Now that I’m no longer with Memory Lane/Classmates, I no longer have photo opportunities on my bus commute, over Elliott Bay, etc. I’ve finally uploaded the last of those to Flickr. Here are some highlights:

Crow attacks Bald Eagle, from my window at work:
Eagle, seagull, crow

Canada Geese, from my window at work:
Canada geese

Seagull, head-on, from the bus:
Seagull, head-on

Seagull on train, from my window at work:
Seagull on train, take two

My old cube. When we moved I went from an office to a cube, but this view, and the neighborhood, was a complete joy.
My old cube


Making all your points with graphs

James Hrynyshyn, a science journalist, pointed out on the Class M blog that a recent climate research graph was poorly designed.

The paper, Drought-Induced Reduction in Global Terrestrial Net Primary Production from 2000 Through 2009, demonstrated that anomalous CO2 and anomalous NPP (net primary production, described by Robert Simmon of NASA’s Earth Observatory as “a measure of the amount of carbon a plant takes from the atmosphere and uses to grow”) were negatively correlated. In other words, not only was increased CO2 not acting as “plant food,” it was undermining NPP overall.

In order to demonstrate just how strong this correlation was, the researchers inverted CO2 emissions on their graph:

Original NPP and inverted CO2 graph as shared on Class M science blog
Click for larger image.

As Hrynyshyn pointed out, this could readily lead to misunderstanding by non-scientists (or the occasional absent-minded scientist) to appear as though the CO2 anomaly was positively correlated to the NPP anomaly, instead of the opposite. That would be a significant misunderstanding, and in a politically controversial area such as climate change, a serious problem.

Robert Simmon, of NASA’s Earth Observatory, provided an alternative graph, clearly demonstrating the negative correlation:

Robert Simmon's version of NPP and inverted CO2 graph, as shared on NASA's Earth Observatory blog
Click for larger image.

But if I understand this correctly, the original graph had a useful purpose, it just went about it poorly. The point of the original graph was not to mislead about the positive/negative aspect of the correlation, but to demonstrate the strong level of correlation. This is a useful visualization in the right context, you just can’t do it by itself.

So why not add a third line? Something which showed the actual anomalous NPP and CO2 numbers with differently colored solid lines, as shown in the 2nd version, and added a clearly different third line (perhaps dotted, but in the same color as the CO2 to associate them), labeled CO2 (Inverted to demonstrate absolute correlation).

Revised NPP, CO2, and inverted CO2 graph, showing both actual data and degree of correlation
Click for larger image.

If you show the actual numbers clearly, then equally clearly distinguish the inversion, you can make both points without misleading, or allowing your graph to be misused.

Note: I commented this suggestion to the Earth Observatory post, and David Powell, another commentator, expressed concern the line could still be misunderstood. Powell wrote, “people would assume that a third line meant a third set of data and not just the same data plotted differently.” To show how I think it’s possible to avoid that, I created this example, which I think clearly distinguishes the inversion from the actual data.


Simplicity is not a goal but a tool

Simplicity in design is not a goal but a tool. The goal is the need of the moment: to sell a product, to express an opinion, to teach a concept, to entertain. While elegance and optimal function in design frequently overlaps with simplicity, there are times that simplicity is not only not possible but hurts usability. Yet many designers do not understand this, and over the years, I’ve seen the desire to “keep it simple, stupid,” lead to poor UX.

I was therefore glad to see Francisco Inchauste’s well-thought, longer version of Einstein’s “as simple as possible, but no simpler” remark.

From the column:

As an interactive designer, my first instinct is to simplify things. There is beauty in a clean and functional interface. But through experience I’ve found that sometimes I can’t remove every piece of complexity in an application. The complexity may be unavoidably inherent to the workflow and tasks that need to be performed, or in the density of the information that needs to present. By balancing complexity and what the user needs, I have been able to continue to create successful user experiences.

Plus, as I’ve commented before, messy is fun!

[Cross-posted from UXtraordinary.]


The biggest barrier to UX implementation

My response to a LinkedIn UX Professionals question, Why they don’t like to spend or invest in the User Experience tasks?

My personal experience has been that ignorance is the largest barrier to UX implementation. While there are many exceptions, too often do developers, marketers, executive management, or others with a large level of control over UX strategy and tactical development feel that user experience is simply “common sense.” They believe that they are users, and therefore they have insight into the process. This is natural.

It’s the responsibility of UX professionals to educate them and evangelize the value of user experience. (Though it’s nice if you can get executive support, it’s frequently not there.) At my current company, I approached this from several angles:

  • I held one-on-one meetings with stakeholders and others, seeking to understand their needs and start a conversation about possible UX solutions.
  • I wrote and presented brown bags, open to all, on subjects like Why Taxonomy Matters: Taxonomy and the User Experience, in order to promote understanding of UX and its considerations.
  • I introduced concepts designed to make people think more from the user perspective. For example, like many sites we’re interested in user-generated content. I expanded this to user-generated experience (a concept I’d already developed from previous social media work and user analysis), and measured/discussed user-generated activity. The point, of course, was that thinking about user activity required thinking about user flow and perspective. Eventually key stakeholders were talking about UGA as a matter of course, and we even discovered ways to convert some UGA into UGC.

This was successful enough that UX became a standard consideration in not just design, but product strategy. It is of course beyond your control what others do with your information – but you have to provide it!

People understand success. Show your co-workers and management how UX solves their problems. Provide numbers, using performance indicators that matter to your audience. Present before/after case studies. Remember to focus on solutions, not problems (never show a problem for which you don’t have a suggested solution). In short, provide the best possible user experience for your internal customers.


Ahmed Kamal, the person who posed the question, responded positively to my comment:

Alex O’Neal, I raise my hat! I appreciate it really! your comments are really touching, reflecting a real long experience, comprehensive and concluding the problem and how to solve it!!

Aw, shucks :–)

[Cross-posted on UXtraordinary.]


New York Times: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

The dangers of PowerPoint-driven thought in the military. From the New York Times article:

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month.

…”It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

Of course, one can argue that the tool itself is not responsible for its misuse. What not to do, and the corollary better techniques, can be found on Edward Tufte’s site. There’s some useful commentary in addition to Tufte’s cogent remarks.


Grappling with the hour-glass ceiling

Off site comment capture:

Schott’s Vocab , The New York Times, discussed the “hour-glass ceiling” imposed on women unable to meet the time demand required by their employers to move forward in their career. Someone wrote a response I found ignorant and potentially misleading to others, so I had to respond.

  1. Social roles are a mix of nature and nurture, and while they are negotiated to some extent between two people, they are also imposed on people by society around them. It is not easy for a man and a woman to “negotiate” an equal amount of time for their children, as both are judged by society. This further hurts opportunities for career advancement.
  2. Time is a limited resource. Companies who regularly require significantly more time than the regular work week of their employees are stealing not just hours, but opportunities and quality of life. They make it harder for employees to not only live their lives, but find alternative employment with reasonable hours. When such time is required for career advancement, they are basically requiring the employee to agree to be a victim, in order to contribute the most they can to society and the workplace.
  3. While mates may be chosen, they can also die, develop diseases, or simply prove to have lied about their willingness to lend support prior to marriage. Or two healthy, mutually supportive mates may choose to throw their weight behind one person to advance in their career, with the other person restricting their hours to the normal work week to care for the young. In a world where their employers take shameless advantage of them and in which men traditionally are more successful, whom do you think they will choose to support?
  4. You can’t have everything, but you should have a chance to succeed. Yes, if you have children you have fewer resources for other things. But if someone attempts to steal from the minimal resources you have, including time, that’s still wrong.
  5. It’s not necessarily so that family trumps career morally. A doctor, for example, may save lives on a regular basis. Even if it were morally correct to choose family over career, basking in the superiority of that choice is neither virtuous nor useful, and doesn’t increase your ability to contribute to society.
  6. For many, the desire to excel at work is a strong drive not because they want the marks of success, but because people feel good when they are able to use their skills and talents to their fullest capacity. This is neither materialistic nor immoral, and in fact it can be argued it’s immoral *not* to make the best use of your gifts possible.

If smart, talented women must continue to choose between passing on their talents genetically (quite a lottery, there!) or in the workplace, then society is losing out.


Rationalizing inequity and harassment

Comment to Salon’s Military rape a result of “feminist pressures”?:

Yes, it’s fascinating how people rationalize their prejudice. My father served in WWII, Korea, and VietNam; he saw the pre- and post-Executive Order 9981 U.S. Army learn to deal with integrating African Americans into the armed forces. (EO 9981 was Truman’s desegregation of the U.S. military, eliminating all black units and boot camps and requiring equality of opportunity, etc., without regard to “race, color, religion or national origin.”) LtC. O’Neal brought me up to believe what he said he saw time and time again—that bigotry was not only wrong but stupid, that much more was gained through mutual respect and giving everyone the opportunity to contribute.

Nonetheless, people argued back then that it was wrong to expect whites to put up with blacks, and wrong to ask blacks to try to do what supposedly only whites were capable of doing.

Parker’s column is the same kind of self-blind rationalization as that. Women and men both share and differ in our strengths; there are different kinds of adaptation going on than that between white and black. But to say we should deny half the population the chance to contribute, and deny ourselves the benefit of that contribution, is not only wrong, but stupid.

African Americans & Women in the U.S. Army:

Article about female reservists in Desert Storm:

P.S. Funny quote from the third URL. Maj. Gena Bonini talking about supply raids:

“We were able to get every soldier in the battalion brand new hunting-type knives. I personally didn’t understand the popularity of the item, but all the guys thought they were the end-all and be-all of being a tough guy. They just had to have these big — we’re talking 12-inch-long — knives that strapped to their legs.”

Methinks Freud might have had a comment or two on that ;–)


Why anti-gay, anti-ECUSA sentiment is misplaced

Note: This blog (and a few others along similar lines) resulted in my losing my position as network administrator for Christ Church Episcopal in Plano, Texas. So you have a picture of the place, Christ Church is the most-attended Episcopal parish in the US, with a commensurately large staff and campus, and from what I’ve seen is already run differently from traditional Episcopal practices; the sermons don’t follow liturgical readings, and it’s pretty evangelical. Also, the Cardinal Rector established the parish himself, rather than being hired by church members to serve at an existing parish. It’s therefore formed very close to his personal beliefs, and is almost a “cult of personality,” in the words of a local priest. In other words, this is not “Catholic Lite,” but closer to its Protestant brethren.But I’m better off. Any “Christian” group that promotes exclusion is nothing of the kind.

This is a response to the conservatives outraged by the election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson to Bishop Coadjutor in the Episcopal Church. The ratification of Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire has provided an opportunity for exclusivity and self-aggrandizement in many conservative parishes. Mind, I think most of those involved are sincere in their beliefs, however mistaken; it’s the people leading the movement whose motives I distrust. For a succinct explanation for this mistrust, see this quote from philosopher Richard Rorty:

The Protestant and Catholic churches of Western Europe did not exactly make war on the Jews during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. But they did keep up a steady barrage of contempt, combined with support for politicians running on anti-Semitic platforms, and with silence concerning the sadistic pogroms-cum-gang-rapes which provided weekend amusement for the devoutly religious peasants of Central and Eastern Europe. After the Holocaust, these churches fell all over themselves expounding the difference between their own religiously based anti-Semitism and the Nazis’ racially based anti-Semitism. But the Jews have had difficulty appreciating this distinction. They think, correctly in my opinion, that if the Christian clergy had, in the century or so before Hitler, simply ceased to mention the Jews in their sermons, the Holocaust could not have happened.

There is, after all, not much basis for anti-Semitism in the Christian Scriptures. Its prominent role in the history of Christianity is the contribution of Christian ecclesiastical organizations. Those organizations would not have been unfaithful to Scripture if they had abstained from incitement to contempt and to sadistic brutality against Jews, but they would have lacked a way of bolstering the bigoted exclusivism that was one of their chief sources of money and power….

…Many gays and lesbians who are themselves religious believers might well agree…that the homophobes have the right to bring religious reasons into the public square in order to urge the passage of laws to ensure that homosexuals cannot get married, can be discriminated against in employment and housing, and can be arrested for having sex. But they find it strange that such a large proportion of time, money and energy of the Christian churches in the U.S. is devoted to this purpose. They are struck by the fact that religious reasons are now pretty much the only reasons brought forward in favor of treating them with contempt. Except for the mindless gay-bashing thugs, their fellow-churchgoers are the only people who still think that sodomy is a big deal. So gays and lesbians might reasonably conclude that the reason Christian pulpits have becomne the principal source of homophobia is the same as the reason that they were the principal source of European anti-Semitism—namely, that encouraging exclusivist bigotry brings money and power to ecclesiastical organizations.

From Religion in the Public Square: A Reconsideration, by Richard Rorty. Spring 2003, Journal of Religious Ethics 31.1:141-149.

Click on a topic to see the response:

  1. It’s against the teachings of the Episcopal Church.
  2. It’s against the teachings of the Bible.
  3. A gay bishop will not be able to teach the value of a traditional (heterosexual) marriage. Also, some dioceses are already refusing to ordain priests who believe only a traditional union is a valid one.
  4. A gay priest taints the priesthood, and seriously undermines or outright invalidates any sacraments or other priestly work he performs.
  5. While the quiet ordination of homosexual priests is tolerable, the open confirmation of a bishop will hurt the Church spiritually and in the eyes of the public.
  6. The majority of church members are anti-homosexual and will leave. Also, if we accept the majority are anti-homosexual, shouldn’t the bishops obey the masses?
  7. Even without Biblical support, homosexuality is just unnatural and therefore wrong.
  8. It will make the work of the clergy more difficult.
  9. We do not want to appear aligned with other groups supporting homosexual rights.

  1. It’s against the teachings of the Episcopal Church.

    Slowly but surely, the Episcopal church has been reforming its views and treatment of homosexual church members. The process has been remarkably similar to the change of policy for the ordination of female priests, which also threatened a split in the church in the 1970’s.

    From the 1976 General Convention:

    Resolution A-69: It is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and
    pastoral concern and care of the Church.

    Resolution A-71: This General Convention expresses its conviction that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens, and calls upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality.

    In 1990 Bishop Righter ordained a priest in an openly gay committed relationship, and a hearing was called to determine if this was heresy. The charges were dismissed, and more openly homosexual priests were allowed to be ordained.

    In 1993 Bishop Otis Charles of Utah came out after his retirement, and spoke movingly of feeling “diminished” by the Church, particularly during the debates on the issue. In accordance with accepted theology dating back to St. Augustine, that Charles had hidden his homosexuality could not invalidate his work as a bishop; the personal lifestyle or sanctity of clergy cannot invalidate the sacraments they perform.

    In 1994 88 bishops signed a statement that gay men, living in committed relationships “marked by faithfulness and life-giving holiness” should be allowed ordination.

    So it seems that the Episcopal Church has been accepting gay men into the priesthood for some time; what’s changed now?

  2. It’s against the teachings of the Bible.

    This is the argument of “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Many scriptural references used in this argument do not even mention homosexuality. Instead, they exhort the reader against impurity, idolatry, obscenity, and so forth. The classification of homosexuality as part of the impure behavior is recent, and begs the question. There is a passage in Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:9, specifically mentioning “homosexual offenders”; but this is the same letter in which Paul says that women should cover their heads when praying, but men should not, because man “is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.” Paul’s attitude on gender and homosexuality was an uncritical acceptance of the culture of his time and place. How can we uncritically accept such cultural relics? Why is it okay to leave behind some, and retain others?

    You will hear people offering the following quote from Jesus:

    Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. (Matthew 5:17-18)

    However, the quotes from Paul are not part of the law of which Jesus speaks. As well, cultural change has been accepted in changing the law. What Episcopalian—or any Christian—do you know that walks 30 paces outside the community to bury their feces, or quarantines women during menstruation? Yet these are “jots” of the law. We choose what to retain and what to discard in the spirit of the law.

  3. A gay bishop will not be able to teach the value of a traditional (heterosexual) marriage. Also, some dioceses are already refusing to ordain priests who believe only a traditional union is a valid one.

    This is another instance of begging the question, so let’s take it from two possible answering views:

    • Only heterosexual marriage is acceptable and right. In this instance, a gay bishop is no less capable of teaching about traditional marriage than a celibate bishop.
    • The important aspect of marriage is faithful and loving commitment in the eyes of God, not the gender of those involved. Using this, we describe a nun as “marrying” Christ. And this is a telling description, because marriage is very similar to faith, and teaches a great deal about faith to the participants. It is an act of free will, dedicating yourself to something more than yourself, allowing you to demonstrate faith in almost every aspect of your life. (I do not speak solely of religious faith here. Faith is an act applied to ourselves, others, God, science, nations, ideologies, art, and much more.) To refuse the opportunity to partake and learn from marriage to people who could not choose their sexuality is not only exclusive and narrow, but cruel.
  4. A gay priest taints the priesthood, and seriously undermines or outright invalidates any sacraments or other priestly work he performs.

    Some time ago this question was addressed by the early Christians. Some believed that sacraments performed by sinful priests were not valid. The “founding fathers,” who realized that there were no perfect priests (or anyone else, for that matter), decided that the office was sacred even if the person was not. In other words, not the priest but God made the sacrament valid.

    A priest wrote a letter to the editor of BBC News addressing just this, and explained it very well indeed:

    To oppose Canon Robinson’s consecration is one thing; but to declare his ministry invalid is, quite technically, schismatic if not heretical. Ever since the Donatist movement in the 4th century, the main body of the church has held, that the moral character of a minister has no effect on the validity of his sacramental ministry. Some conservatives seem to be willing to jettison any article of the faith rather than their negative view of homosexuality.

    From Have Your Say: Can Anglicans resolve the gay clergy row?, letter from the Rev. Tobias Haller, U.S.A. BBC News UK edition,

  5. While the quiet ordination of homosexual priests is tolerable, the open confirmation of a bishop will hurt the Church spiritually and in the eyes of the public.

    The question is not what is perceived by the public, but what is right. If it is right to include homosexual men and women in the priesthood and to bless their unions, then it would be a deep spiritual wound to resist that. If it’s wrong, but done in the belief it is right, then the Church’s spirituality is still intact because they are doing the best they can. The community of leaders in the Church are not making this decision because it’s a popular one.

  6. The majority of church members are anti-homosexual and will leave. Also, if we accept the majority are anti-homosexual, shouldn’t the bishops obey the masses?

    The Church is not a democracy and never has been. At no point has the majority opinion been recommended as the best way to decide the ethics of an issue.

    Some people will leave. Some people will stay and learn. Some will join. None of these actions should determine the moral decision made by the bishops.

  7. Even without Biblical support, homosexuality is just unnatural and therefore wrong.

    Let’s examine the word “unnatural,” which has several meanings. The first, against natural law, would seem to imply this is a result of environment over genetic tendencies. Yet there are animal species displaying bisexual and homosexual behavior, measurable neurological differences between homosexual and heterosexual men, and twin studies which show identical twins are more likely to have the same sexual orientation than fraternal twins.

    The next, inconsistent or deviating from accepted customs or social norms, is applicable in some cultures but not others. Previous societies did not define “gay” and “straight” as we do, and in fact many societies took homosexuality and bisexuality as a matter of course. The behavior was used as a bond between military men, as a means for younger men/women to gain access to levels of society older men/women controlled, and promoted a society less likely to have internal conflict and more interested in supporting each other.

    Since sexual orientation is innate, it’s clearly not unnatural in the sense of contrived or artificial. Likewise, the last definition of unnatural, inhuman, or violating natural human emotion, has no application to a widespread, innate tendency with social value in those societies accepting it.

  8. It will make the work of the clergy more difficult.

    The Episcopal clergy should already have been dealing with these issues. In 1985 the 68th General Convention urged “each diocese of this Church to find an effective way to foster a better understanding of homosexual persons, to dispel myths and prejudices about homosexuality….” In 1988 the General Convention asked the clergy to speak out against violence against gays, and also to bear witness against the concept that AIDS is a punishment from God.

    In 1994 the Standing Commission on Human Affairs reported to the General Convention that “…In this Decade of Evangelism, we seem intent on alienating and keeping out one of the few identifiable groups of people who want to be welcomed in.” Going a step further, they asked that the church promote understanding of homosexuality, actively fight against local attempts to marginalize homosexuals, openly deplore “gay-bashing,” and call to task members promoting an anti-tolerant view.

    Apart from all of the above, when was it ever thought the work of the clergy was, or should be, made easier? Being Christ-like does not mean taking the comfortable way out on ethical issues….

  9. We do not want to appear aligned with other groups supporting homosexual rights.

    Appearances, like the opinions of the majority, should not be a deciding factor in determining the “rightness” of an issue.


Animated horse

One of my earliest web gigs, somewhere around 1998, was the Pegasus Theatre in Dallas, Texas. They had a lovely logo, designed by a local artist. Using PaintShopPro’s animation tool, I created this animated gif, frame by frame; it was the second animation I made. Shortly thereafter I discovered Flash, and life became much simpler.

In the original version, it ran once and stopped repeating. Here, I have it repeating so viewers don’t have to reload the page.