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I want to break free

16 Apr

I have smoked exactly two thirds of my life: twenty-eight years. It’s high time I stopped. So I stopped.

It’s been only five days but that’s the longest I’ve achieved ever, so there is cause to celebrate.

The decision had been years in the making. Friends and family have persisted over the years and my son recently joined the lecturing bandwagon. I’m thankful because I was impervious! Much as they annoyed me, they were right and I knew it. Slowly I was getting closer to commitment: Quitting is the right thing to do, therefore submit.

I was brought closer to the decision last month by the prospect of tobacco deprivation at airports, during long flights –and basically of limited freedom to smoke–, as I prepared for a 24-hour or so journey to a two-day meeting, followed by a 24-hour or so journey back home. The actual trigger was the epiphany that struck me as I thought I was at last free to go smoke between two flights: that is not freedom, that is (nicotine) enslavement.

In “The Easy Way To Stop Smoking”, the book my good friend Amy gave me years ago, Allen Carr writes:

“It is […] slavery. We spend half our lives in situations in which society forbids us to smoke (churches, hospitals, schools, trains, theaters, and the like) or […] feeling deprived. The rest of our smoking lives is spent in situations where we are allowed to smoke, but wish we didn’t have to.”

I smoked my last cigarette Tuesday after dinner and patched up the next morning. I’ve got lozenges for when the craving is too intense but I don’t like them too much so don’t use them a lot.

The worse day was the day before I stopped.

I had made up my mind, purchased the patches and the lozenges at the pharmacy after picking up my son after school. I was still smoking as my pouch of tobacco was not yet empty –it took me another day to finish it as I let it drag on as much as possible by rolling thinner ones and smoking less.

The second worse day was the third. Possibly because I had not used a patch that morning. Good to know they are not selling squares of adhesive tape!

A couple parting thoughts:

  • Not lighting up is hard, but not as hard now that I have decided to stop.
  • Time goes quite slowly in the process.

In honour of World Usability (#WUD)

17 Nov
World Usability Day (#WUD), generally the second Thursday of November, aims at ensuring that services and products important to life are easier to access and simpler to use, and at celebrating and educating – celebrating the strides we have made in creating usable products and educating the masses about how usability impacts our daily lives. It is about making our world work better.

This year I attended with 40 or so others, FLUPA Nice The World Usability Day local meetup where Google’s Material Design was introduced, and a small workshop was held on visually designing wireframes.

I learned that 21% of the French population is in a situation of handicap (that is 23M people) and that 80% of handicaps are invisible. W3C was mentioned for its work on WCAG, but unfortunately not for its WAI tutorials or Developer tools.

Other useful snippets:

  • Digital accessibility is a vector of social integration.
  • My priority design principles include:
    • Visible elements
    • … including visible buttons using or or two words
    • Most important elements at the top
    • Similar types of information are grouped
    • Clear hierarchy of information
    • Consistency of UX throughout
    • Sufficient font size and colour contrast
    • 2 to 3 colours (that match, preferably although it’s a matter of taste)
    • 2 font types at most, maybe a third if used in a logotype
    • Short sentences
    • A little jargon as possible
    • Consistent usage of personal pronouns
  • Given that only a handful of frameworks appear to be used to create websites nowadays, people really need to be creative in order to stand out and be identifiable.

My new job: first impressions

15 Mar

I started this post mid-March and it was overtaken by… work. And when I wasn’t at work, I was tending to home chores and my family (in that order, sadly.)

Your mission, should you decide to accept it

Our CEO phoned me late January with a job offer I could not refuse. My first reaction was to run away, of course. What, acting Head of Marketing and Communications at W3C? Why me? Who else if not me; I was going to be the only full-time person remaining in this team.

That isn’t the fullest representation. I have been in this team for 10 years and 16 in the Consortium; I have both historical corporate knowledge and a better insight of the job than would a new recruit. Also, I was readily available.

I had twenty hours to think about it, sleep time included, and come up with a yes or no. My mind was already made; I could still run away if it didn’t work. Or not, and simply go back to what I was doing before. So, I was going to do that! (Image below via Andrei Sambra, for April Fools day)

cat meme: deal smells fishy, where do I sign?

Bittersweet February

I thought how big the shoes to fill were; an impossible accomplishment. I focused on what I would bring, and how to leverage past practices that I had witnessed without ever paying great attention. I felt dwarfed by the gigantic responsibilities and tasks ahead. After all, this was a position I never thought about for myself.

I thought with much guilt about immediate commitments such as a family vacation which was going to start almost right after a week of travel and meetings in Tokyo. Basically, that gig was going to start without me. How very atypical to begin a new job by a week to wrap-up as much as possible and prepare for travel and meetings, by a week in near-isolation as meetings and meeting-related work takes place, and by two weeks incommunicado touring Japan. So early February, my predecessor stepped down, and covered for me impeccably till I came back. Fast forward to March 2015.

March was brutal

March was brutal. I returned fully rested from an excellent fortnight of quality time with my loved ones, having appropriately kept my mind off work, while bracing myself for the next big thing.

  1. Loads more e-mail. I unsubscribed from some lists but subscribed to a bigger bunch.
  2. Meetings as a heartbeat. 10 to 15 hours of teleconferences and one-to-one meetings each week.
  3. Time sink. If all goes as planned, this is time well invested. Early start of work days, as usual, but days then dragged into the nights. I chose to give myself a hard stop: midnight every day, through May at most.

What I learned

I realised in the first week that I couldn’t do all I wanted. I had massively underestimated the amount of time I would have (cf. list above), and overestimated my ability to organise myself and the amount I could deliver.

When I told my CEO, this was the quote he laconically reminded me of:

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” ― Bill Gates

What I realised next, was that the more I wanted to achieve the fastest I was. I have always prided myself for being a keen optimiser of processes, but in this case it was different. It was partly due to setting unreasonably high goals in order to get as many done as possible, but primarily thanks to a sharper understanding of things that had suddenly become mine. The closest analogy is a flip being switched and light shining in a formerly dark room. I take informed decisions quicker, the big picture I see is bigger, this is all quite encouraging.

The amount of required reading is staggering as I move from operations into strategy. I expect this will subside as this is partly necessary as I’m wrapping my head around new things, new expectations, new concepts, etc.

In two months I hired three people part-time, shifted into different and new gears, identified our next priorities and planned for as many as possible, handed over most of my former job duties, and, I have not freaked out too much.

The future is what we build

8 Oct

Before I started my day, I read Trouble at the Koolaid Point, by Seriouspony [who writes “I’m not linking it to the blog, and it won’t likely stay up long”]. I had not heard about her until very recently, and reading her account felt like a punch in the face. It stayed with me since then. I think it’s going to stay with me a while.

Midway through her account, Seriouspony wrote:

“This is the world we have created.”

Later in the day at work, I followed tweets and news of the Keynote on the future of the Web that Tim Berners-Lee gave at the opening of IPExpo in London. He said many inspiring things in his habitual humble manner, but one in particular resonated with me. It was in response to a question from the floor related to the Dark Web. I soon found it in Brian’s timeline:

(The Register also quoted Tim at the end of a piece they published after his keynote.)

Kevin read Seriouspony too; here is his advice to which I live by:

And finally, Amy retweeted this:

All is not white and all is not black, but there are some pretty dark grey stuff out there. Let’s be considerate of our fellow humans, please. Let’s stand up for ourselves. If the future is what we build, let’s build and nurture a world we can be proud of.