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Computers are not predictable

One of the problems with computers is the sheer number of ways to do things. Take for example how to copy a file from one place to another. You can:
– drag and drop
– copy and paste with keyboard shortcuts
– copy and paste with menu items
– cut and paste
– open the file and use save as to save it in another place

That’s just what comes to mind as I sit on the Metro typing this. And that’s the problem. There are any ways to do everything and that’s a major point of confusion.

I am good with computers so I know these ways. I understand the conventions of computing. I understand them because that’s what I’m interested in and where I’ve spent my time. I enjoy computers and what I can do with them.

But not everybody does.

In fact, I’d wager most people don’t enjoy their interactions with computers. They’re confusing. Why? Because they’re unpredictable. Doing the same thing over and over doesn’t always produce the same result.

I’m talking to a mostly tech savvy audience so this can be hard to relate to. So let’s take something I struggle with.

Navigation.

I can’t find my way out of a paper bag. Drop me in a housing development and I may never be seen again. I have absolutely no sense of direction.

I struggle to find my way to the simplest of places. I struggle to remember if I turned right or left into a strip mall. Which direction did I come from and how do I get home from here?

Driving is my computing. I rely on my phone’s GPS. With that bit of tech, I can fearlessly drive anywhere and find my way home.

Why am I talking about my sense of misdirection? Because that’s how computers feel to many people. What?

When I am in a new city, riding with a friend, we will often take different routes in and out of their neighborhood. We will never use the same route twice. This is not to be mean. They know the best routes and will take the best choice as needed.

Because it’s familiar to them, it’s easy and they don’t think about it. But to my already struggling brain, I’m confused beyond belief and without aid of a GPS, I’d never leave the house for fearing of taking the wrong turn at Albuquerque.

That’s how computers are to many people. Remember all of those ways to get a file from one place to another? That’s how everything feels.

There’s many ways to print, open a file, navigate the Internet, access email and move files. And often times different people will use and try to show them a different way.

It’s the never take the same route twice driving problem. How can I be expected to learn the route when it’s different every single time?

And roads are static. They don’t change. And if they do it’s a slow process of construction.

Computers are nothing but change. They’re a box of variables upon variables. Even reproducing the same steps 10 times could produce two or more results.

It’s easy to dismiss questions as being so easy. But think about something you struggle with.

For me it’s driving and navigating. For you maybe it’s something else. We all have something we struggle with. And asking for help can lead to greater confusion. Is it any wonder people give up and just have you do it?

Overcast podcast app

The Podcaster’s Blogger Press Kit

Austin Kleon posted about his Blogger’s Press Kit that he has put together for his books. Once he finishes a book, he wants to be sure people can share his work easily and with good-looking artwork. This is what spurred him into action. He writes:

Everybody’s heard of press kits, but the aim of a Blogger’s Kit is spreadability—images and videos that are easy to embed, post, and disseminate on the web.

Austin recommends a Blogger’s Kit should include:

  • author photos
  • the book cover (front and back)
  • “3-D” shots of the book in space
  • excerpt shots of the book spreads
  • a video of someone flipping through the book

This is a great idea for authors. In my recent writing about podcasts I run into the problem of not having good artwork for the show. It’s hard to find good artwork. I’ve resorted to screenshotting the album art from my podcatcher to use. Promoting something should be easy and podcasts are no different. With that in mind I now present you…

The Podcaster Blogger Press Kit.

Podcasters, I love your shows. You put a lot of work into them. I want to share them with the world! I want to help you get those coveted stars in iTunes.

Here is what you need for your Blogger’s Press Kit for Podcasters.

  • A decently sized copy of your cover art
    You know, that beautiful art you spent so much time on to for iTunes and podcatchers. I’d like a copy of that too.
  • Podcaster’s photo
    We’ve all heard your lovely voice. Now let’s see your beautiful face. This can be an “action shot* of you talking into the mic or editing tracks. It could be you looking goofy/serious/whatever with headphones on looking contemplative. A good example is imyke’s photo. It’s fun. It’s memorable. It gives the post about your show something visual to grab readers.

  • Photo of your podcast in your player of choice.
    Show your podcast, with cover art clearly visible open in your favorite podcatcher in the wild. Josh Ginter has some beautiful shots from his Overcast review.

  • Recommended episode(s)
    If your podcast episodes reach into the triple digits, it can be daunting to start listening. Do I need to start from 1? Can I listen to any of them and it won’t matter? Give the blogger a starting point to recommend to their readers.
    This is a tough problem and it’s one Merlin Mann asked his listeners for help with. The result was this list by Supertrainee on Huffduffer.

  • For bonus points, include some clips of your show.
    Give a new listener a taste of what they’re getting themselves into. Find 60 seconds of something interesting. Snag a 5 minute clip of an interesting discussion, or funny bit. Make a trailer for your podcast.

Cover image: Overcast podcast app by Kārlis Dambrāns

the-martian

On “The Martian”

The Martian by Andy Weir is a wonderful book. I saw many people mention and recommend it on Twitter and I was curious because I like sci-fi as much as the next guy.

But I also saw many people mention it was “hard sci-fi” and “very math heavy.” I do not math well and numbers across paragraphs scare me off.

So I took a chance on the book in audio form. The narrator, R.C. Bray, was just wonderful. Seriously, a narrator you can’t stand reading a book kills the story. Even if they’re a great narrator, it’s all about their voice. If I don’t like it, I can’t listen to it for hours.

This was not the case with The Martian.

I tweeted it was taking over my life. After starting it, I listened to it on the commute home from work. I listened to it that evening after I got home. I listened to it before falling asleep that night. I listened to it the next morning, during the commute to work and most of the day at work. (The joy of support work with little to support means time to listen as I reply to email.)

I finished it the second day as I walked home. I had about an hour to go once I got home and finished it as I did chores. The Martian was a fantastic story. The main character, Mark Watney, was funny and snarky. He took the situation he was in and made the best of it.

I loved the journal entries, recounting each sol on Mars. I enjoyed hearing of his triumph. Then hearing of his life-and-death struggle the very next sol.

It was a fun listen and the math didn’t seem overwhelming and wasn’t important to the story anyway. Yes, he took this many millilitres of this and combined it with that many liters of that to get this and that. But it’s not important. The importance is what it means for his survival.

I can see how the math could bog down a reader. But in audio it was a joy to listen. There is a map of Watney’s travels on Mars with a spoiler-free version for those who haven’t read the book.

The book clocks in at 10 hours and 53 minutes. I had a hard time stopping it at any time. The story is riveting and the outcome is never clear.

Get The Martian on Kindle, paperback or audio. It’s about $9 in print and $21 in audio-form.

December 13, 2014 at 07:02PM


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