Friday, April 28, 2006

It's Not My Fault You're Lost

This week I noticed an odd trend. When it's raining, lost people are more rude and demanding.

You see, in a normal week, in addition to the normal whackjobs and beggars that talk to me, I typically get asked for directions 2 or maybe 3 times. Typically these people are quite friendly, which is only appropriate since I'm helping them out. But for some reason, when it's raining, they seem to feel that I'm somehow obligated to help them.

For instance, yesterday as I was walking to work in the rain, a guy yelled at me from across the street I had already crossed. He said something about directions; I couldn't really hear him that well. Then he crooked his finger and gave me the come hither while shouting something else. This guy actually thought I was going to stop what I was doing and backtrack across a street in the rain, just for the privilege of helping him out. I basically just shook my head and kept walking, and which point he yelled something rude.

This is just an example - I've been in similar situations before, usually in the rain.

So I was pondering this on my walk. Why do the rude people only come out in the rain? Am I being less patient because of the rain? Do the nice people stay indoors or drive? Do the rude like to be wet because it gives them an excuse?

The best reason I can think of is this. There are fewer people out walking around in the rain, for obvious reasons, which means less people to ask directions of. Also, few people enjoy walking in the rain, so those that are out will tend to be less helpful. Which means that if you're lost, you'll have a harder time finding anyway to ask directions, and probably be more frustrated. So on average, your typical lost person will be more annoyed, and have spent more time lost, so they're more likely to be impolite about the whole situation.

Or am I just trying too hard here? Anyone else have some theories or evidence?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bizarre Neighbors

There's a lot of foot traffic in my new neighborhood. There's probably someone walking by at least every 5 minutes almost all the time. Most of them are just normal people, but I've had a few interesting encounters lately.

Two happened while I was planting my new tree in the front yard. This was about 9AM on a sunny Saturday.

The first was a younger guy, wearing a North Face jacket, leather cap, and carrying a brand name courier bag. He stopped and chatted about the tree for a minute. Then he asked me for some change. This struck as a bit incongruous, because I was wearing ripped cargo pants and a dirty t-shirt, while he was rather better dressed as I mentioned. I'm not really sure what he was thinking anyway, because who carries around money to do yardwork? Needless to say I declined to give him any cash.

Maybe half an hour later an obviously drunk woman happened by, singing loudly. She was also attempting to dance, or at least she was stumbling in an amusing manner. She stopped and proceeded to "serenade" me with some sort of love song for the better part of five minutes, with more capering. Bizarre. Then she asked for change too, but I still didn't have any. So she sang some more and then asked again. I guess you've got to give her credit for being persistent, but I still didn't credit her any cash.

The following Friday we got home from dinner about 8PM. I noticed someone lying on the sidewalk half a block away, so I went to check things out. Turns out it was a 30-ish man. He was passed out face down on the ramp down to the street, with his head lower than his feet. I managed to rouse him enough to ask if he was okay, which he allowed that he was. I figured that maybe he wasn't in the best shape to be the judge of that, so I called the police. Since I was already in Good Samaritan mode, I waited around to make sure nobody ran him over or stole his wallet or anything. It was actually an instructive episode on the attitudes of city dwellers. During the time I was there 20 or 30 people walked, drove or biked by and saw him. I think maybe 5 even looked concerned, and only a couple stopped to see what was going on. Having lived here for a while, I can tell you this isn't exactly a common occurrence, so I can only conclude that these people just don't care.

After about 20 minutes two cops showed up to take over. I've since wondered whether I really did that guy a favor or not. Is it better to take your chances passed out on the sidewalk for a night, or wake up in detox the next morning? Hard for me to say, but either way I'm happier not having him on the sidewalk.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Captivating the captives

My building recently installed LCD screens in each of the elevators, which constantly show recent headlines - political news, entertainment, the usual bite-size stuff, from a company called Captivate Network. They're neat, although I wonder what it says about our society that people can't stand to be without TV for even the length of an elevator ride.

Despite the constant stream of quasi-useful information from the screen, I think the most interesting part is watching the people. See, there's only one TV, to the left of the door, and it's a small 8 or 9 inch screen. So only one or maybe two people can see it. But the attraction of the TV is so great that everyone else will jockey around, crane their necks, squint their eyes, and generally make a fool of themselves for a glimpse of the TV. In fact, it actually does look a lot like the picture on page 3 of their marketing brochure. Of course I can't get too high and mighty here - I do the same thing myself. I guess Captivate Network is aptly named. But then it's not that hard to be captivating, when the audience is literally held captive inside the stimulus-poor environment of an elevator.

The other feature of major interest is the UI mistakes they made in the programming. The screen shows a short article on the left side. The right side is split between the unavoidable ad space on top, and a small area on the bottom that rotates between weather, stock quotes, and two other things I can't remember right now.

It's this last area that's bizarre, because they put tabs on it. Right above the viewable area are 4 tabs, and they light up when they're being displayed. Because they look exactly like the tabs in many pieces of software, the implication is that you can push the tabs to see something else. Not interested in weather? Push the "Stocks" tab. Almost everyone did this the first time they saw the screen. But of course, it's not a touchscreen -- the tabs have no effect whatsoever. So the UI is incredibly misleading, especially because the tabs serve no other conceivable purpose. Every adult knows what stock quote looks like, and what a weather forecast looks like, and they don't look at all alike. If the "Stock" tab wasn't there, I still wouldn't think that IBM was going to be cloudy and 72 degrees today, or that the weather calls for PFE to drop another quarter-point.

But I should quit complaining. If they did take out the useless tabs, they'd just increase the size of the advertising.

Mother Nature, how have I offended thee?

I spent last weekend doing something new for me, namely gardening. I've played with houseplants before, but never actual in-the-dirt gardening.

The reason for this new beginning was that I got a tree from Denver Digs Trees. This is a pretty neat little charity that gives away trees to people in Denver. In exchange you have to plant the tree by the street and take care of it. I think it's a good cause, and good for our urban environment. Plus I got a free tree out of it, a Bugundy Belle Maple to be exact.

While I was at it, I got ambitious and planted a bunch of flowers and groundcover plants in my planter. It was actually a pretty good time, digging up the roots from previous plants, mixing up the soil, planting the new plants. I was starting to think I was not too bad at this gardening thing.

Then it hailed.

Later that night, the temperature got down to freezing, and the next day it snowed.

So now I've learned the first Painfully Obvious Difference Between Houseplants and Gardens: the weather matters.

Another thing I learned is that weird people will talk to me when I'm gardening. But that's a topic for another post.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Come here whiteboy!

Another episode in my walk home from work...

As I was crossing Park Avenue, three black guys were coming the other direction. One threw his hands out as if asking for a hug and yelled "Come here white boy!" Not threatening at all, but definitely bizarre. I'm all for love thy brother, but that was a bit much, so I just laughed, dodged him, and kept going. I would've loved to know what he was thinking, but the middle of a busy street didn't seem like the appropriate place.

But I did look back after I passed them, and the guy's friends seemed to be as surprised as I was.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Safari into the DOM

Since I've starting working for Newsgator, I've been writing a lot of Javascript. It's been fun learning the ins and outs of this environment. But as everyone who's written Javascript knows, cross-browser compatibilty is a total pain in the butt.

One particular problem I remember is how Safari sets the eventTarget of mouse events. If you attach an event, an onclick for instance, to a container node with text in it, Safari sends the events to the text instead of the container. I was going to write an example, but QuirksMode does it better.

For the life of me I can't figure out why you would want this. In fact, this is so bizarre to me that it took almost an entire day before the possibility occurred to me, at which point I did some Googling and found the answer. But that was a really frustrating day.

If writing this post saves even one poor web developer the same experience, then it's all worth while. Or something like that.

Which way to the dinosaurs?

Since I started walking to work again, I've naturally come into contact with a lot more random people. Usually they just want directions, or maybe pocket change, but a couple weeks ago I ran into a somewhat more interesting fellow...

Homeless Guy: "Hey, do you know where Jurassic Park is?"

Me: "Ummm, I think it's off the coast of Central America."

Him: "It's at 6th and Curtis."

Me: "No, I really think it's off Costa Rica, Isla Nublar or something like that."

Him: "No it's not. It's at 6th and Curtis."

Me: (giving up the Costa Rica argument) "Well, I don't think 6th and Curtis ever intersect."

Him: "Yes they do. If I keep going this way will I get there?"

Me: "Well, if they did intersect, which they don't, it would be in the other direction."

At this point he walked off in the direction he had been going.

Denver may not be New York but we do have some interesting people, for better or for worse.

Hello World!

You gotta love programmers -- everything has to start with Hello World. I only wish I had thought of it, but credit here goes to the Wordpress guys.

So this is the inaugural post on my blog. I've spent a lot of time saying that I would never do this, because I have nothing interesting to say. I still think there's some truth to that, but since I'm now working for a company that's intimately involved with blogging, on a product that's partially for reading blogs, I felt that I should.

So hopefully I can manage to make at least a few interesting comments here, and avoid the ubiquitous problems of bloggers in general (ie, poore speling an gramr n stuf, ALL CAPS, pics of omg my cute kitties! and other things of the like).