Removing the Charm

Several movies I have seen recently (Karate Kid, The Last Airbender) made me think of movies that were based on previous works.  This isn’t universal, but a common theme I see is that the newer version removes all of the charm from the older version.  Modernization, somehow has become synonymous with bland and charmless.  Here are some reasons why, all of which make me feel old.

Quick Cuts
Everything nowadays has these insane quick cuts where the camera is literally not showing the same scene for more than 2 seconds.  It’s cut-cut-cut-cut all the time.  It’s mind numbing and distracting.  I can’t soak in the scene at all.  There is no sense of quiet drama built up with a single camera angle.  On television, this drives me crazy.  One show, America’s Best Dance Crew, literally makes it impossible to see the group dance from start to finish.  A simpler approach with fewer cuts would add to the presentation, not take away.  The quick cuts eliminate the possibility of charm.

CGI
CGI or Computer-generated imagery has become immensely popular in entertainment. It makes sense sometimes.  However, you don’t need CGI to do great cinema.  Start Wars (the originals) did fine with muppets and costumes.  It sucked you into their world completely.  You didn’t need the CGI.  However, Avatar or Titanic would have looked ridiculous without the computer assistance.  The plots of these movies is usually lacking and they make up for it with explosions and special effects.  Would you watch Avatar if it had the same plot, but not special effects? We don’t need stupid special effects.  We need better writing and acting!  Charm is the first casualty of computer effects.

Authenticity
This is one that really irks me.  People respond to authenticity.  In the original Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio was skinny and dorky.  Elizabeth Shue weighed more than Ralph and would never be cast in today’s skinny/beauty obsessed movies.  Yet, I absolutely fell in love with her.  She was one of my first crushes.  She was authentic; they both were!  They acted the part.  Now movies feel plastic and fake and the characters don’t seem authentic.  How can you fall in love with someone who doesn’t seem real?

Explosions
Not exactly CGI, but the obsession with explosions in movies is killing me.  Again, this comes down to writing and acting.  Push was a good movie because it had good acting and writing.  If there was a Push 2, I feel confident they would mess it up with an explosion somewhere.

People jump the shark all the time because they can’t think of normal good plot and writing.  They go to the easy outs, explosions, CGI and filler.  This removes all the charm of the originals.  UX is about delighting people, not just titillating them.  Charm is something that comes with craftsmanship, time and patience.  I hope that entertainment can work its way back from the brink and make a movie that I would call “charming”.

The Apprentice System

Imagine you received this letter:

Dear [You],

I am about to graduate high school and have been accepted to several good colleges.  However, I believe that the cost and the potential benefits of the college life are no match for real world experience.  Drinking, partying and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on books, room/board and classes are not what I am interesting in doing for the next four years.  My interest is in learning and gaining real world experience.

Based on this, I have a proposal for you.  I want to learn how to be a [whatever you do] and have identified you as a master in your field.  I would like to be your apprentice.  I am willing to work for free for 4 years (length of a BA degree).  I will read any book you suggest and work diligently on learning the craft.  In return, you would teach me your craft.

This proposal will save me hundreds of thousands of dollars and probably teach me more than any four year degree could.  You would gain a hard working employee with no salary.  I understand that it is not really free as teaching me would use your time and energy.  I would supply money for books, computer and any software I needed.

If you are willing to be my master, I am willing to be your apprentice.  Sincerely, [Someone]

OK, so I am sure it could be written better, but the point is that the apprentice system is dead in modern times.  However, a thousand years ago, this is how skilled labor was created and perpetuated.  Why isn’t there an option for people to avoid a meaningless degree from a college only intent on taking student’s money?  Colleges are not teaching our youth how to work in the real world.  Even computer science degree students are not learning how to program for real.  They use outdated technologies to do outdated tasks.

I wish I had 4 years of work experience rather than 4 years of college.  I wonder how many other people feel the same way.  What other ideas are out there to improve the situation?

Movie Review: The Karate Kid (Remake)

Worst Remake Ever.

Previously, this honor was held by Willy Wonka with Johny Depp; what an abomination. However, my current winner of the prize was the recent remake of The Karate Kid with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith.

The plot shifted from a 16-year old New Jersey kid moving to Southern California to a 12-year old urban kid moving to Beijing, China.  Otherwise, it is generally the same.  However, the details are radically different.  To be clear, I think the original Karate Kid is a great movie and my children agree.

The age factor.  Jaden Smith is a little kid.  It was painful enough seeing Ralph Macchio being bullied and beat up, but watching an eleven year old being kicked in the chest was just shocking and obscene.  A little kid like that working out with his shirt off, sweating was borderline child pornography and offensive.  I just couldn’t get over the age thing.  He was just TOO young. Mr. Miyagi was an old short guy.  It made sense that he was fighting a bunch of teenagers.  When Jackie Chan beat up a bunch of 12 years olds, I was just sickened.

The acting.  Jaden Smith does a great imitation of Will Smith.  So now, we have an 11 year old Will Smith. Yay? You can’t be cool and the Karate Kid at the same time.  Daniel LaRusso was purposely goofy and awkward.  That was his charm.  Jackie Chan was pathetic and Jaden Smith was a cocky brat.  No one performed well at all.  It was pathetic.

The word “Karate”. They didn’t mention Karate at all.  Just Kung Fu.  This is the Kung Fu kid.  Why did they name it the Karate Kid when it was Kung Fu?  Am I the only one paying attention?  WTF?!  It’s Karate!  And they weren’t even doing Karate!  It was Jackie Chan jump around like a nut nonsense.

CGI. What the fuck (pardon the french) do we need CGI animation for a remake of the Karate Kid?   Seriously??  You need him to flip over backwards?  Why?  What’s the point?!  Come on!  This is just awful.  What is with all these movies that feel like they have to do this?  I got the movie from Netflix expecting there to be good acting not CGI animation.  If I wanted CGI I would have got Shoalin Soccer.

The car. So Jackie Chan rebuilds the car each year and then smashes it?  What is this?  Burning Man??  Something is super wrong with this scenario.  It was contrived and not moving.  And the thing with the sticks just seemed dumb.  No charm, just lame setup.

Here is what I think happened. Will Smith, wife Jada and son Jaden watched the Karate Kid and Jaden loved it.  Wax on!  Wax Off!  Show me “sand the floor!”.  Then he said, “Daddy!  Daddy!  Please pay for me to be in a movie!  I want to be the Karate Kid!  Woo hoo!”  Then Will Smith said, “Oh, look how cute he is…I suppose we could make a movie for you, right Jada?”  Jada says, “Yeah!  Let’s have the whole thing in China.  China is pretty!  I want to visit China!”  Seriously, this is what I think happened.  Someone on the set said, “Hey, you know we don’t do Karate here in China, right?”  That guy got fired.

OK, my rant has run it’s course.  This movie sucked.  Please watch this hilarious video with Ralph Macchio below.  It’s worth more in 2 minutes than the remake is worth in 2 hours.

If you see the movie of have seen it, please don’t say you liked it. It will only make me crazy.

Different Kinds of Leadership

Most of us are not the CEOs of our organization.  We are somewhere in the middle. Yet we all have, every day, an opportunity to provide leadership from the middle.  Leadership comes in several flavors.  Here are some that I find valuable.

Movement Leadership
When you are in a meeting and everyone is looking at each other stuck on where to start or what to do, a leader is the one saying, “OK, let’s ______” and gets people to move.  Rudy Giuliani showed this sort of leadership on 9/11 when he famously said, “Let’s go north!”  Movement is a critical factor in starting a project.  Good leaders help the team get off the starting blocks.  It’s amazing how many projects get off to a slow start based on the lack of this kind of leader.

Collaboration Leadership
Almost everything that could be done, could be done in a thousand ways.  The decisions that get made are critical to success.  A dictator may make all the decisions him/herself, but a leader helps bring everyone along the way so it feels like a team effort.  Leadership on collaboration usually is the person helping guide the meeting in a positive direction.  They ask for people’s opinions and use Aikido techniques to turn a negative influence into a positive one.  They make sure that no one feels intimidated or ignored.  Someone who felt ignored in that kind of meeting usually won’t feel as invested in the success of the team and therefore won’t contribute as much.  Collaboration leaders help the team feel unified and motivated.

Interpretation Leadership
As people who have bosses (most of us) we have to take direction from higher up in the food chain.  Leaders help interpret that direction.  The higher up the origin of the direction came, the more abstract and directional it is.  The message usually passes through multiple people along the way to the team. (Telephone game)  The trick is to still do our jobs and make good decisions without violating the direction from above.  Leaders help interpret the direction and reconcile it with the reality on the ground.  Sometimes this is called “Management By Objective” or MBO.  In this model, you need leaders who can help the team understand the general strategy and translate it into actionable steps.

Leadership by Example
In Animal Farm (sad book), Boxer the horse showed leadership by proudly proclaiming “I will just work harder.”  Even though this was not a successful strategy for Boxer in the long run, it was still bold leadership.  Boxer inspired his brethren to work hard and give it their all.  Whether it’s working harder or smarter or even nicer, leaders demonstrate through their actions a way of working that makes other people want to emulate them.

Leadership is one of the most valuable assets a company can have/create/foster/leverage.  Most companies struggle with how to make more of it.  No one has a magic bullet to create leadership at all levels.  You should think about these kinds of leadership modes that come from the middle and how you could adopt some of them.  Even if it’s once in a while you should cultivate in yourself a pattern of providing these kinds of leadership.

The UX of Chevron OilStop

One annoying thing about Hybrids is that oil changes are expensive.  Doing the maintenance at Nissan was over a hundred dollars.  Last time I did it, the service was mediocre and I had to wait quite a while.  This time, I decided to try something new.

I actually thought the place was a JiffyLube, but surprisingly it was a Chevron OilStop.  I even had a coupon for JiffyLube. Oops!  However, the OilStop experience was remarkable.  Here is what happened.

I drove up and rolled down the window.  A guy came up smiling at me and welcome’d me.  He wasn’t just polite.  He was OVER-polite; EXTRA-nice.  Unreasonably nice.  It wasn’t a put-on either.  It wasn’t some guy reading a script.  There were 3-4 guys working there at the time and they were acting this way towards each other.  They kept saying please and thank you to each other with broad smiles.  It was not creepy, although it should have been.  It was inspiring.  These were earnest and nice people.

The guy said, “We don’t make an commissions, so we have nothing to gain, but we have a few extras I would love to show you, if that is OK.”  His politeness and honesty disarmed me and I agreed.  I was about to exit the car, when he said, “Oh, this is a drive-through.  We will be done really quickly so you can relax in the car.  Oh, and we have free Wi-Fi for you while you wait!”  My eyes lit up.  Wow, that is cool.  No long wait.  Free Wi-Fi.

Then, I had to make sure that he knew this was a hybrid and was going to use the right oil.  He was helpful and knowledgeable as he brought over the jugs of oil and explained the pricing. (Reasonably priced) Each step of the way, he came over and showed me the work being done.

  • “Here is what the oil looks like now…”
  • “Here is the old seal, we are going to replace it for free, this is what the new seal looks like….”
  • “Your tires are at 34 PSI, but they should be at 35.  We are going to electronically pressure them to the recommended PSI.  Is this ok?”
  • “Was someone touching your battery?  The cap is loose…”  (Yes, that was me, ooops!)
  • “Here is the Oil Filter…it looks good, you really don’t need to replace it.”
  • “Your windshield wiper is a little torn.  Do you want us to replace it?  It’s not that bad yet.”

Then he handed me a coupon for a free car wash down the street! He showed me two items for upsell, which I declined.  He wasn’t disappointed.  It was a surreal attitude that he was just happy that I was engaged with him.

Each step of the way they were incredible.  Afterwards, they showed me how to fix the warning message on my car.  The whole experience was about 15-20 minutes.

Word of mouth and referrals come when you LOVE a product or service, not just when you found it adequate or acceptable.

Based on my one experience, Chevron OilStop in San Mateo has earned my loyalty and my referral.

The whole experience reminded me of a scene in the Jerk when Navin helped a man at the gas station.  Until the shooting started, of course.

Hiring UX Designer (Marketo)

Marketo is growing on all fronts.  As the engineering team grows, their appetite for more shovel-ready projects increases too.  Thus, the design team needs to scale.  I am looking for a UX Designer who can run design initiatives within a fast-paced multi-disciplinary environment.  That’s greek for “lots of people all talking at once”.

The company has something special going on.  The product delights customers and changes their entire approach to what the marketing department should do.  What Salesforce did for the sales departments, Marketo is doing for marketing departments and the sales team is the primary beneficiary.   This is a B2B product that has a design flair, sense of humor and creative implementation that completely changed the landscape of the industry.

I’ve worked on many products over the years that I thought were uninspiring.  Marketo inspires me and I think it is a fantastic place for a designer to make an impact.  If you or someone you know is interested, click the Contact Glen link and I can tell you about the company and my design philosophy.

Perception is not Reality

Of course, the expression says the opposite.  However, I reject the expression.  If a tree falls in the forest, it does kill the rabbit it lands on and it does make a sound.  Reality is reality.  The truth is the truth.  However, future decisions are not based on historical reality, they are based on historical perception.  That’s the rub.

What is the point of being right or doing the right thing if you don’t get credit for it in future decisions.  Take the US mid-term elections.  I think, in reality, Obama did a great job as president.  However, the perception (of some) is that he didn’t.  People voted more on the perception than on the reality.  It seems unfair.  Why bother doing the right thing?

There are some people, not everyone, who believe that there is reward from the universe and within for doing right.  Karma, Kismet, heaven, God, whatever floats your boat, but the point is the same.  Regardless of perception, the truth has value.  I believe there is value in doing the right thing even if no one sees it.  That value doesn’t make it any less frustrating.  Being right and four dollars will buy you coffee.  In the end, we all love positive acknowledgment.

Would you be happier being loved for doing the wrong thing, or the reverse; be thought of as a loser, even though you did the right thing?

How many people have the courage to do the right thing?  To fight the good fight, even though you are hated and ridiculed for it.  I am afraid it is not as many as I would hope.  Years ago, I got into alot of arguments with people over the “right thing to do”.  It didn’t help me to be right.  The thing that did help was developing really good communication skills.  Understanding how to present a design, roll with the punches, take input, get people on your side, may the idea seem like their idea, spreading the credit around….These techniques are invaluable to get people to agree with you.

I admit that I still have a long way to go in development.  I think acknowledging the issue is the most important step.  Am I right?  Or do you just think that?

The UX of Stress

I was feeling stressed the other day and I wondered how much stress I feel compared to others.  I decided to ask around a bit.

Me: You ever feel stress to the point where it is causing physical discomfort or bring you close to tears?  Like throat swelling and heart pounding?

People I asked: Yes, all the time

Me: On an average week, how many days does that happen?

People I asked: 70% of the days

Me: Wow!

I was really surprised.  I thought I was over-emotional and a wimp or something.  Seriously, I thought that something was wrong with me and I was experiencing more than my normal share of stress.  It was shocking to me that other people immediately and without any hesitation admitted to feeling this kind of stress all the time.  There were a few people who said they never feel this kind of stress.  They represented about 20% of the same.

Is this the human condition?  To feel stress all the time?  The same people indicated a much lower ratio of kick-ass “YES” moments.  I know there are studies about the National Happiness Index.  I don’t have an answer of how to be happy, but I know that there must be ways to affect one’s reaction.  Like many blog posts, I feel like I raise more questions for myself than answers.  Wisdom is a difficult goal apparently.

A game of inches

In sports, you either win or lose or tie.  And when it comes to final championships there are no ties.  If you win in Basketball 110-109, you get the win and they get the lose. In football, if you are within 1 inch of the end-zone, that means you are NOT in the end zone.  To sum it up: Close is only for horseshoes and hand-grenades.

In politics it is the same way, if you win a national election by a single electoral vote, then you get to be president for the whole time.  There are no ties.  There is no rule that says each candidate gets to spend some time in office depending on the amount of votes they get.  In politics a win is a win.

However, the talking heads (pundits) should know the difference between the winner and the “will of the people”.  If 49.9% of the vote says YES and 50.1% say NO, that is not a clear message of “the will of the people”.  If anything the people are saying that they are mixed on the subject.  Why do idiots on TV insist that a slim victory is equal to complete landslide.

The Election yesterday wasn’t a clear signal from Americans at all.  It was a completely convoluted mixed signal at best.  Look at what the congress looks like now.

Looks pretty close to a tie. People love the underdog and they love instant gratification.  In that environment, the people will vote all over the place and generally give mixed signals over and over.  We love you!  We hate you!  Half of us changed our minds!  Which half?!

Life doesn’t have a win or lose.  You just get to keep playing.  Politics and sports is a game of inches, but life is a game of miles.  How far will you go in your life?  What will you leave behind?  What are you looking forward to?  These questions are more important than what I will find on the ballot box.

Makework

make-work
[meyk-wurk] –noun
work, usually of little importance,
created to keep a person from being idle or unemployed.

Origin: 1935–40, Americanism ;  n. use of v. phrase make work

Sadly, I see this every day.  The building I am in just had the outside repainted.  It wasn’t in disrepair or dirty.  I looked at it before and looked at it after.  Looks the same to me.  Oh wait…the pinstripe used to be red, and now its black.  They had all these people, cranes, machinery, paint and effort with the end result being a different color on the pin stripe.

Clearly, this was not worth the effort.  How much of human endeavors is just make-work?  How much of our energies go towards nearly useless activities.  Have you ever worked on a presentation that you knew had no tangible benefit?  Have you ever created a document on a wiki that no one would ever read?  Sometimes the benefits are for one’s self, I suppose, but often they are for no one.

Great article about “digging holes just to fill them back up“.  John Maynard Keynes argued that, although this kind of make-work might stimulate demand, it is a silly thing to do for a sensible society.  In other words, we shouldn’t be doing this.

Well, I guess I should get back to work now.