Archive for October, 2011

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has a reputation for three things: long lines, long waits, seeming inefficiency. I probably could have paid my registration fees online and waited for the tag to arrive in the mail, but I had waited until the last possible minute to pay the fees and didn’t want to get pulled over by one of California’s finest.

I was prepared. I had a bottle of water and a book to read. I expected a long afternoon of it. Entering the large facility in Costa Mesa, I took my place at the end of the line where you get your number before waiting and waiting and waiting to be called to a “window” (really just a cleared spot on the counter that snaked around the middle of the warehouse-sized room).

Then I noticed a big blue and yellow kiosk and a sign that promoted self-serve vehicle registration. There were only 3 or 4 people in that line… I didn’t know if my paperwork would process without my being referred to a human helper, but I figured it was worth a shot. I moved to the shorter line at the kiosk.

Following the prompts on the touch screen, I placed my renewal notice under the red light beam so the barcode could be scanned. YAY! Appearing before my very eyes was all my information and a prompt asking me to indicate how I wanted to pay my fees: cash, e-check, or credit/debit card. Debit card. Insert. Swipe. Done! Out popped my registration card with the tag attached at one end. From another slot, a printed receipt. Wow! I was in and out of the DMV in under ten minutes with registration and tag in hand!

It seems all too rare that we have opportunity and cause to praise a government agency for being efficient and easy to do business with. Today, I was truly impressed by the small innovation of a registration-printing, tag-spewing kiosk.

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Change Resistant

Posted: October 5, 2011 by Nerdy Woman in Practical Ideas
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Recently, Facebook made a lot of changes to their user interface and they’ve promised more changes to come. The changes have met with some very harsh, well-deserved criticism. Oh, I’m sure they had focus groups who voiced their opinions of what needed to be changed, and beta testers who love taking apart Chinese puzzle boxes in their spare time.

Are Facebook critics screaming because we all are resistant to change, forever preferring that which is familiar to us? I’m sure the Facebook developers and decision makers believe that’s the problem and that given time, we’ll like the new interface. Are they going to undo the changes? Roll it back to how it was before? Probably not. They’ve invested a lot of time and money in what they believe is a better interface.

Was the old interface a little bit kludgy? a little bit unwieldy if you have hundreds, thousands of “friends”? Yep. No doubt about it. But it was fairly easy to figure out. Back in the day, software developers strived to make their software “intuitive to use.” This concept seems to have been forgotten by the Facebook developers.

Hearing the words “that’s the way it’s always been done here” makes me want to scream. I know that, at some point in the past, someone came up with a “brilliant” method for completing a task or organizing a project. I am always the first to encourage a rethink as new technologies or other changes affect that beloved and familiar procedure.

But the internet is a tool. And while it’s true that you can’t visit too many websites these days without an Adobe Flash Player add-in, it’s time for a little “old skool” thinking.

1. Is it intuitive to use? Could Grandma get on this website, find her way around, and look forward to coming back because the site didn’t make her feel incompetent?

2. Is navigation easy to understand? No mystery-meat icons instead of words, no need to click more than 3 or 4 times to get where you want to go? I have no doubt that Facebook would have met with less resistance if they’d left the title bar alone. FB users all knew home, profile, account sequence in the upper right corner.

3. Is it easy to customize the user interface? Not all sites need this, but a site like Facebook definitely does. It seems that the newsfeed/home page has become much more “one size fits all” Even my web-based e-mail screen allows me to group, categorize, sort, and filter information.

I have no doubt the Facebook world is in mourning the loss of the friendlier site FB once was. Take heart, my friends, a year from now, we’ll be used to it. We won’t think it’s any better than we do now, but we’ll have learned to live with it.

Last word: I hope website designers everywhere are taking notes and learning something from Facebook’s introduction of “new coke.”

Addiction

Posted: October 3, 2011 by Nerdy Woman in Perspectives
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My name is Colleen K. and I am a nicotine addict. Recently, I was informed that I am not allowed to smoke in my home or anywhere on the premises. Sure enough, it’s right there in my lease. Oh. Okay. Then I’ll stop smoking. Uh-huh.

Smoking is not a habit like biting one’s fingernails. It’s a habit like using heroin or cocaine is a habit.

According to the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse, smoking not only results in nicotine addiction but also decreases monoamine oxidase (MAO). MAO breaks down dopamine, a “feel good” chemical in the brain. So smokers experience heightened levels of dopamine and “feel good” every time they smoke. Unfortunately, the effects wear off quickly so smokers need frequent “fixes.”

If I were addicted to alcohol or narcotics (other than nicotine), there’d be 30-day detox programs that I could check myself into within minutes of making a call. If I were an alcoholic, I wouldn’t be required to get a “fix” at least 25 feet from the door of a restaurant. In fact, I could go right in, sit right down, order my fix from the waiter, and enjoy it right there at the table.

Some of you may say that’s different because you aren’t affected by secondhand drinking. I’m sure there are families all across the country who would disagree. They’ve lost loved ones because someone got a liquid fix and then got behind the wheel of a car.

It seems the alcoholic beverage lobby is much stronger than the tobacco lobby. I’m not suggesting we return to the days of prohibition. Obviously, that did not stop the country from drinking, it just established a large crime base to get us our booze.

I also would agree that smoking is bad for me and those around me. I recently found a stop smoking program that makes sense. Dr. Oz’s program requires me to walk (something I’m already doing) and take prescribed Wellbutrin to increase dopamine levels and use nicotine patches. I’m talking to my doctor to get the prescriptions for both. It’s a six-month program. I think I can do this.