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Thrice All American, indeed

· Posted Wednesday June 3, 2009 by jamie

Time to get my political griping off the top of the page, and ‘cause I don’t have to work for it, beautiful video of Neko back home for a night…

(HT to Exit133)

And a bonus from YouTube’s related videos, all outta tune and punked up, courtesy of The Rain City Shwillers:


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Dirty Goings On at the Assessor-Treasurer's Office

· Posted Monday April 20, 2009 by jamie

It seems that the chickens are finally coming to roost in the office of Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam. Buried in the “Dale’s Bulletin” portion of the office’s website (screenshot captured below for posterity), Washam includes information on an Equal Opportunity Employment complaint levied against him by one of his employees, alleging discrimination and harassment on the basis of both age and gender. Washam even goes so far as to include a link to a pdf of the letter he received from HR director Betsy Sawyers detailing the complains (or if that gets disappeared, I grabbed a copy).

This is certainly an interesting tactic by Washam in making the allegations public, and some of the comments on a TNT blog post seem to suggest that people are praising him for “transparency”. But here’s the deal: in calling this an “unnamed person’s bogus complaint”, Washam is essentially retaliating against HR’s duty to fully investigate complaints such as this, and by extension belittling the employee in question, who should not be dragged through the mud. EEO allegations need to be taken seriously, and for Washam to not only make a private matter public, but to do so in order to argue about an unrelated matter (namely, the lack of property inspections under his predecessor) goes beyond being in extremely poor taste, it also opens up Pierce County for a big fat lawsuit. I won’t go so far at this moment as to say that Washam needs to be immediately recalled from office, but I’m relatively certain that if he were a county employee rather than an elected official, he would be severely reprimanded if not fired for his handling of the matter.

See also at the TNT.


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Random! Photos! Of! Awesomeness!!!

· Posted Thursday March 26, 2009 by jamie

Forgive me whilst I self-indulge. Go Sounders (Band)!


(From The Seattle Times)


(From Beyond the Best Seat in the House)


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Open Source Urban Planning

· Posted Tuesday February 3, 2009 by jamie

I came across an interesting article on Wired about LimeWire founder Mark Gorton’s The Open Planning Project, which seeks to bring the open source software movement together with urban planning. Portland has already used the software to help plan bus routes, and San Francisco may not be far behind.

Now, this certainly is no panacea. Like any form of participatory government, there is significant risk of, well, lack of participation (or non-representative samples of interested parties) messing up the results. But I think there is some interesting potential to bring new people to the table–whether due to the demographics of Internet users or the availability of citizens to attend meetings–in a way that might promote a more progressive agenda. (And, might I hope, one that looks at whole-city solutions instead of just a bunch of vocal neighborhood groups fighting for speedbumps.)


(via uclahelo@flickr, cc by-nc-nd)

I would be interested to see if Tacoma’s government would ever use such tools to try to bring more people to the table. And for that matter, whether the citizens of Tacoma would step up to the plate and get involved. I think we could get a fascinating diversity of opinion, but with that diversity would come neighborhood-specific knowledge from all around the city. And the tools would allow public access to planning data that was currently only available in proprietary planning tools. Seems worth trying…

A few things I would champion:

Read about it at Wired.
Check out The Open Planning Project.


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Neko Case Song, Free, For a Good Cause

· Posted Thursday January 22, 2009 by jamie

This blog, of course, owes a great deal to erstwhile Tacoman Neko Case in that its title comes from her three-quarter-time alt-Country ode to our fair city. So it seems only fair to give some voice to her upcoming album, Middle Cyclone, and a great little cause that she and her label are championing.

I’m going to post a link to download “People Got A Lotta Nerve”, the first single from the album, here. Neko and ANTI will donate $5 to the Best Friends Animal Society for my doing so. They get publicity, we get free music, and animals get saved–everybody wins! (And you can help the animals even more by participating too!)

Download an MP3 of People Got A Lotta Nerve.

A little message from Neko:

More info from ANTI.
The beneficiaries, Best Friends Animal Society.

(And for an extra local bonus, if you want to support local animal causes, check out the Dugan Foundation, which is selling a beautiful 2009 wall calendar to support their work…)


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On Tech Startups and Tacoma

· Posted Wednesday October 8, 2008 by jamie

Recent Seattle P-I to Puget Sound Business Journal transplants John Cook and Todd Bishop have temporarily set up home at Where Are John and Todd? while their new BizJournal site comes online. Today John writes about a recently-started Seattle angel investment group called the Founders Co-op. Their philosophy: provide limited capital (typically $50k to $200k) to seed stage tech startups, usually those still in the two- or three-employee stage, while also fostering an atmosphere of openness and support amongst their community of entrepreneurs. Similar smaller-than-VC-amounts investment groups exist in the Seattle market in the form of Curious Office and Monster Venture Partners. This all on top of a generally high level of networking and community amongst those in the Seattle startup community.

Now, what for Tacoma? We’ve got a couple of small tech companies around here, but choosing to locate in Tacoma (rather than, say, Pioneer Square AKA startup central) is the exception to the rule. There’s not a lot of networking between employees at different companies. There’s not “district” where these companies tend to locate. Programming talent is hard to find. (I’m not sure if this last thing is because programmers don’t live here, or because they’re all commuting to their jobs in Seattle/Redmond/wherever…)

But generally, the question is begged, why isn’t there an active startup community in Tacoma. We are within an hour of the Seattle market. There are all sorts of buildings with the cool loft spaces that small software firms like so much. UWT’s Tech Institute is by all indications growing, turning out both undergraduate and graduate software developers. UPS and PLU, both excellent schools, also turn out CS graduates in respectable numbers. Sure, there’s not the sexiness of being in Seattle, and I don’t have any illusions of Tacoma having as broad a tech presence as said neighbor-to-the-north, but it’s hard to see what’s standing in the way of more of a startup presence here.

I wonder if maybe the funding piece of the pie is one of the factors holding us back. Yes, there’s the Tacoma Angel Network (and non-funding-related support from the William Factory Small Business Incubator), but those are a little bit heavy on some of the details that many tech startups tend to scoff at, such as detailed business plans. In all honesty, most of these startups are coming to fruition through the efforts of programmers and designers, not MBAs and marketers, and the value is in the idea (and making it come to fruition), not long term goals and overly-thorough market analysis. Yes, there will be failures, but providing a framework for seed-funding ideas for small companies, without formal business process overhead, simply works for small tech companies. Bay Area venture firm Y Combinator has proven it with companies like Justin.tv, Loopt, and reddit. Curious Office has seen success with Imagekind (acquired by CafePress) and Shelfari (acquired by Amazon). Granted, there’s nothing precluding any of these firms from funding a Tacoma company, but to my knowledge it hasn’t happened yet.

So what if there were a Tacoma tech startup funder/incubator? It could be an extension of the Angel Network or it could be it’s own thing, but the operative thing is that it would provide relatively minimal funding (at least in the venture funding sense), and favor ideas over formal business plans. Picture a shared office of small two-to-three member teams working on a number of projects, each with just enough funding to cover equipment, salaries, and other overhead. An exciting collaborative atmosphere. Tons of new tech jobs for Tacoma residents! If it were connected or closely allied with the UWT Technology Institute (and/or UPS, and/or PLU), even better, because we can tap that talent before it takes jobs elsewhere–a great way to keep one segment of “cultural creatives” in town after they’re done with their degrees. (And the area around the UWT would be great, location-wise, for this…) Now, I don’t have the money to be a part of making this happen, but I really think it would open up some exciting potential for the future of Tacoma, downtown development, commerce, etc.

Thoughts, anyone?

Link-fest:


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Great Stuff: Gary Vaynerchuck Keynote

· Posted Tuesday September 23, 2008 by jamie

Very inspirational keynote from the Web 2.0 Expo NY by Gary Vaynerchuck of Wine Library TV.

Highlights:

Hopefully that whets your appetite. Worth watching.


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Software Curating?

· Posted Tuesday September 23, 2008 by jamie

I reflected a while back on software development’s parallels to gardening. In checking out some of the reports out of last week’s Web 2.0 Expo, I was fascinated to see 37signals’ Jason Fried pull out a completely different metaphor for software development: museum curating.

Regarding collecting customer feedback and incorporating it into your software:

People love giving you feedback. Every time you make a mistake they give you feedback. Give people great products and you’ll get feedback… You have to take it all in and then you have to make decisions on behalf of your customers. Decide what they’re actually trying to tell you. You have to be a museum curator and think about what makes sense for the product. An editor, a curator, looks at an entire universe of options and picks a few of em.

An interesting perspective, but probably worth noting that this is coming from a non-developer (Jason is one of the co-founders of 37signals, and has more of a design background than a programming one). I like that his example puts a lot of stock in the customer needs and wants, while also taking a great deal of pride, somewhat of a near-arrogance, in what’s ultimately right for the product. That is right on.

That said, I still like the gardening metaphor better. In both cases (a museum or a garden) you are attempting to create an aesthetic that is pleasing to the visitor, and you are likely to get feedback, some of which you will incorporate. But the museum analogy stops at the choice of whether or not feedback is acknowledged (and ultimately leaves the actual creation of art out of the picture). In gardening, the feedback alters what happens on the ground, in the garden: how the plants are pruned, how all-season interest is maintained, how to attract wildlife, etc.–a truly iterative process that, to me, is a more apt analogy to the actual development of the software.

Maybe from a project management perspective, museum curating is a good approximation of how the customer feedback loop works, but from the trenches, as a programmer, it just feels too simplistic. I’m sticking with the gardening analogy.

Check out notes from Jason Fried’s presentation here. (Lots of other great info about 37signals and their “Getting Real” philosophy, too!)


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Design/UX (and Customer Service) at Shoes.com

· Posted Tuesday July 1, 2008 by jamie

Disclaimer: I’m not a designer or a user interface expert, by any means. Heck, I don’t even play on on the Internet. Maybe I’m just feeling extra design-observant after finishing Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind or something…

Melissa recently purchased some fine footwear from Shoes.com, and various aspects of the site left some impressions on me. Mostly positive, though I had a couple of observations of things that could be improved, too…

First of all, I’m just generally pleased by the overall look of the site. I find the mainly orange/chartreuse/cyan/gray palette quite pleasing to the eyes, and love the typeface of their no-nonsense logo (here’s where I don’t even pretend to know jack about typefaces).

I also sort of dig their interactive search mechanism. Three drop-downs on the page allow you to select the initial category (mens’ vs womens’, type, etc.), size, and color…the basics, nothing magical here:

However, I thought the results screen was pretty bad-ass. In addition to allowing you to page through your search results from those initial categories, they include a number of refinement menus in the left navigation bar, wherein you can narrow your search by more refined categories (e.g., work, bridal), brand, heel height, even narrow to only sale or new items. Neat!

I like the overall simplicity of this experience. The only aspect that leaves me slightly uncomfortable is the interplay between the 3 initial drop-downs and the refinement options on the left. Especially once you’ve refined the results, it can be somewhat non-intuitive to get back to where you were before (via a “clear” hyperlink in the appropriate refinement menu). But overall, kudos.

Now, for the customer service aspect. We were pretty happy with this. I mean, they didn’t have free shipping like Zappos or anything, but paying shipping doesn’t seem so bad. The difficulty came when we attempted an exchange due to some slight imperfections in the shoes that arrived.

The Shoes.com site makes it really easy to return items by allowing you to print a return shipping label that you can tape to the box for either USPS or UPS. However, to get here, you have to bring your order back up. Since Melissa didn’t set up a Shoes.com account, we had to look up the order via order number and ZIP code. No problem, we have that on our packing slip…except…not found???? WTF!? Okay, let’s try ZIP+4, since that what the slip shows, and…no!? Crap. Well, okay, last try, let’s remove the four leading zeros on the order number, and…we’re in!!! But…WTF? Doesn’t it make the most sense that if someone typed in their full order number, the system could find it, especially since that’s how it’s written on the packing slip? Like, maybe the webapp could remove the leading zeros before looking up the order. Anyway we got past that fine…

Until we reached the next point at which I entered info as it appeared on the packing slip. Seems that to do an exchange instead of just a return, they have you enter the item number, color, and size information. So I entered the item number as it appeared on the packing slip. Now, granted, that was just a number, and the browser display if the item I was returning had that number prepended by a couple of letters. But I figured, meh, just the numbers should match (it’s on the packing slip, after all), and after moving past the page, there were no warnings, so I figured all was fine. Until I got to the final confirmation page, where I was informed that the item could not be found. Wow, thanks for the warning, after I can no longer do anything about it. Hmph.

Anyway, those slipups in the customer experience aside, things were taken care of really quickly once I emailed them to figure out how to resolve the problem. Seems they no longer have the shoe in the right color/size in stock, so, given our preference to keep the slightly-imperfect shoes if we could not do the exchange, they credited our Visa for 15% of the shoe price. Woohoo! Way to go Shoes.com! Their customer service makes it all right in the end. Just fix those other things, guys, k?


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Non-Tacoma Postings

· Posted Tuesday July 1, 2008 by jamie

Trying to write more often about non-Tacoma stuff. Partly because I rarely write about anything anymore, and need to breathe some life back into this blog… So, just in case anyone is reaching my site via avenues other than items I’ve tagged for FeedTacoma, I hope you enjoy my ramblings on software, the environment, or whatever other random crap I decide to blog about. You’ve been warned. Hope you still want to read!


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