to R & B. I just bought Speakerboxx from Outkast and Ladysmith’s latest CD. Tell me, what should I get (and you better hurry –the special code on the cap seems to be disappearing)?

Parenting’s Effect on Usability Studies

23 Jun 2003
June 23, 2003

I had a mild epiphany this morning. Movie listings are not as clearly designed as they could be. My 24/7 role as a parent has led me to this point. But it was my day job as a Web designer that opened the way.

We’ve been looking at how to incorporate usability testing in the development of our Web projects at work. When I used to teach art and design I often talked to my students about the clarity fallacy. As in art, there is often a disconnect between what we, the creators of new media, know and understand our project goals to be and how much of that is actually being communicated to our users. The object is to keep viewers on our site with good content that is easily found. Usability testing confirms just how successful we are.

Testing doesn’t always require a lab setting with a large staff and a large number of test subjects in order to come to valid conclusions. We invited a professional, schooled in these ways, to help us understand these simplified testing concepts. As an exercise (certainly not scientific), we went out into the museum and asked individuals if they could help us “test drive” our site. It only took a few minutes before I had my moment of enlightenment.

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Pessimism By Any Other Name Is Not Pessimism

26 Dec 2002
December 26, 2002

Was it visions of sugarplums that made my Christmas Eve day commute to work so sweet? Or was it President Bush’s “pardon” for all us Federal workers one half day of freedom for the upcoming holiday? No, as I looked around the subway car I realized everyone was contentedly reading the Health section of the Washington Post. More specifically, they were reading The Happy Heretic, an article about Dr. Martin Seligman’s new book, Authentic Happiness. Wellbeing saturated the underground air.

With Christmas just past and New Year’s up next, the burden of marking time (more specifically, marking this point in my life) is great. Happiness is a commodity, to be bought, sold, and listed. It is a benchmark for our success. My discomfort is palatable this time of the year. Something doesn’t fit right: the week between these holidays—the countdown to the new year (as if this point in time was a natural rather than a social construct) and the pressure to create (let alone live by) a checklist of New Year resolutions. Christmas and New Year’s beg me to consider my happiness.

Seligman, who is the former president of the American Psychological Association, feels that when it comes to this state, Americans have it “dead wrong.” True happiness is not fleeting pleasure (and in this gift-giving season, who but the staunchest curmudgeon is not prone to this affliction?). To counter this he has developed what he calls Positive Psychology: to be truly happy people must develop more durable strengths—integrety, critical thinking, street smarts, love of beauty, kindness, and perseverance. While daily life (both personal and global) can get you down, drawing on your inner strengths to move through the morass is his key. Antisthenes, who said “I would rather go mad than experience pleasure” would surely have something cynical to say about this.

Despite my reluctance, Seligman’s psychology forced to consider my lot in life. I was voted “Most Pessimistic” in my high school graduating class. True, my early life taught me to be extra cautious. But was this who I really was?

In the intervening years, I rarely thought much my “condition.” Usually, I pondered my reactions to the world with a quick swipe-of-my-hand across the nearby air and the passing acknowledgement: “Well, I am a pessimist afterall.” But recently, a coworker shocked me by declaring in a closed door meeting that I was an optimist! My cynicism, he felt, paled next to his fatalism. When I actually absorbed his declaration I was even more surprised to realize he was right. Somehow I had become an optimist. How could I have miscalculated my personality to this degree?

I had just told my office mate that despite the often uncomfortable intensity of a recent project, I’d learned quite a bit. His words forced me to look critically at the challenges of organizational society. I was surprised to realize I saw them as opportunities to exercise new coping and managerial skills. And, of course, there’s ample opportunity.

Apparently, even back in high school I was drawing on my inner abilities to rise above my notions of the world. Winning that “honor” was only a partial and most clearly an imperfect reflection of my self-perception. When I looked down that list of Most “this” or Best “that,” I was scanning for “opportunity” and this category seemed to be the only one I had a chance to win. And when I told everyone “I’m sure I won’t get it,” it clinched my victory. Yet it also helped cement a mindset that lasted for a long time.

Happiness, from Seligman’s vantage point, isn’t so much about short term pleasure, it’s about the type of gratification Thomas Jefferson and Aristotle wrote about. And he feels, rather than pursuing these more important goals, most of us are just “fidgeting until we die.” This is why I refrain from New Year’s Resolutions. Change doesn’t happen at the stroke of midnight. It requires a lot more effort from me.

And after taking his Authentic Happiness Signature Strengths Survey (registration required, but it’s free), I now have empirical proof of my mental shift. Of course, the Web site states I can best interpret the results by reading his book. However, let me use my inner drive to see what I can glean from this on my own.

My number one strength is Creativity, Ingenuity, and Originality. “Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.” I scored as high or higher in this area than 97% of all Web site users, 96% of all Post-college grads, and (most interestingly) 94% of those in Zip Code 200xx. That’s all of Washington, DC! This might explain a lot of what goes on in this town.

Other strengths I scored solidly on include Judgement, Critical Thinking, and Open-Mindedness (“Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.”) and Bravery and Valor (“You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions.”). In both categories I score above 90% of my peers.

Alright, alright already. Please. I am humbled by your applause. I do sound centered, don’t I? Ok, well, I already knew all of this—not in these glorious terms but somewhere between the perceived pessimism of my youth and the hopeful wisdom of my old age (most of us know who we are, even if we’re not prepared to admit it). I am a process-oriented person. And I get it, Dr. Seligman. I resolve not fidget next year.


My brand of cynicism: not the negative notion of distrust. It’s more an acceptance that motives of others will sometimes be alien to one’s own belief system. Rather than constantly being shocked by the behavior of others, I’ve come to accept that I will not always understand what motivates every person I come in contact with. Back >>

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