Instagram photo

I’m curious how this title plays on search given the recent acquisition by Facebook. However, I have to say that I’m on their millions of users. And a very satisfied one at that. I tried various photo apps over the years, and this is the first one that stuck for me. Here is the picture from my recent trip to Russia


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Recruiting – puzzles and quizzes

A numerical solution to the heat equation on a...

Solution to the heat equation in a pump casing model using the finite elment modelling software Image via Wikipedia

As we gear up to do some college recruiting, I thought this was an interesting thread. I particularly liked one of the comments, starting with the “These days”:

“I agree that the puzzle-solving during interviews is lame.

In fact, I’ve said exactly that same thing to an interviewer once: “Unless you guys spend all your time here re-designing quicksort, why do you want me to implement it on a whiteboard?”

These days, I usually bring a couple tricky differential equations w/ me to interview, and when the time comes when they say: “Do you have any questions for me?”, I respond: “Why yes, in fact I do”.. and I turn over the marker to him, and ask him to solve the following differential equations x, y, z, etc, on the whiteboard. Invariably, they flame out as badly as you might expect.. even for quite simple vanilla differential equations.. “But didn’t you take calculus in college?” I ask… “errr… yeah”… they stumble… “And you can’t solve this?” etc…


Point is, you can turn the tables on them.. or at least, you can do that if you feel the interview isn’t really going all that well anyway.


When candidates come to our office, everyone has a job to do. Some of us ask specific technical questions, some of us do ask various business/consulting hypotheticals and see how the person reacts. I do not think we are too harsh, and I do not think we are unfair, but we can always get better. I hope that asking more and more puzzlers is not going to be the directions for us. A simple rule should apply – if you and your existing colleagues could not do these puzzles every time – do not ask others, it is clearly not an important attribute that has got you this far.



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book covers for home libraries

English: old books in Château de Breteuil, France

Image via Wikipedia

I’ll come back to this, but let me just say, do not do it for me – do it for the children.

I like books. I really like physical books. I like having them, I like holding them. I do not really like reading them all that much though. They never stay open in the same spot, it is hard to hold them with one hand, and if they are large enough – they take a toll on your back when you carry them on the commute. Let’s not get started on the pain of travel when you have to carry them. In bulk. On a trip. In the overhead space of an economy class carrier… Anyway – many people felt the same and we got these awesome ebook readers now. However, my inner snob is not satisfied – how would people visiting my home know of all these great books I pretend to read?

Ultimately, I want a wall the sort of looks like the picture above, but with my actual books. I have given up on publishers simply giving me the epub/mobi/pdf version with a physical book purchase. I know, I know – it would make too much sense to charge me an extra dollar so I do not have to sacrifice the convenience of electronic copy for the pleasure and security of a physical one. I am sure there are all sorts of complicated reasons why publishing industry chooses to punish its customers.

What I have not given up on is this – could someone make cardboard book covers I could get for the books I really wanted? It would be great if they licensed the original covers. It would be great if they had some new originals – but I could finally have the wall of books I own, to look at happily, as I sit in the armchair reading the amazon kindle.

The above is a bit of a joke, but I do find that having had shelves of books, visible books in the house has been great for the kids. Choosing from a list, or even a cover view on a tablet is not at all the same, as coming up to a bookcase and choose a book – seeing its neighbors, seeing its art. So, do not do it for me – do it for the children.


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Organizer for Gmail | OtherInbox

Seems like a nice and useful idea, but I am too weary of letting another company – with very opaque terms of service read through my email and know what I have bought where, and for how much.

Organizer for Gmail | OtherInbox.

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Disney Releases Marvel App –

Can this work as a gift? How do you wrap it? Unveil it?

Disney, the largest publisher of children’s books in the world, sells 700 million items a year in 85 countries, said Russell Hampton Jr., the president of Disney Publishing Worldwide. …

The Spider-Man app will be released for the iPad, iPhone and iTouch for $6.99. Geared toward children ages 4 to 10, it includes interactive features, distinguishing it from e-books, Mr. Hampton said.

via Disney Releases Marvel App –

I suppose this is not very different from a regular paper-based book, but still, feels a little strange to give this as a gift to a kid. Will probably try it out this Chanukkah season.

On a side-note, did not realize Disney was such a big publishing house.

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Phrase of the day

Thought this was a well-captured multi-level pop reference, “[Kim Kardashian]… Sources said a marriage-malfunctioned reality star…”

From NY Post page 6.

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Random thought – on relationships

Old School

Soviet School

The person from my old [old, old] life in Soviet Union I communicate the most with is not someone I was close with before. It is someone who I reconnected with, a little, because of the work I do in Russia and an accidental re-introduction by a business partner. All my, admittedly lame, efforts to keep in touch with other old classmates have not worked out.

I am not sure what this means other that you need at least two tenuous connections for even a minimal relationship to work. One is not enough, at least not if it is simply a shared history or geography than no longer plays a big part in your life.

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feature request – emailed receipts

One of the nice things about Apple Store is that it follows the online standard of emailing receipts. Would not it be nice if EZ-Pass had an option to email me the receipts? I have a choice between paying cash and getting a receipt or using EZ-Pass and then having trouble submitting for reimbursement (sometimes)

what is the reason every merchant should not offer email as an option for receipts?

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Address fields – still not addressed

A quick post on the theme of user experience… Why do web forms still include address fields? Even 37 signals’ Highrise asks me to enter a street address and then a separate city, state, zip.

UPS, and many others, are even worse, asking for separate fields for Street Address1, Street Address2, etc. Google Maps do it, why would not the CRM which has entering of addresses as a major, and common, use case?

What is merely annoying when entering your own profile, becomes truly distracting in a CRM system. I will settle for correcting the system on the rare occasions it gets the address wrong.

This seemed like such a no-brainer that three years I thought of building a service to do just that, providing an address verification widget to those who needed it. And then I thought, “c’mon, everyone will have this implemented as soon as they realize how annoying entering addresses field-by-field is.” Go figure.


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UX as Customer Service – Verizon Model

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 08:  Verizon Communicati...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

This post might as well be titled – the genius of Verizon or how I overcame ingrained user behavior to save $60/month.

There is a lot of talk, books, and blogs about how properly designed user experience is a key to doing more business on the web, and in real life. But what if the pundits are wrong? What if you have a business that needs to interact with customers on the Web, but where making transactions easy means losing money?

What if you knew everything there is to know about user experience and customer service? What if you turned that knowledge inside out to create an impenetrable online maze? What if you coldly calculated what kind of transactions you want to make easy, and which you want to discourage? You be just doing your job, right? Following orders, as it were. And you might be working for Verizon.

Once I realized that Verizon does not actually want you to make changes their whole website started making sense. It is not ineptitude that allows you to pay the bill right away, but requires an expiring PIN delivered by mail or a phone call to a Verizon home phone line to change your channel choices. It is brilliant and deliberate design.

Verizon’s problem is that whenever people actually look at their bills, they immediately realize that they do not need 285 channels and a 50GB backup bundles with teaser rates that expired 6 months ago. So their formal UX design challenge is to have all of the functionality expected of a customer-facing website, but have it sort of off. 

For example – you would think that having “See More” option that does not lead anywhere would be a bad design choice. Not so.

It does not show me any options for additional movie channels but that is OK for Verizon, because they understand something far more important – bounce rate is their friend.

While most sites want to keep their users for as long as possible, Verizon understands that there is only so much time an average person will spend, at a go, trying to make sense of their subscriptions and options. So if I get frustrated and leave before making a change – that’s OK. Chances are that I was going to downgrade my service or cancel an option, so if a page takes 20 or 30 seconds to load – that’s OK. In this game,  bounce rate is their friend.

Still, I persevered. I got the PIN. I wanted to cancel some channels but keep some others. Finally, I asked their live chat support:

I think the support tried to get me to bounce – I need to call an office from 9-5 M-F to change  my choices? I am already committed to change, so I would rather feel righteous for saving more money (and watching less TV) than to stop now. As a result – all premium channels cancelled.


Has Verizon lost its battle in keeping me away from changes? Alas, no. they simply ignored my request. Maybe I did not press some button correctly, maybe I did not wait long enough, but when I came back 18 hours later, I will had the channel subscriptions unchanged from before. I submitted the changes again, perhaps they will stick this time.


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