I’m sorry, I’ll read that again.

So, nearly three months after I carelessly clicked ‘upgrade’ from my hosting console rather than WordPress itself, causing the CMS to go up in flames, I return!

It didn’t take long to fix in the end, once I’d located the problem.

Thing is, I’m a little bit sad it didn’t die. I didn’t want to leave a website hanging, but properly whacking in the HTML googlies would have been a relief.

I want, need and should start from scratch. I want to re-think, re-architect and reconsider what I put here. I’ve got all my content backed up so a dead website would have been just the trigger.

On the other hand, the last thing I need right now is yet another project.

I’m already building two websites for others, and desperately, desperately trying to write a book, and the workload is sucking all the love out of it.

In the last three months I’ve also moved house three times, across three cities, so y’know, forgive me if I’m not full of whimsical anecdotes right now.

Baby steps. I will not be tested beyond my ability. That’s the promise. Don’t forget to look up.

*klaxon* New hero *klaxon*

Excited, poorly edit post below.

Tommy Flowers was an engineer who worked for Bletchley Park during World War II. Along with people like Alan Turing he was instrumental in developing machines which could decipher German messages.

Previously message deciphering had been done largely by hand, but by WWII the ciphering techniques had become to complicated. Machines were needed, and Flowers invented Colossus, a valve-based semi-programmable computer which was the size of a small room.

His work lead to modern computer science techniques and the very computer you’re reading this on now. He should be famous but because of war time secrecy he was instructed to keep silent. Credit instead goes to post-war developments from America.

After the war Flowers sought a bank loan to redevelop Colossus but was refused because bank mangers didn’t believe that the system could work.

The most bitter-sweet part of the tale comes towards the end of his life. Long-forgotten by computer history, Flowers bought a home PC. He struggled to used it and so enrolled on a college course to learn more. The picture shows his course certificate, proudly displaying that Flowers was now proficient in DBase 3+, Excel and Paint.

Paint.

Proper hero, Tommy, I love you. And thanks, from the bottom of my laptop.

More info: http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/museum/tour24.rhtm

The centre cannot hold

I am seriously wondering about this site.

What’s it for? I mean, I have to have a website, right? I design for the web. My livelihood depends on me understanding, persuing and changing this very environment, as it leaks into mobile, TV, device indepedent, responsively designed what next areas?

So it would be remiss of me as a practioner not to be here. And also, I like the internet. Of course I’m here. But here, this domain, this URL doesn’t really matter anymore.

Here’s two statements I regularly make to clients.
1. People won’t come to your site just because it’s there.
2. Good content travels.

Now, I know that most of the hits this blog gets are from Facebook. I also know that most of the people I have on facebook don’t really care about the nitty gritty of UX. Which means, in all honesty, that my semi-regular ‘professional’ posts don’t serve much purpose except to be marginally reassuring should I need to apply for a job and someone bothers to do a background check.

I used to post a lot more about the books, music and films I was in to, but I moved all that to Tumblr, because (a) it has readership and (b)it makes this place look more professional in its absense.

And of course, I’m on twitter. In fact, I’m anywhere but here.

So if I’m not here, why will people come? And even if I write the best blog post ever, no one will see it so there’s no chance of it travelling and hits arriving from secondary sources. That’s happened to me once, with my dodgy illustrations of Brett Anderson lyrics.

A new plan then: to write not for this website, but for two seperate Tumblrs. One will be UX focused, the other my existing fangirl one. I might set up a third one for more thoughtful/faith-based posts, but not yet. I’ll aim for one post a week, then two. Discipline, then frequency. I’ll copy stuff here, because the one thing it does have is permanence.

But the strategy has changed. This site is an archive. It is not where I live.

What is it you do again?

Over the last couple of months, for a variety of reasons, I have been asked to state and explain exactly quite what it is I claim I do for a living. I have, therefore, in the last couple of months realised just how hard it is for me to s and e exactly what I d for an l.

After all, I’ve only been doing this job, if you can call it that, for six years. It’s simply unreasonable to expect me to know already.

No, OK, it isn’t. And I know I’m not doing myself any favours by setting myself up as a moron who can’t even give a name to the source of her income, never mind one of those elevator pitches I was taught to rehearse on my very first day of consultancy training.

But the thing is, I’ve been forced into it. It seems I’ve spend these last six years standing twixt a turbulent ravine (or more realistically, tumbling into it) as I try to bridge the gap between happily doing my job with colleagues who understand, respect and complement my discipline, and explaining it to those who don’t know UX from OXO.

It feels a bit like this:

Buns are hurled on both sides and neither actually knows what the other does, beyond a few stocks phrases and TLAs that are never explained. (Really, what is a GANNT chart? I’m still not sure I know. And doesn’t it have an H in it somewhere?)

In repsonse to this, I’ve been on the defensive. I’ll tell someone flippantly that I sit in the corner with crayons, or that my real job title is Solutions Magician, or if I’m feeling really generous, go on a rant about how nothing in the WORLD would EVER WORK if it wasn’t for us MATRYS playing attention to the poor users oh won’t somebody think of the children, as if we were the first tribe on earth to equate simplicity with happiness.

It sucks, basically and we should all stop it. Let’s actually believe that most people in an organisation are there for a reason (most), and recognise that just because we might not personally understand the precise machinations of their daily tasks, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Or, more commonly, let’s stop pretending that just because you only have a simplistic view of my role DOES NOT mean it is so simple you could do it your-bloody-self. (Sorry, sore spot.)

So, to kick things off, here’s a nice, neat summary of the role of a UX Architect (yes, I have finally reconciled myself to that title. Boo.):

Ah, well, yes. Like I said, I don’t actually know. I only realised this in the last few weeks when, due to a mixture of career development and a freelance role involving selling my skills, I’ve had the ear of people who (a) know what it is I do, and can probably articulate it better than I can; and (b) aren’t easily impressed by a self-depreciating joke, which is always my fallback in these situations. People want to know, not because they don’t understand, but to check that I do.

And I do, but I’ve never had to say it. Get on with it, yes. Produce results, yes. Write documentation, yes. Change the world, nearly. But never, ever, have I had to tell someone who is positive, knowledgeable and sympathetic about my role how I perceive and practice it.

Turns out, it’s rather hard. I fluff my lines, forget terminology, ramble on failing to make any point at all. Put me in front of a client who needs a reduced version, or a testing candidate who needs reassuring, I’m fine. But with someone who knows my role inside out, I end up sounding like the feeble graduate I think deep down I still believe I am.

So next time an uninitiated bod asks me what it is I do, I’m going to practice on him. Try and explain, properly, kindly and clearly. And probably bore him to death, but never mind. I need to practice and he needs to stop calling me crayon kid. Although I do quite like that. It puts me in my place.

Bringing it all back home

Hello.

I’m in the UK. I’ve been here two weeks and haven’t properly unpacked yet. I’ve already been on holiday twice since. And -gasp- working. And catching up with people and proper beer.

Basically: sorry for the silence. I will write some proper soon, promise.

Cruel Britannia

I tried to go home today. Back to the UK, I mean. I’d done everything properly. Last week I squeezed my belongings into two battered suitcases and even ventured to clean the oven. I shouldn’t like to leave an untidy flat for the next occupant.

Today, bag in hand and documents in wallet, I left the flat. I checked the post box, and descended the small flight of stairs to street level. The same as any day, except today I was going home.

Because Latvia is in the Eastern European time zone (GMT +2), and a flight from Riga to London takes two hours, it’s possible to make the journey in almost no time at all. If one is lucky it can take all of five earth minutes.

And so it was today. With little more than quiver on my clock, I arrived at the border, the last leg of my journey taking me across a junction, around the corner and past Queen’s – my local, and a pub as traditionally British as any you care to name.

The gate was locked, but in fairness, I hadn’t told them I was coming. Generally when I speak of going home, my fellow countrymen promise they will welcome me in at any time. I expected today to be no different. With cheeks flushed and a smile spreading at the thought of my green and pleasant land, I stood at the gate and rang the bell.

“Yes?” said a voice.
“Hello!” I said. “I’ve come home. Can I come in?”
“Who are you?” said the voice. “What do you want?”
“I want to come in,” I cried. “I’ve spent a year in Latvia and now it’s time to go home.”
“Do you have an appointment?” he crackled through the speaker.
“No, but I’ve got friends here. They said I should come and visit.”

There was a pause, then the electronic lock on the gate gave a clunk. I pushed the weighty frame aside and stepped over the threshold. I beheld not Anglia, but a security guard. The mystery voice.

“Do you have any ID?”

I handed him my driving license, hoping it would suffice as I’d carelessly left my passport in Latvia. The guard surveyed it briefly and asked me to wait. He then disappeared, leaving me trapped in customs limbo with a second guard keeping a watchful eye on my every move. What if Britain didn’t want me back?

Five minutes later he returned.

“Britain is in a meeting,” he stated. “Perhaps you should come back another day.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I will. Thanks so much for you time. Sorry to bother you.” Even if Britain is too busy to greet me, I will still maintain my customary apologetic politeness ‘wards her.

I turned to leave, all the time regretting that my beleaguered nation no longer runs its embassies like it used to. I walked all the way down the road and everything. A long road. And I was humming Jerusalem at the time.

Mind you – political territory or not – I’m not sure that little compound was truly our Great Isle after all, in soil or in spirit. Among other things, a sign on the gate indicated that no umbrellas were allowed.

(Fret ye not. I will actually return to the UK, properly, on 1st August.)

More than I thought

This is weird.

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I thought by now there would be a few things I could write about, projects that have finished that I can link you to and reflect on.

I mean, a few weeks ago I was looking at

  • a) the story of how I did a fortnight’s usability testing and conceptual designs for an SME, and all the fun things I learned doing that
  • b) the story of how I helped place the Latvian Bible on Kindle
  • c) the story of how I experimented with Tumblr as a publishing platform, and how that will influence the publishing of my novel.

So plently to write about. And I still could. But the odd thing is that none of these little activities have really finished yet. I don’t want to write half a story. Far beyond my expectations rather than me dallying about and doing something fun but ulitmately pointless, as is my usual style, these things have grown.

I can’t tell you how it went with the SME because I’m still working for them. I can’t tell you about Kindle because I’m still up to my neck in publishing and UI restrictions. I can’t tell you when my book will be online because there a small chance, the slimmest chance you understand, that someone might publish it properly.

Completely, overwhelmingly, unexpectedly things that have just dropped into my lap. I feel very blessed and provided for right now, I can tell you.

…20 days to go… …that’s sad…

End of Act I.

It’s the 19th of June. In a little over one month I expect to have left Latvia and returned to the UK. This is not unwanted or unexpected but probably deserves a little explanation, in a handy FAQ format.

Don’t you like it here/there?
Yes, I love it here, especially now it’s summer. The sky is bright, the temperature is high and the beer is flowing. It’s a great life, truth be told.

So why are you going then?
Because I have run out money to pay the rent.
No, actually that isn’t strictly true. I am running low, as I knew I would, but that’s not the reason. I came here on the prompting (read: frequent, repeated poking until I finally listened) of God and I will leave by the same instruction. After thought and prayer I think it’s the right time go.

Couldn’t you get a job in Latvia?
I could, indeed I have earned money out here. Plenty. If I felt it was right to stay, I’d be looking for work, but it isn’t, so I’m not. I mean, if an incredible offer came up I’m give it some thought, but I’m comfortable I’m doing the right thing by leaving.

Where will you go next?
I don’t really know. I’m looking for UX/web work in the UK. Initially I will go where the work is and see after that. I’m not planning too many steps ahead, but Bristol is on my heart. I have ideas a-plenty. I will gently and prayerfully push on doors and see which ones open.

What’s happening with the church?
They are still very much here, and a great bunch they are too. I will miss them, and miss seeing what God does first-hand.

Will you come and visit?
As much I can. There’s too much here to leave behind.

What about your book?
It’s resting, pending some peer reviews. I’ve prepared a summary I will shortly send to publishers. If nothing else I will put it online/Kindle sometime in September.

Can I give you a job?
Yes, please use the contact form or the various forms of social media I pollute.

I haven’t seen you in ages, can I take you out for dinner?
Name your date.