Third to Last in 5K Race ;)

Well, at least I didn’t come in last and I ran faster than I thought I would.

Today I ran in the 5K race in Velika Gorica, just outside of Zagreb. It was very nice weather for running–Sun, light breeze, 16 C (or about 61 F). I was so afraid I would come in last or end up quitting in the middle. I haven’t run a race in 10 years and I didn’t prepare very well for this one, but I did ok. I ran about 31 minutes (very slow for those of you who know how fast a 5K should be run). My fastest time ever in the 5K was around 21:30 about 11 years ago. I hope to one day get close to that again 🙂

This time I ran in just under 31 minutes. My next goal is to run the 5K in under 30 minutes.

Dinko ran the half marathon and did excellent. Check out his Race Report.

What I’ve been up to

Nothing too exciting, but here’s an update anyway. Thanks to Dinko for the indirect idea of doing this kind of post 🙂

  • Getting official permission to stay in Croatia. Well, it took me 3 days, over 450kn (about $75), a lot of waiting and running around to finally get everything in order with the Croatian government. Gotta love bureaucracy.
  • Preparing for the 5K race in Velika Gorica, Croatia. This Sunday I have my first 5K running race in almost 10 years. I used to run a lot and I loved it. Now, I’m very out of shape and I don’t think I will do well. I hope to at least finish and not come in last.
  • Playing lots of Bela. It grows on you. Tihana and I will be expert professional players by the time I return to Philly.
  • Studying Croatian. I need to do this every day. I try to force myself to read ahead in my books, watch Croatian shows, and do exercises. Now I really need to get that conversational aspect down. I know more than I think I do.
  • Visiting Samobor. Last weekend we went with some friends to visit Samobor, a neighboring town. It’s really pretty and not as small as I thought. I want to go back when the weather is nicer to see the old ruins ontop of the hill.

What’s coming up…

  • Redoing my site. The age of my site and the ideas of fellow bloggers have inspired me to make some much needed and well overdue changes to my site. And I think I might experiment with free-tagging myself and my stuff 🙂
  • Visiting Venice, Italy. Dinko and I have a trip to Venice in a few weeks. It will be great fun. It’s closer than we thought.
  • Visiting Pula, Croatia. Idemo ca! Very exciting. Our friends have offered to take us to Pula for Easter weekend.

Communication Tool to Save the World

A friend and colleague of mine has challenged me to come up the the communication/community tool to save the world. In preparation I’m doing a lot of research on how online communities and communication tools work today. I don’t usually get to mess around with this stuff so it’s a nice challenge. Right now, I’m trying to find out what all the hype is about on MySpace.com. Here’s my space 🙂

interview-based tasks in usability tests

I just read a really great article from Jared Spool’s latest newsletter. He talks about how interview-based tasks in usability tests are a great way for identifying problem areas with our internet-based products as well as providing more insight into the way our users approach and use these products.

One of the problems with traditional task-based usability tests are that they can yield misguided results simply because the tasks are not directly related to what real users wish to do. Using these traditional tasks certainly will help the usability team understand how their product works, but not really how people use it, which can make all the difference when it comes to offering a useful and profitable internet-based product.

Jared says that “passion on a subject changes how participants invest in usability test tasks.” If the user is interested in the subject matter that the task is based in, they will take a completely different approach to executing the tasks and determining when they are complete. Users that are interested in the subject will demand more from the product in order to get the desired result than someone who is not interested.

As usability test facilitators, it is our challenge to identify and control the passion in a test. Interviewing chosen test participants at the start of the session can help identify areas of “passion” by which to base tasks. Using light role-playing with easily imaginable situations can help structure the tasks. At this point, the facilitator now has a set of agreeable tasks created in conjunction with the participant. As a result, no two participants will have the same set of tasks.

Jared goes on to say that even though each participant’s tasks will be different, patterns will begin to emerge with their approaches. Facilitators will still begin to see the common problems and the experience that users have with the product.

Using interview-based tasks in usability tests not only improves provides more representative results, it also allows the facilitator to learn more about the users, their interests, and how they think of content. All of this information helps us to make better decisions and recommendations for improving our products.

This was a fantastic article that I truly encourage all of you interested in internet product design to read it on the UIE site. It opens to the door to another tool UX professionals can use to help make their products better. Unfortunately I have not yet had the opportunity to participate in the facilitation or witness of a usability test in my young IA career, but I hope to soon and will continue to push for the need to do so.

my difficulty learning croatian

I’ve been taking a Croatian language course for 3 weeks now and I don’t feel as though I’m progressing as much as I would have hoped. Many know that as an adult, it is very difficult to learn a new language if you’ve never successfully learned a second language before. In high school I studied Spanish, but it was only for 3 years, I never used it and I don’t remember much of it today. In college I studied Russian for 2 semesters. I remember some, and Russian is similar in root to Croatian, but I didn’t learn enough and I haven’t used it since.

I’ve been listening to Croatian (or Serbian) somewhat regularly, although limited at times, for the past 8-9 years. It was about 9 years ago that I met my boyfriend and a few other really great ex-Yugoslavians from Drexel. Since then I’ve been learning the language off-and-on on my own for the past 8 years. Needless to say, I am far better at reading and translating written Croatian than I am at anything else because I didn’t have much practice conversing in it.

Learning the language, by being immersed in it and forced to use it is one of the many reasons why I wanted to come live in Croatia. Being here has definitely exposed me to more spoken conversations, but I’m still not confident enough to contribute. I have difficulty hearing all of the words that are being said. Most of the time I hear only basic words and a few major words from someone and I can derive a concept from it and understand. But, quite often, I get stuck translating a word and miss the rest of the sentence. To strangers I look as though I’m dumb and then I end up saying

“Ne govorim hrvatski. Samo govorim engleski.”

Then they say sorry and keep quiet.

I had high hopes for my language course, but it is not living up to them. My classes largely consist of me reading aloud my homework from the previous class and then doing some exercises or reading aloud of small paragraphs from the work book. There is little real world, one-on-one dialogue between my instructor and myself. Today I asked her to modify the lessons so that we could spend more time on covering what I am weak in–conversations. I have my next class tomorrow and I hope that it is better.

There are only about 12 weeks left to my stay in Croatia and I would like to be able to hold real conversations in Croatian with my boyfriend’s friends and family. There is at least one friend and all of his family that do not speak much English at all and I would like to get to know them better and let them know me.

thinking more about the good stuff

Seeing the good in things over the bad can be difficult. It is often easier to find the bad than the good in things. Perhaps because what’s bad is more impressionable.

On Friday I had a call with a colleague in Vancouver. When asked, how I liked Croatia and what it was like here I had difficulty quickly coming up with anything that was positive. My first instincts were to say what I knew to be different and those were negative. It saddened me, because I do enjoy being here.

Over the weekend I got to thinking. Why can’t I come up with “good” aspects of living in Croatia. It’s not that I can’t come up with them. It’s that I don’t remember them. The bad things that I notice here happen often and leave a lasting impression on me. I am also very fond of my home in Philadelphia and might just be trying to find reasons why I shouldn’t like living in Zagreb as much as I do.

So, I hope to be posting more good things that I find and better comparisons than I have been sharing with family and friends in the States thusfar. Here is one to start…

The people of Croatia are very, very proud of their country. Sure everyone has something to say about the government, the state of affairs, relations with other countries, and ridiculous laws, but when it comes to a Croatian winning something, the whole country talks about it and celebrates it.

When Croatia won the Davis Cup in Tennis, there was a huge celebration in the main square. Thousands of people gathered to celebrate the and cheer the tennis players for their great victory as they returned from Slovakia.

When dinamo (Zagreb soccer team) wins soccer games, residents cheer, scream and shoot guns into the air.

When Janica Kostelic would win a metal or place first in some race, I could hear the people upstairs jumping up and down and banging things in joy.

And when some Croatian folksinger or filmmaker won awards for their contributions, all the TV channels and newspapers had something to say about it.

After the celebration, you will keep hearing about the great event in newspapers on television and from passers-by for days.

The U.S. is quite big, and it’s hard to say that the entire country celebrates in joy when a U.S. citizen wins some award or places in a sport. There’s no real window into those types events around the country. Our mass communication mediums don’t find these types of events worth mentioning pages because they won’t sell papers or commercials. But I can comment on a local level. Most big local events do get recognition and celebration, but it’s no where near the caliber of here. It lacks the luster and true pride.

Wireframes are no longer for communicating

I used to think that wireframes were a great way to communicate abstract design decisions to the rest of the project team. Needless to say, I no longer feel this way. As a matter of fact, I think they are one of the worst ways to communicate these decisions. But, wireframes are not all bad. Each person should use the tool that works best for them and their environment.

Here are some of my frustrations…

Wireframes take a really long time to create and there really is NO good application out there for them. For interactive internat applications, which I mostly work on, it’s even more difficult. How do you document easily and concisely in a 2D space how to interact with an object in virtual 3D?

Most folks don’t want to read–EVER. IAs take a really long time creating accurate wireframes, annotating all the components, reviewing, tweaking, versioning, etc, only to have the stacks sit on someone’s desk gathering dust until there’s a meeting where the IA will essentially explain everything in person anyway. It’s not a negative comment on the folks who receive the wireframes, just an observation that IAs just might be wasting their time on these documents.

There must be a better way to communicate IA and UX decisions, but I believe that can only happen if the process by which these products are developed also changes.

But, wireframes have been helpful to me in brainstorming (minus the massive annotations) and in analyzind and identifying details of an interface that I may have missed. It’s a great exercise for me to catch issues ahead of time that I might not be able to find otherwise. Then again, isn’t that just a form of paper prototyping?