Monday, November 29, 2010

The 4-Hour Workweek - Chapter 4 Comfort Challenge: Learn to Eye Gaze

I'm currently in the middle of reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.  So far it's good, but mostly just mental preparation and not much useful skills yet.  I'm trying to do each of the recommended activities so I can get the most out of the book.

Chapter 4's comfort challenge is to learn to eye gaze.  Basically I had to "practice gazing into the eyes of others."  This is the end of the second day of this challenge and I learned more than I expected I would.

Lessons Learned
  • A lot of people don't make eye contact.  Most service people such as your grocery cashier don't make eye contact.  I tried to catch the gaze of one cashier and I couldn't grab it until she handed me the receipt.
  • I don't do well at eye contact.  I tend to stare off at nothing.
  • One of two things is true.  1) People are nicer to you when you make eye contact.  Or 2) you are nicer to people when you make eye contact.  I found that strangers and coworkers were more friendly when I made eye contact.  It might be because I act nicer when I'm looking directly at someone so they are nicer back.  I'm not sure where the friendliness originates, but it's definitely there.
Based on this quick experiment, I'd like to continue working on my eye contact.  I think it will help me build stronger relationships more quickly.

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    Book Review: Don't Make Me Think!

    I just finished Don't Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug.  Before reading this book I was a little skeptical about how useful it would be.  It has high ratings on Amazon, but it was published in 2000.  A lot has changed on the web in the last ten years so I thought the concepts would be outdated.

    To my surprise, this book was still very applicable.  The concepts are timeless and I suspect that the book will still be useful in another ten years.  I liked this book because it was straightforward and no nonsense.  It was just practical advice on making web sites as usable as possible by understanding how people interpret and scan web pages and by using conventions that people expect to see.

    The main concepts that I took out of this book include:
    • An understanding of how people scan websites.  The main purpose of the site should be obvious as well as where to begin.
    • Brevity is key.  No one is going to read a lengthy description of your site.  They want something short and concise.
    • Proper navigation.  It should be obvious and consistent between pages.
    • The importance of good design of the homepage.  Your home page will get the most traffic and should be well thought out, focused, and easy to use.
      • Every home page should have
        • Site identity and mission
        • Site hierarchy (persistent navigation)
        • Search
        • Teases like content and feature promotions
        • Timely content
        • Deals
        • Short-cuts
        • Registration (if used)
    • The importance of usability testing.  Usability testing doesn't have to be a huge project.  It can be inexpensive and just as meaningful as expensive testing if done correctly.  Usability testing throughout the design process will save time, money, and energy over the course of the development of the site.

    This was a quick read.  It took me two days to read it, but the author mentions that he wrote it such that it could be read in a long plane ride.  The website doesn't seem to exist anymore, but the book's resources are now located on Steve Krug's website.

    I would recommend this book to anyone interested in practical advice on web usability.  This book doesn't cover all the concepts in web usability, but it gives enough information to be extremely useful without getting lost in useless noise.

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Book Review: Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML

    So, that first blog post was pretty emo...

    It's been a while since that first post and things are mostly the same.  Things at work are going slightly better, but I still have a desire for something more.  I want something more independent and fun.  Something where I can travel more and spend less time stuck in a cubicle.

    So almost a year after my initial post I'm doing something about it.  Realistically, I can't just start working as a web developer.  I don't have the full skill set.  My background is such that I should be able to come up to speed quickly.  I have a plan to read some books about HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, MySQL, etc.  Once I have a good knowledge base I'll work on a portfolio and make a business plan.

    The first book I read was Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML.  I took a HTML class in high school and I'm surprised at how much I actually remember.  The book is different from other textbooks in that it is very readable.  It has a conversational tone that is very easy to follow.  The book is basically a continuous example that you're working through.  The combination of reading and doing really solidifies the knowledge.  I found that I was remembering concepts without any memorization effort.

    The first six chapters were on basic HTML.  A lot of this was repeat for me, but the book was still entertaining.  Chapter 7 introduced XHTML.  I didn't have any experience with XHTML, but it turns out it's not really much different from HTML.  The transition was fairly easy.  From what I've read it sounds like XHTML wasn't really ever widely accepted.  It looks like people are holding out for HTML5, but that topic wasn't covered in the book because it was published before HTML5 was well known.  Chapters 8 through 12 cover CSS.  I had no prior knowledge of CSS.  When I took HTML class all styling was done through HTML.  CSS is a much better way to do it.  HTML covers the structure of the page and CSS takes care of the styling.  The same HTML page can be transformed with a different CSS stylesheet.  Chapters 13 and 14 cover tables and forms.  This is done through XHTML but can be styled using CSS.

    This book was a perfect introduction to HTML and CSS.  I was able to get through the book in about 2.5 weeks but I think it could be done more quickly.  This isn't a book you can just read through.  You absolutely must do the examples to get the full learning experience.  I wish the book had more information about design principles and what colors and styling looks good together, but that wasn't really the intention of the book.

    My next book to read is Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition.  Stay tuned for that review soon.