My Onboarding Talk for Mission UX

Our local UX meetup put on a conference last week and I talked about my experience working on onboarding for Firefox. It was really strange to be talking at a conference again. Back in my videoblogging days I did it often — including speaking at SXSW — but I haven’t done that in many years. Also, I wrapped up my work on onboarding and switched to working on our search experience a few months ago. But still, it felt good to put the things I’ve learned together in a talk. Check out the slides and my notes at Notist.

And a quick note about the conference itself — I was super impressed. It was a really nice event and I enjoyed all the speakers and getting to meet people. I especially enjoyed hearing Dr. Laura Faulkner talk about her work “Beyond the Five-User Assumption.”

Also, thanks to @ProfClayton for the cool sketch notes above.

Ron Mueck

Rebecca and I went to the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art today. The big exhibit was new works by Ron Mueck. He creates these incredibly detailed and lifelike sculptures (mostly of people) that are either much smaller or much larger than the real thing.

I was only vaguely familiar with his work — as in it’s likely I skimmed this blog post once. Seeing it in person though was exhilarating. And the center piece, Couple under an Umbrella (2013), made me smile, and hopeful and happy. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Here are a few other photos from the exhibit.

St. Vincent

St. Vincent’s self-titled 2014 album has the kind of cover that would have stopped me in my tracks in a record shop as a teenager. It’s the kind of cover that looks so cool the music has to be interesting at the very least. Back then (mid 80s), sometimes that was about all you had to go on. If you were lucky maybe someone said they heard that it was good or you caught a song at a club. Plunking down eight bucks on a record was often a roll of the dice. A great album cover though was a huge signal. Joy Division and New Order’s great Peter Saville covers persuaded me to buy both at the same time.

St. Vincent came to me via a 2014 version of this. “Digital Witness” showed up in someone’s playlist that I was streaming and that album cover got me. I listened to it on repeat for months.

Later that year Rebecca and I saw her in concert twice. The things that struck me right away were the rehearsed gestures in her performance.

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I recognized them right away as akin to the gestural/ritual movement popular in the performance art world (at least the one I was a part of in the 90s). One of the first shows I was in was a movement piece about gay men dealing with AIDS. We had a whole section derived from a morning routine in front of a mirror and another one around bathing.

All of this goes to say that I was really excited to see her new show this past Thursday and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was just her on stage the whole time (somehow I didn’t read a review of the tour beforehand). The set consisted of curtains and lights revealing more and more of an empty stage.

After a quick blackout and costume change, she performed her latest album front to back in front of a video screen with colors and images from her new album artwork and videos. At one point a woman came out in a complete costume just to hand her another guitar (her own design). It reminded me of the time our stage manager swept the stage before the show each night, dressed in a nurse’s uniform.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that I thought this was the perfect distillation of what she’s been working towards over the last few years. It was a beautiful, singular statement — risky and bold. Apparently, this was also a bit divisive but like that article concludes, “The truth is that it was a total triumph.” And I didn’t miss the band. She’s such a bad ass with that guitar, that’s all you need.

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New Website

Late last year my friend Jen proposed that we use the new year as an opportunity to make over our personal websites. It’s something that I’ve done many times – burning down the previous thing in the process. And I’m never satisfied with it because I want it to be exciting and cutting edge and unique and and and… a bunch of things. Too many things. Then I end up feeling bad about it all and I go and buy a new domain where I’ll have less pressure to experiment because it won’t have my name on it. So two months ago I got excited by Jen’s idea but I started doing the same thing I always do (unsurprisingly producing the same result). Then I thought, just let your website be simple. Let it say a little about yourself, maybe have a portfolio (still on the to-do list) and maybe even blog again (I know that’s crazy but I still love blogs).

So I’ve re-burned it all down one more time and this is the result. It’s WordPress running an ever so slightly modified version of the Intergalactic 2 theme. I spent some time writing a bit about myself and I’m using my own photos in the headers. It’s not really cool or ground-breaking or even trying to use new techniques like CSS grid. That’s ok. It’s doing it’s job and I don’t have to spend a lot of time maintaining it. I’ll save the big ambition for another project I have in mind.

The one really new thing I did while putting all this together was make a logo for myself. You may be thinking that it looks like a drop-down menu button or a scroll bar arrow and you’d be right. It also makes an “M” and a “V.” As someone who designs software and who’s initials are MV, I think it’s on brand. I also like that you can reverse it over a photo and do things like this:

So this is my new website and this is my first (in a long time) blog post. Thanks for reading.

What if software defaulted to the most efficient route instead of the fastest?

As I’ve been driving around in my new Chevy Volt with an instrument panel that is all about efficiency, it’s become really noticeable that the battery drains much faster while driving on the highway at 65 or 70 mph. This is also true for regular combustion engines but it’s basically invisible if all you have is a tiny gas gauge.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that both Apple Maps and Google Maps (the car works with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) default to the fastest route; often having you drive more miles on the highway.

If, for example, I needed directions to a restaurant a few miles away, both Apple Maps and Google Maps send me on highway routes by default (9 miles and 7.9 miles respectively) all to save 1 – 3 minutes. If I take the direct route, it’s only about 5.4 miles. That’s a big difference.


But wait, there’s more. That made me wonder how much extra gas a trip like that uses. Let’s say I went 9 miles in a car that gets 33 mpg, where 7 miles was driven at 70 mph. I’d use about .341 gal of gas. The 7.9 mile route would have used about .307 gal. If I took the 5.4 mile route instead, I’d only use about .164 gal of gas. The shorter, slower route saves between .14 and .18 gal of gas. But here’s the thing, in the U.S. we average about 4 trips like this per day, per person. That’s 1.1 billion trips; 87% of which take place in a personal vehicle.

Software defaults are super important. People rarely change them (I work on Firefox – we see that all the time). This got me thinking about how big of a difference this default behavior could make. So making some wild guesses, here’s what I came up with. Let’s say my example route above is a worse case scenario. Maybe this kind of thing only happens 25% of the time and the amount of extra gas used is only .10 gallons. And then let’s say that 5% of our trips involve map directions from our phones. That gives me: 1.1 billion trips X 87% in personal vehicles = 957 million trips X 5% using maps directions = 47,850,000 trips X 25% where we’re sent on longer, faster routes = 11,962,500 times a day that we burn .1 extra gallons of gas = about 1.2 million gallons of gas per day. Which adds up to 438 millions gallons per year. Holy cow! And that’s just in the U.S.

If burning one gallon of gas puts about 8887g of C02 into the air, changing the default map behavior from fastest route to most efficient route could keep about 3.9 million metric tons of CO2 out of the air every year. That’s the equivalent of taking more than 800,000 cars off the road!

Of course my guess could be way off. Also, I’m sure lots of people prefer to save time rather than money. In my example above, the more efficient route might only save me 35 cents. But imagine if the software defaulted to efficient instead or highlighted the fact that you could save C02 by taking an alternate route. And imagine if all cars (and not just hybrids and electrics) encouraged you to drive efficiently. Tiny changes like that could make a huge downstream difference.

Chevy Volt

We’ve had our 2017 Chevy Volt for almost a month now and I love it. We just got our electric bill and I looked into how we’re doing. We’re using about an extra 13kWh each day. Here in San Antonio that works out to an additional $1.21/day. We’ve had a busy month with the car, taking some out of town trips that we don’t normally do so we’re on track to hit 1300 miles; 880 of them on electric power. That should put our cost per mile (electric + gas) at about 4.7 cents. If we’d bought a 50mpg hybrid instead we have spent slightly more – about 5 cents/mile. But the big difference is that we’ve only burned 10 gallons of gas where that 50mpg hybrid would have burned 26 gallons of gas! I think a typical month for us should be about 1000 miles; 850 of them on electric. Which would mean burning 3.5 gal of gas vs 20 gal of gas for a hybrid or 33 for the car this replaced. That’s pretty exciting!