Bright, Too Patient Design

It's not too often that I realize I'm using something that features a bright, patient design.

It's almost like using a product or piece of software that was tailored for you, except they predicted the future and released it without ever asking you anything about it. With just with the right pace, you discover the idioms and useful features -- it feels like the software or product is slowly and patiently revealing itself to you, as you learn it.

For a while now, I've been using a Windows Phone 7 and slowly discovering the bright design that it's made of, to the point that I realized it's sometimes too patient. Some examples:

  • in the phone app, you can tap the small phone icon to make a call directly from the main view, no need to switch to the contact view;
  • the search button on the phone usually leads to Bing search, but is sometimes contextual within the active app;
  • when copying and pasting some text, the small clipboard icon disappears from view, but it can still be accessed by dragging the area above the keyboard to the right, so that the "paste" operation can be repeated.

Windows Phone 7 showing clipboard icon partially visibleThe most recent "Mango" update for Windows Phone 7 brings the levels of patience back down to normal levels, for example the search button now does the same thing all the time (fires up Bing search; apps that support search now have to expose it in their own way) and the clipboard indicator becomes only half hidden after the first "paste" operation.

In my opinion, this is a very good step forward for two reasons:
  • better exposure of the features to all the users, not just the ones that read 4-page reviews of the software that contain all these gems;
  • more gratification for advanced users, both in terms of their own daily use of the phone (less friction and variability to access useful functionality) and, as enthusiasts that they are, when showing off explaining the features of the phone to others (no longer having to "teach" them how to use it).

I think that by no means is it an easy feat to create a product that can boast a bright, patient design, but making it too patient can make the product seem incomplete and unsophisticated.
In the case of the phone icon in the phone application of WP7, for example, a periodic, fast color+fade animation would hint the user that those are buttons, not just static icons. Likewise, the clipboard icon could continue its happy secluded life outside the screen, but just making it jump a bit into the screen a few seconds after it went away would remind the users that it's still in town.

It's great to strive for a bright, patient design. Just don't be too patient.




Freedom: many human beings still can't take it for granted.


Portugal Day

Or in portuguese, Dia de Camões, de Portugal e das Comunidades Portuguesas.

Being currently living outside of Portugal, this day had a special meaning for me today. No, I'm not about to cite the "usual bs" about being nostalgic and The Lusiads (Os Lusíadas) being on par with the Iliad and the Odyssey. This day had a special meaning because of someone's initiative: Mr. José Bouza Serrano, the ambassador of Portugal in Denmark.

I spent some hours at his house today, at first mostly with Danish people and then with people mostly from Portugal. It was a very good experience – the chance to talk with Portuguese people living here both for a few (0-4) and many (20+) years was priceless.

On one hand, I had an interesting time just trying to analyse how entusiastic people were about staying in Denmark for some time; On the other hand, I had a few inspiring conversations on how peoople got here, what was their living condition then and now, what plans do they have for the future and how can we make our own lives easier living almost "alone" in this pretty closed society.

That being said, I really haven't made up my mind on whether I'm going to aim at staying here in Copenhagen after the internship or not (remember the first rule of career planning?)... but I certainly have a quite broader perspective on working an living here than I had when I woke up this morning!

Speaking of career planning, while in my previous post I didn't mean to be explicit about how I came in contact with Microsoft Copenhagen, it has been pointed to me that I should perhaps refer that that. So, in my case, I was already percolating in my mind the possibility of an internship abroad and I basically seized an opportunity presented by my faculty – FEUP – and particularly the association of alumni of my programme (Master in Informatics and Computing Engineering) – AlumniEI (formerly AlumniLEIC). Some FEUP teachers and AlumniEI members are really the ones who presented the dots, I just connected them :)


Internship at Microsoft Copenhagen – how did I get it and where to go from here?

As Marc Andreessen (pmarca) would say:

The first rule of career planning: Do not plan your career.

I read pmarca's posts on career planning at a crucial time in my own career: I was in my last university semester with classes, thinking about what would be the best option to start my career in the so-called software industry. To tell the truth, I wasn't really starting my career as much as re-starting it -- I had previously participated in some projects with real-life goals and real customers, projects that were a bit complex both by social and technical perspectives. I found it really amazing that I was able to review my past choices and bets, matching them with some of the advices Marc gives, just when I was finishing studies to start working full-time.

Of the pmarca career posts I linked earlier, the one that really resonated with me was the one about opportunity. Spotting, evaluating and seizing opportunities were what drove me to where I am now. Call me opportunist, but that's the way it is. (Apart from these three actions that you can "apply" to opportunities, there's only one better action: creating opportunities. But I'm not there quite so often yet.)

Throughout the previous four college years, after weighting my options -- 1) doing the best possible at exams and assignments and doing little else vs. 2) doing acceptable at exams and assignments and have time to pursue other ambitious opportunities -- I can say with some certainty (looking at my grades vs. my resume) that I chose option 2 about 80%-90% of the time. And I absolutely don't regret it. These choices have granted me extra experience, knowledge and personal interactions that I can't really measure. Sure there was also some time that was lost and opportunities that I couldn't pursue, but hey, that's life -- I also learned (a bit by the hard way) that I can't do all I'd like to and that it's important to know when to say no (and being able to do it).

Since I'm all out referencing Marc Andreessen, I might as well point to another article he posted (a bit off-topic): Luck and the entrepreneur: The four kinds of luck. Luck or chance is present in everyone's life. However, I've always been a fan of "you make your own destiny" kind of philosophies, and that's where I find the article interesting (most of the article cites a book by Dr. James Austin, a neurologist and philosopher). To try and sum it up nicely, I'll focus just two points:

  • you can either walk through life from objective A to objective B (and so forth) focusing on the objectives, or you can pay more attention to the path between each objective while moving;

  • what sometimes seems a lucky person in the right place at the right time is the result of that person's knowledge, hobbies and day-to-day behaviour -- and those can be controlled/improved.

Of course it's not always possible to do what seems more appealing to our tastes or that would have the best outcome, or seizing opportunities just for the sake of not losing them -- sometimes I really just had to do the right thing. Like not charging a client that asks for some changes to his website two months after he said that it was just perfect, or planning six months in advance to stop accepting projects because of a very important lab class at the university.

So, I guess I've painted a kind of abstract picture of how I came to Microsoft Copenhagen for a one year internship. Well, I guess the title was just an excuse to speak about career, seizing opportunities, luck and doing the right thing.

Where will I go from here? See the first rule of career planning.


Will everything be free?

Or, more specifically, will every (Web 2.0 or not) service and application be free?

Many Web startups and new services concentrate on collecting a very large user base, and only after thinking about monetizing, which is inevitably ads or has a very strong ads component. That way, they never get customers, only users, because they never get money from them. This uneases me a bit, maybe because I'm not a big fan of marketing and publicity, or maybe because I can't conceive the online publicity model to scale into the de-facto monetizing solution for the Web.

That and I've started following the "There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" motto long ago (I like the Portuguese variant a lot: NHAG - "Não Há Almoços Grátis"), so I don't trust "free" completely anymore.

Well, this was just an oppinion of mine that I summarized quickly as an introduction to point you, my dear reader, to this article written by Alex Iskold on ReadWriteWeb: The Danger of Free. The article also focuses on the effects of free products in the economy and market competition.

I might get back on the subject with more of my own words later. More goodies after the jump.


Delay sending emails by one minute

I've told some people that I have configured my MS Outlook to delay sending of emails by one minute. They all acted quite surprised and a few were even confused. "That's right, when I press send, it's only actually sent one minute later."

I've started to use that more than a year ago. At the time, I had to deal with clients in some ongoing projects, faculty assignments, participated in a couple other side projects... I had a lot of context-switching going on, especially with email.

Sometimes when composing or replying to emails, I would press the "send" button and shortly after find myself saying out loud stuff like "damn, I forgot the attachment", "oh no, I didn't write the subject", "oops, forgot to mention subject X" or "shit, I just misspelled his/her name"... Too many times, for sure!

As much as I trained myself to re-read every email before sending, it seemed that the "send" action triggers something else that I couldn't consciously trigger myself, something that often spots some other flaw previously uncovered.

So, I roamed Outlook preferences, filters and rules until I discovered a rule that delays sending of all emails by any amount of minutes. That was what I needed :)

Initially I started with a two-minutes delay, but quickly brought it down to one minute. If you suffer from this "syndrome" I tried to describe here, maybe you'll find this little lifehack useful too!