» 80’s style ads are back. Relevant quote:

But while ’80s design is certainly resonating, it seems likely that nostalgia as a concept […] is what’s really driving this resurgence.

January 7, 2023

» I once worked with a company that was developing call center software: The software on the client PCs that shows information about the calling customer. Quickly I discovered that the protocol between the client and the server was not encrypted at all, passwords were transmitted in clear text and there was no server-side validation to access any customer records: Essentially, the server did whatever the client ask for, and inversely, all the server could do was to ask the client nicely.

For example, if the server wanted to shut down a client remotely (for instance because the shift of the person on that computer has ended and they should no longer receive any data), all it did was sending what we dubbed a would-you-kindly request to the client to shut down, which the client could potentially ignore without any consequences at all. The session would stay active if the client dropped the request.

Obviously, I raised this to both the lead architect and the lead product manager, and, equally obviously, they both already knew and told me that call center employees were too dumb to exploit this, because if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be working in a call center.

I am not sure if there is a better word for it, but I’d like to call this approach “Security by floccinaucinihilipilification”.

» It’s an old saying that whenever you are not paying for it, you are the product. I don’t think that this is true in most cases - instead, I think if you are not paying for it, someone else is the customer (which is a bit of a truism, but bear with me for a second). The classical example for people being the product would be Social Media, where people, or their interactions with ads, are the actual product the companies are selling.

An example where people are neither the customer nor the product is B2B software, where the user interface is, sometimes hilariously, sometimes unbearably, horrible to use - SAP software being the canonical example.

The reason for that is that the goals of the person buying the software does not always align with the goals or wishes of the actual users - ease of use vs. price, for example. Concur, the tool discussed in the link above, is actually a good example where this tradeoff kind of makes sense: In many companies, the tool is crucial to have, but rarely used, and a shoddy UX would be worth the cost savings.

Often, though, this phenomenon is due to misaligned goals, because of course does the UX have an effect on the efficiency of the people using it, especially when they rely on the tool for their day to day work. If cost saving is more important than mid term efficiency, then a poor UX is acceptable.

As a side note, I have done my fair share of last-minute preparation of half-assed features just to get the software through a sales pitch, and I, too, have heard the lie of “fixing it later” once the contract is finalized. Typically, the presentation in the sales pitch is tailored around the capabilities of the software, and the minute someone asks the presenter to click somewhere outside of their script, things start to fall apart. Consequently, handwaving was a crucial skill for our sales colleagues.

» omg.lol, a lovable web domain. Reminds me a bit of beepworld or similar pages in the early 2000s. I am not sure what to do with it yet, but this is mine. I am considering moving the blog there, or using their status update on this blog, but for the first variant the latency of the service is too bad, and for the other variant I would have to add JavaScript to this blog, which I’d like to avoid.

» It’s been a while since I mentioned the Boring Phone, and I have to say that it really makes a difference to use the phone like this. Apart from the DnD-Settings, which I somehow have set to a laxer timeline (reverting it now to 18:00-8:00), I am still using all the settings I mentioned in the original post.

» You’re using Function Keys wrong: a proposal to use the F keys as shortcuts for day to day activities. Which is what they have been designed for, but they have been used for different purposes, and then we introduced another layer of FN keys on top of the existing ones, but the new layer also does not provide great value (apart form Media Controls maybe), so now we need a 3rd party app to use the FN keys for what they were intended to use.

January 5, 2023

» I know the general push for smaller teams - e.g. the Two Pizza Rule or the 7 +/- 2 Rule, but until now I assumed this was only to minimize communication paths within the team. Turns out there is another effect at play: The Ringelmann Effect:

The Ringelmann effect is the tendency for individual members of a group to become increasingly less productive as the size of their group increases. […] As more people are involved in a task, their average performance decreases, each participant tending to feel that their own effort is not critical.

» Here is the fix to an annoying issue I recently had.

The problem:

Alexa’s volume is either too low or too loud relative to the media/music playback. So when you hear music at a regular volume and then ask Alexa something, either its feedback blasts holes in the nearest wall, or it is so low that you can barely hear it.

The solution:

I only tested this with the Spotify skill, but I assume that this also works with other skills where you remotely change the Echo’s volume , e.g. without directly interacting with the Echo. Here is what happens: Suppose the Echo is set up correctly at Volume 3, Alexa’s volume is just fine. Then you start playback via Spotify. You increase the volume using the Spotify app: the Echo changes its volume. However, Alexa’s volume does not change with it, so if you set the volume to e.g. 6 while hearing Spotify, Alexa’s volume would still be at 3. If you now change the volume on the echo directly, or asking Alexa to change the volume, you change both the Echo volume and Alexa’s volume at the same time - no matter if you’re still using Spotify or not. So if, for example, after the above change you change your volume from 6 to 5 on the Echo, you also change Alexa’s volume from 3 to 2. And if you turn the echo’s volume all the way back to 3, Alexa’s volume would be on the lowest setting.

This also works the other way around.

The Fix:

  • You need to use the Spotify skill (or, as mentioned above, any other skill that allows remotely changing the volume).
  • Start playback.
  • Using the Echo controls or voice commands, change the Echo’s volume so that Alexa’s voice responses are at the right level for you.
  • Using Spotify’s controls, change the volume to a level that matches Alexa’s voice volume level.
  • Both volumes should now be in synch and change simultaneously using the device’s controls or voice commands.