Vending machine* usability

* I grew up in the South, which means I actually call these "Coke machines," but in the interest of generality I'll refrain from that in this instance. I bought a soda recently, and noticed (for the first time) a pretty basic design flaw that is common - though not universal - in vending machines. You know how these machines have a picture of a dollar bill to show you the correct orientation to insert it into the machine?

Judging the Rumble

Whew! In case you didn't know, last weekend was the Rails Rumble - an annual, 48-hour sprint in which teams of 1-4 people build complete, functioning web applications from scratch. I'd competed in the two prior Rumbles (winning the solo division both years </shameless plug>), but this year I participated in a different way: I was one of the expert panelists tasked with judging the submitted applications prior to public voting.

The virtue of practice

[[posterous-content:CEpgEFwlwAwHkECIikda]] http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/ / CC BY 2.0 Practice makes perfect - anonymous When I was back in school, I did a lot of different things. I played a musical instrument, I programmed computers, I played volleyball, I studied foreign languages - and the key to getting better at each of them, I was told, was practice. So, I practiced. With some skills, I got better. With others, I didn't. And because I was young and foolish (as opposed to being older and foolish, which I am now), I thought that there was something about each domain that made it more or less amenable to improvement via practice.

Vote for me!

[[posterous-content:aIhHctacBwkckJrDbqBr]]I've noticed a bit of a trend among some conferences lately - they're outsourcing/crowdsourcing talk selection to (usually, but not always) the attendees. The most recent example was Ignite Raleigh, but the precedent for all of these is, of course, SXSW. For the last several years, SXSW interactive (and, starting this year, SXSW music and film) has allowed anyone to vote on submitted panels for inclusion in the conference. One of the effects of the panelpicker process is that submitters flood the internet with pleas for votes - and I'm no exception.

Developer Day Boston wrapup

This past weekend was exciting, because it was the first instance of Developer Day held away from Viget's and Relevance's home territory - we took the show on the road up to Boston, with a lot of help from thoughtbot and the Microsoft NERD Center (which, incidentally, is an astounding space). It was both a lot of work and a lot of fun (at least for the half I was able to see; a minor emergency forced me to leave after lunch, so I missed the excellent afternoon talks), and I'm excited to continue taking Developer Day to places where smart people are doing good work.

The presenter’s pentathlon

As I mentioned before, I'm thinking a lot about technical presentations and speaking more generally now. As part of that, I've had some fun discussions with friends about the different kinds (both content and format) of presentations, about practice, and about related topics, and something interesting has emerged from those talks: the presenter's pentathlon. The basic idea would be to bring together five or six presenters and run them through a series of events designed to test their speaking prowess.

How to compete against commercial competition

Rob Walling makes basically one very good point in his post "How to Compete Against Open Source Competition," and that point is this: Open source software is free if your time is worth nothing. He illustrates this idea by pointing at the Gimp, Zen Cart, and contributed Perl and PHP modules (if I'm understanding his point about modules that don't come "out of the box"). Each of these takes a long time to install or to learn, and can cause a ton of problems if you're not careful.

A blast from the past, for technical speakers

I've been doing a lot of reading about technical presentations lately - both for my own benefit (since I'm speaking much more often now) and for a specific project I'm working on. In the course of that research, I ran across one essay in particular that I wish was more well known. Let there be an end to incredibly boring speakers! They are not sophisticated, erudite scientists speaking above our intellectual capacity; they are arrogant, thoughtless individuals who insult our very presence by their lack of concern for our desire to benefit from a meeting which we chose to attend.

Recentering

I've been blogging on and off for ... heck, years now, and I've tried a lot of different approaches during that time. Among other things, I've had a fitness/running specific blog (which connected me to a wonderful, supportive community), I've had several work-specific blogs, I've tried microblogs of varying stripes - like I said, lots of different approaches. That said, I'm now trying another. For most of my professional life, my online presence has been centered around the domain culann.