Category: life

Mar 06

funniest app reviews i’ve ever read

Around 2 am, I thought of a book that Andrew might find interesting for his upcoming UX-LX skeuomorph talk. However, it was dark, I was pretty sure the book was on the highest shelf, I didn’t want to wake up Todd, and I thought I would forget if I fell back asleep.

I decided to download an iPhone flashlight app so I could scan my bookshelves.

I launched the app store and saw a free app in the Entertainment category with nearly 30,000 reviews but an average rating of 2.5 stars. How was this possible? Who keeps downloading a 2.5 star app?

I started scanning the “Mood Finger Scan” reviews. It probably helped that one of the first reviews I read was particularly funny (plus everything’s funnier at 2 am)…

This became my guilty pleasure of the week. I eventually downloaded Mood Finger Scan and it’s a very simple mood ring app. The majority of the reviews are right – it’s loaded with advertisements for games that presumably make money or aren’t free. There are 5 star ratings from suspicious CheckPoint promoters promising free iTunes gift that help keep the app’s rating suspended at 2.5 stars instead of 1.5.

Even if this is a 1 star app, some of the reviews should be rated 4-5 stars. I’ve compiled the best below. And yes, I did remember to get the book the next morning.

Cat test

People really say that?

Okay, I get it. You’re not relaxed!!!

On love…

This app represents everything that’s wrong with the perception of America?

I agree, what kind of mood app messes up cheesecake?

One word…


Life changing

I’m so sorry! I’d rate this app 1 star too!

I’m not bipolar!


Works every time. 2 stars?

Jan 16

chicken checker

Over the holidays, I stumbled across a picture taken just after showing my prize-winning goat, Victoria, at a local fair. This was the inspiration I needed to post a story I’ve been working on for a while. Hopefully my father will forgive me for retelling it here!

Chicken Checker

“Are you hungry?” my father asked as we coasted down the Oklahoma interstate in our beaten-down farm truck. Our truck had no radio or air-conditioning and, oh, those woolly bench seats scratched in summer! But the prospect of joining my father, an over enthusiastic Renaissance man, on a road trip outweighed every inconvenience. When we weren’t counting hawks on telephone poles or singing television jingles, I peered through the holes of the rusted-out floorboard where sun-bleached road rolled underneath my feet. I could entertain myself for hours in this small cabin.

We were still hours away from meeting my mother. While judging a goat show in Oklahoma, she had stumbled across a prospective buyer for a spring doe from our Missouri goat dairy. Now my father was generously driving hundred mile stretches of wheat fields with a talkative five-year old and the almost-sold goat in tow. It was a noble deed.

“McDonalds?” I replied instinctively, ready for fast food billboard scouting.

“Ah no, I’ve got a better idea!” This was not typical Happy Meal excitement, “Let’s barbecue some chicken!”

Though we were separated by thirty years, I would always relate to my father’s thirst for adventure. I didn’t fully grasp his proposal but I was already an eager accomplice.

A few exits later, we pulled into a parking lot and my father launched into action. He sprung onto the truck bed with our goat and brushed away straw and feed sacks to reveal his secret stash of barbecuing supplies including an iron cooking pit, coal, chicken, and a few cooking utensils. He spoke aloud as he tore open bags, hypothesized how to pile the briquettes, and speculated on our feasting time. The details were lost on me but I was mesmerized at the thought of cooking while driving… genius!

We stopped one or two more times to adjust the coals. When my father deemed that we had achieved optimal barbecuing conditions, he rested the chicken gingerly on the grill and promoted me from “daughter” to “chicken checker” which entailed keeping tabs on our dinner by occasionally glancing back into the truck bed through the cabin window. I accepted the title and responsibility with pride.

While our dinner was cooking, my father teased me by pretending to drive with his eyes closed while I squealed in horror and delight. I asked if there were other children at the fairgrounds. Perhaps the Mennonite twins would be up for playing some games in the show-ring sawdust later? In our conversation lulls, I diligently looked back and reported that all was well in the truck bed.

It was hard to imagine a better August evening, driving carefree with my father with the windows rolled down and a few lightning bugs dotting the fields. Even the Oklahomans seemed to get friendlier as daylight waned. Our dairy goats always attracted attention on the road and tonight was no exception. Drivers and their companions waved as they passed. “That’s so nice!” He nudged me to wave back to our highway friends.

A few more vehicles passed us and waved. We waved too. And then a few more. In hindsight, we should have become suspicious of our well-wishers sooner. And then a startled elderly couple passed while mouthing an unintelligible message to us. My father’s smile waivered.

“Elaine… I think it’s time to check the chicken.”

Sensing urgency, I spun around and pressed my hands and face to the window. The glass was warm against my fingertips and nose. A split-second later I discovered why. Our situation was dire. Flames spewed from our truck bed and smoke billowed down the road. Our show goat pawed frantically at the spreading flames. Cars were swerving to avoid our sparks and debris. We were a 50 mile-per-hour bonfire on wheels.

Within seconds of hearing my “uh oh,” my father swung the steering wheel and made an emergency halt. He ran around the truck while I struggled to keep up, pushing open the heavy door and jumping down from the cab. He passed me the goat and shooed me a safe distance away. From afar, I watched as he tossed our gear from the truck and stomped down the flames with a plank of wood.

The seriousness of the situation eluded me entirely. We were isolated on the road with a flaming truck and no water. Many years later, my father would reveal that his gravest concern was the gas cap he had lost a few weeks prior and the fear that the tank would explode at any second. I turned my attention to teaching our goat to sit like a dog as onlookers streamed by.

After some time, my exhausted father emerged, wiping his hands with a rag. The soot had gathered in his forehead creases making him appear years older. Our belongings were scattered on the side of the road and charred straw still blew from the truck bed on the evening breeze. He started scooping our belongings back into the truck. Approaching me, he eyed the scorched hair on the goat’s hooves. I saw a troubled “your mother is not going to be happy” thought cross his brow but he didn’t say anything aloud.

After all of our gear was accounted for, we continued down the road again. When the adrenaline had subsided, my father pulled off again and found a payphone to relay a message to my mother that he was going to be late as “something had come up” on the road.

When he returned from the payphone, his head had cleared enough to remember our original mission – the chicken was still in the iron pit and we were both very hungry. After inspection, he returned triumphant with a tough, dry, but still salvageable chicken, especially with a generous smothering of barbecue sauce. He presented our winnings wrapped in aluminum foil, a trophy of our gourmet ingenuity and absolute proof that I had the best father in the world. And with miles to go, we sat on the tailgate eating in rare silence.

Sep 06

the curious incident at the coffee shop

For as long as Meebo’s been on Castro Street, visiting Red Rock Coffee has been a daily ritual. I know to avoid Wednesday morning’s children story hour if I’m meeting someone, to wait at least half an hour after the first morning Caltrain arrival for a shorter line, and I recognize the half a dozen regulars who spend the majority of their daytime hours working at Red Rock from their laptops. Up until last Friday, there’s been one Red Rock regular that I’ve avoided at all costs after an incident many years ago.

Three years ago, I headed to Red Rock for an afternoon latte and lined up behind a tall man placing his order that I’d seen a few times before. I was debating between a small and medium latte when I heard the man in front of me raise his voice, “Don’t you hate it when people line up on the wrong side of the counter?”

I was taken off guard. He was facing the barista but his tone and volume could have reached anyone within ten feet of the counter. It was evident that though he was shouting to the barista in front of him, his message was really intended for the person standing behind him, me.

The Red Rock register is positioned at the intersection of two perpendicular counters and there is no sign or clear indication of which counter you should line up against. After you’ve been there a time or two, you realize that the right counter is longer, doesn’t conflict with the serving counter, and is presumably better. However, I was standing on the left side, apparently the wrong side.

I was more than a little annoyed but tried to diffuse the situation. I inserted myself into the conversation, “Sorry, would you prefer I stand along the other counter?”

The man, turned 90 degrees and eyed me from his periphery, “Why yes, yes I would.”

I moved to the right and mentally focused on letting the situation just roll away by studying the ambiguous counter situation. The baked goods and bottled drinks were lined up against the left side. I could see how I’d been trained to line up against these impulse foods. However, now safely in the right section, the crisis was averted, and my lesson was learned.

The few seconds of peace were shattered when I heard a new female voice shouting from behind me, “You are such a jerk. She didn’t know which line to stand in and you just yelled at her for practically no reason!” Both the man and I turned around to see a woman running and yelling towards us, presumably someone the man knew was coming to fight in my defense. The man stood his ground and quickly returned fire, “If you come here more than once, you should know how to line up against this counter.”

The exchange continued, voices escalated, gestures flew everywhere.

I honestly don’t remember the rest of the conversation because I was frozen in shock. I wondered what unlucky alternative reality I had just landed in. They continued to gesture and shout, still referring to me in the third person, while the entire cafe went silent to watch the confrontation unfold.

I looked to the barista for help only to see his exasperated, “Oh no, not again” look. You’ve got to be kidding – this had happened more than once? Eventually, the barista and I made eye contact. He mouthed, “Medium latte?” to which I nodded and shrunk to the waiting area while the couple continued to duke it out, not realizing that I was no longer there.

For the last three years, I’ll admit to mentally referring to that Red Rock man as just, “crazy guy” in my head. When I am forced to walk within his line of sight, I look straight ahead and make no sudden movements. If he is directly ahead of me in line, I will feign indecisiveness to let someone else pass in front of me. Our UX team does occasional ad hoc recruiting from Red Rock and in a whispered voice, I’ve instructed them, “See that guy? Under absolutely no circumstances should you ask that guy if he has fifteen minutes to look at the Meebo bar or an advertisement – he is off limits.”

Last Friday, the weather turned warm and Red Rock was exceptionally busy. I was craving an iced drink before my next meeting. The two girls behind me in line were talking about how unfair it was that their friend’s boyfriend wouldn’t allow their friend to join them that night. An elderly man at the register was debating what flavors work best in an Italian soda. The barista recommended mango and vanilla.

“Elaine, when was the last time someone bought you a drink?” a voice from the past asked.

No, no. It couldn’t be.

I turned around slowly and sure enough, there was crazy guy standing behind the two young girls. He was looking straight at me. He even knew my name. I snapped into polite defense mode, “Oh, it happens, no worries. It might not happen at Red Rock, but I’ve had my share of bought drinks.” I smiled and hoped that would be the end of our conversation.

“Well, I want to buy you a drink. You come down here a lot and I’ve never seen anyone buy you a drink.”

The two girls stopped talking. No good. This was absolutely no good.

“Oh gosh, you don’t need to do that. Really, it’s okay. I’ve got a meeting in just a few minutes.”

“No, no, I want to. I try to do at least one good deed a week and this is it. I am going to buy you a drink.”

My eyes opened wide in fear. I begged, “Oh no, please don’t squander your good deed on me.”

He continued to insist. And when I got to the counter, he was already asking the two girls if he could cut between them so he could be first to put his money on the counter. He had an iced coffee. I had already calculated the easiest, quickest drink the baristas could prepare in hopes of increasing my odds of personal safety – iced tea. He paid.

So there we were – both waiting for our drink orders. My grandmother’s Midwest charm school lessons kicked in and I realized that, even in these circumstances, I should know the name of my iced tea benefactor. I extended my hand and initiated the formalities, “I’m Elaine.” He replied, “I’m Michael.” I stood there for a second registering that crazy guy had a name. I thanked Michael, the crazy guy, for the drink.

He started, “I’ve been watching you come down here for three years and watched you and Meebo grow. You seem more at ease and confident, like you’ve really grown into your role. And from what I’ve seen, Meebo’s doing well too.” Yes, it was a little awkward and I’m horrible at taking compliments. But at that moment, I was just thankful that he was speaking, not shouting. My social skills are by no means fantastic, but I thankfully spotted the easy deflection in front of me, “That’s kind of you to say. So what do you do?”

“I work in computer hardware.” I asked him for more details about his profession, maintaining the conversation until our drinks arrived. He talked about his company, his role in the company, and how appreciative he was to have stability in the midst of an unsteady economy.

And then from out of nowhere, he inserted, “When I returned from Afghanistan, my company thankfully saw the recession coming.”

We finished the professional train of thought and I returned to the odd insertion, asking carefully, “What were you doing in Afghanistan?” He confirmed my suspicion, “I was a soldier in Afghanistan…”

I expected him to end there but he took a breath and his tenor softened, “And when I came to California, I was a little gruff and I had a lot of tension. I probably didn’t behave as well as I should have. But, thankfully, I’ve worked at it and I’m a lot better now.” And in his own way, he had just apologized.

I didn’t know how to respond, shocked, as I had been three years ago. I’d never held a grudge, I’d never expected, or even hoped for any closure from that long ago incident. I’d just accepted his presence as part of my everyday scenery. And now, I realized to what great lengths he had gone to make this apology.

Our iced drinks arrived.

“Thank you for that” I said clumsily, half referring to the drink and half referring to his brave gesture. I motioned that I should head back and said good-bye, still internalizing what had just happened.

Back at Meebo, I snapped this picture of Michael’s iced tea to remember the moment and then headed into the next meeting.

Sep 02

a design book recommendation in tomato season

When I was in senior in college, I grew tomato plants illegally from our dorm roof by climbing out the window to step to a small row of potted cherry tomatoes just out of sight. A few months later, I graduated and moved the tomatoes to my first apartment’s tiny balcony space. However, now the tomatoes were clearly in sight and the hodgepodge of plastic pots just weren’t cutting it. I headed to the nursery for a plant and pot upgrade.

I must have spent an awful amount of time deliberating over terra cotta. At some point, an observant sales person introduced herself and asked about my project. I said I wanted my balcony garden to look better. Expecting to be upsold to a premium glazed terra cotta, she instead said that my current approach was entirely wrong – my dozen pots were too small for the balcony. Instead, I should invest in one or two big, big pots. Then, I should focus on contrasting textures and colors such as pairing the pointy leaves of a yucca tree with a tall and round ceramic pot and spiky grasses.

The nursery assistant I met that day probably had decades and decades of container and landscape gardening experience and it showed in her clear-cut visual language. Since then, I’ve been surprised at how hard it is to find any resources that outline logical, systematic approaches for design evaluation — whether it’s in the garden, in art, or online.

But about six months ago, I stumbled across this book that did just that — attempted to move beyond vague, intuitive language such as “appealing” and “well-balanced” to a systematic, logical description of compositions like, “When two distinctly different objects are isolated from everything else and positioned side-by-side, the impulse to compare and contrast is almost an automatic reflex.”

Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement by Leonard Koren is pretty niche (you probably guessed that by reading the title already). And the low Amazon ratings might scare you off a bit. However, after reading it a few months ago, I keep recommending it to product-oriented people I know and thinking about it when I’m looking at wires or mockups at Meebo. The exact premise for the book goes like this…

2,500 years ago, Greek politicians created systematic communication techniques such as style, memorability, and delivery to convey their message, get loyalty, and win votes. However, communication is not just limited to writing and speaking. Today’s florists, set designers, and visual merchandisers know that arrangements are not just about aesthetics, they are also communicating information through cultural references and symbolism (e.g. wilted flowers and rotting fruit convey deterioration, alcohol and desserts mean sensual indulgence). However, while communication has been a field of study for thousands and thousands of years, object arrangement remains a largely intuitive and untaught discipline today. Koren suggests that if arranging objects is tied to communication, then we should be able to leverage the previous knowledge and apply a tried-and-true rhetoric to object arrangement today.

Even if you aren’t entirely sold on the premise of object composition as a strong form of communication, the collection of still-life compositions is really amazing. I’m guessing that Koren spent years and years collecting the example compositions for the remaining two-thirds of his book. Each painted composition has a one-page analysis where Koren practices what he preaches — specifically dissecting each the object arrangement into eight dimensions such as metaphor, alignment, coherence, and hierarchy.

I recognize that this isn’t going to be a best-seller book any time soon, it’s not even fantastic bedside reading material. However, it is definitely one of my favorite resources on my design bookshelf and I think it is worth sharing, especially if you are working with a team of designers on a day-to-day basis.

Jan 06

save the durango blotter

A combination of the New Years and bloggers with more holiday free time means one thing: an onslaught of top ten lists. And with this year rounding out the end end of a decade (I’m ignoring the 2009/2010 decade end debate for a second), the top ten lists have been especially prevalent. Your feed reader has probably been glowing with top ten goodness.

However, what I consider to be the best end-of-year list is: 1) most likely something you’ve never encountered and 2) potentially at risk of extinction in 2010.

Better than top ten best/worst movies, top ten tech trends, or even top ten divorce settlements… I’d like to introduce the Durango, Colorado (population 13,922) end-of-year police blotter report.

Unlike most larger-than-life, world-record-breaking, best-of top ten lists, the Durango Herald blotter round-up is full of slow-town, we-are-what-we-are charm. This is a Southwest town that entertains itself with winter belt sand races and where four-wheel drive Subarus may well enjoy the highest resale value in the country.

The Durango Herald publishes the police blotter each day and at the end of the year, they consolidate the entire list into their most noteworthy blotter events. According to my father who lives in Durango, this may be the final year of this annual tradition. He has informed me of a recent feud triggered by police deparment budget cuts between the Durango Police Department and the Durango Herald. The police department is no longer feeding daily reports to the Herald. To many in Durango, the blotter report is the highlight of the Durango Herald and with subscriptions at risk, the Herald has a lot at stake and is leading a protest.

You have to scan the blotter report in its entirety to appreciate its small-town charm. Loud dogs, drunken misunderstandings, and nosy neighbors seemed to irk Durango residents the most in 2009. However, these were my favorites that made me want to (temporarily) toss Silicon Valley aside and move to a place where the police spend their time responding to unruly Yahtzee players:

  • Jan. 5 6:47 p.m., A man and a woman were involved in an argument and an underwear-throwing contest in the lower 100 block of Pine Lane.
  • Jan. 7 5:23 a.m. A woman called 911 to report her television fell off a cabinet, and she needed someone to pick it up for her in the 800 block of Goeglein Gulch Road.
  • Feb. 15 5:58 p.m. A woman called 911 to request a priest to perform an exorcism on County Road 240.
  • March 13 3:47 p.m. A man reported finding a “living room” in his Dumpster in the 600 block of East Eighth Avenue.
  • March 29 11:36 a.m. A man in a city park was attempting to light a campfire in the 2900 block of East Third Avenue. Officers determined he was practicing his survival skills.
  • July 15 1:19 a.m. There was intermittent yelling in the 2500 block of Delwood Avenue. Police found people playing Yahtzee. They were asked to keep it down.
  • Aug. 22 7:04 a.m. A man had been sitting on a bench since 5:30 a.m. in the 200 block of East Park Avenue. Police responded and learned the man was doing tai chi.
  • Sept. 4 6:51 p.m. A man was pacing and sweating and acting strangely near the 200 block of Woodcrest Drive in Durango West I. He was wearing black pants and a black vest. A deputy responded and learned the man had been jogging and was wearing a weight vest.

Official 2009 Durango Herald Police Report >>

You can voice your support in the Durango Herald article comments section. Or, more likely, you can just take a moment to enjoy a glimpse into a town with a slower pace of life and a good sense of humor.