In trying to take care of something with the IRS, I was presented with this prompt to validate my identity. And the only other information they want to know is how bad I’m in debt. 🙁
I snapped this photo the other night while walking from my parked car. After a good chuckle, the nuances of why hiring at this outlet right now started to come into focus. I don’t know that anyone would expect to apply for a new career at Sears today… but… what if…
As Eddie Lampert angles to try to make something good (for him) happen from the crashing of this iconic brand, the rabble of unpaid creditors grow restless. What if he can pull something out of this?! Will the Kenmore and DieHard brands live on? Even in this dark uncertainty created by the failed effort to boost sales through overextending credit there is opportunity. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if it’s good, and I’ll guess it’s just not for me, but it is very likely that there are many opportunities for someone. And that’s my point for sharing this picture: I don’t think opportunity knocks or texts. It’s hidden. If it was easy and obvious then it would be for everyone! Opportunity is a narrow circumstance for possibility, so don’t knock it.
We’ve all used operant conditioning. Just admit it. You know, when you take someone into a plain white room and hook them up to electrodes and then start–wait, what??!?!
No, not that.
As it applies to UX, operant conditioning is when an application attempts to change the frequency of specific user behaviors. Things like confirmation modals, success and zero states, some kinds of error messages, form validation, etc. It comes in several varieties but I want to quickly hit on three common ones:
Rewards, payouts, praise, humor and value are all forms of positive reinforcement that encourage users to continue to do whatever-they-just-did to get more. It’s the addition (positive) of something wanted.
Contrary to the colloquial understanding, negative reinforcement is not punishment. Silencing the alarm, hiding the error state, removing the danger, and opening the path are all forms of negative reinforcement that encourage users to continue to do whatever-they-just-did. It’s the removal (negative) of something unwanted.
Punishment = Bad
Not going to say a lot here because computers should not be used for punishment. Like the first law of robotics, applications should not harm humans. Don’t do this or… or… you’ll be punished? But to be clear, punishment is the addition something bad or the removal of something good as a consequence for specific behaviors. Remember that punishment can only be marginally effective at stopping behavior, it can’t encourage behavior. As you know from your horrible experience with your second grade teacher, you never forget punishment. Not only is it a damaging method for changing behavior, once the punishment is removed, that behavior often returns!
So What is Proper Reinforcement?
So the studies have been done. You can read more here, here and here and much of it applies to humans as well as lab rats. Everybody likes good things and hates bad things and there’s some morality here too: if you’re hoping to induce improper behavior in others, or worse, behavior that is good for you and bad for them? Stop reading now.
But in software applications there are “good” behaviors and “bad” behaviors. Or more accurately, user actions that will get them the value they need and actions that will ultimately frustrate them. Incentivizing proper behavior is a smart thing and will actually contribute positively to the tenuous relationship humans often have with software. And there is a real science to optimizing the change in behavior with proper reinforcement. While you might think that rewarding every “good” behavior is the best, it’s not. Users will actually have a higher response rate to reinforcement (e.g. start doing it sooner) and will have a slower extinction rate (e.g. will keep doing it) if the reinforcement is variable, both in time and frequency. In short, this means that we shouldn’t reward our users every time, but closer to about 50% of the time.
- Help users find their value by reinforcing supporting actions (e.g. the animation of a lock icon turning unlocked)
- Never punish
- Mix up the reinforcement (e.g. don’t toast “Good job!” every time)
Don’t lie, don’t mislead. You never want to be on the opposite side of truth.
“The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change; the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”
— Jim Collins, Great by Choice
I was reminded this morning of the tragic burning of Edison’s labs and his aloof response, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again … We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.” I’d heard the story before but what I didn’t know was that Thomas carried a coin carrying the latin phrase “amor fati” or love of fate. Clearly he had learned to embrace the machinations of the world that were outside of his control. Completely independent, I was struck yesterday by the haunting duet Come What May from the movie Moulin Rouge. From the lyrical word choice alone, it is clear that these two lovers face their fate daunted but determined.
There are so many things that we cannot control, and perhaps the greater portion of those we sometimes believe that we can. I am reminded today that not only should I NOT waste effort, but recede and embrace the reality that is happening before me. Although driven for greater realms, embrace the present, there is so much to do here.
Now don’t be grossed out, but this is part of what I found in my iPhone 6 lightening port last night. My charging cord wasn’t fitting securely and I was worried that I might have a loose connection in the phone. After confirming a suspicion with a flashlight that lint-crap was causing the connection problem, I fished this out with some tweezers. It’s not a lot, but enough to keep it from charging.
Keep your ports clean.
There is an equation for watts to decibels, given a sensitivity of x decibels, (1w/1m)! Wattage must double for each increase of 3db. See here and here for more info. So that sensitivity (SPL) score is a pretty crucial starting point for a speaker. Not that adding more amplifier watts is not impossible, just moderately costly. But then again, in the case of an amplified PA speaker with 700 watts peak (and 350 RMS) then you’ve a lot of power. By my calculations, taking a 98db SPL woofer up north of 122db, and a 110db SPL tweeter up past 134db – past the threshold of pain! Also, I’ve read that perceptively, humans believe +10db makes one sound twice as loud as another.
BUT distance from the speaker matters! On a ratio of 1/d^2, the sound gets softer the further away you are! If pumping 350 watts through that woofer gets us 122db, standing 52 feet away from it, it will sound just like it we only pumped in 1 watt at 1 meter = 98db. That’s still plenty loud.
It makes sense to me now why stage monitors are always like 100-150 watts. Even with all the noise on stage, you’re pretty close which means they’re pretty loud.
Here’s what that speaker system sounds like as the watts are increased:
Contrast that with another system with a higher SPL:
For reference, here is a reference table for decibels:
|Source||Intensity Level (db)|
|Threshold of Hearing (TOH)||0|
|Quiet bedroom at night||30|
|Busy Street Traffic||70|
|Diesel truck, 10 m away||90|
|Walkman at Maximum Level||100|
|Front Rows of Rock Concert||110|
|Chainsaw, 1 m distance||110|
|Threshold of discomfort||120|
|Threshold of pain||130|
|Jet aircraft, 50 m away||140|
|Instant Perforation of Eardrum||160|
I just read a great article on Effective Technical Leadership that outlines with a fair amount detail, the role of a great development technical lead. Since then, for the last few minutes I’ve been trying to figure out how a technical lead would fit into the scrum variant that we run, as we currently don’t have tech leads.
# How does this fit with scrum masters, off-team architects and team managers?
# Would you need a tech lead for each functional development team (UI, services tier, back-end), or one tech lead for each scrum team?
# Does an off-team architect become a technical lead if you assign him to a team?
# Do scrum masters have the time and technical chops to be a tech lead?
I realize that team titles past PO, scrum master and team member are no less than subversive to scrum, as the whole team needs to own the process and the results, but it is clear that there is room within the team for these responsibilities. Additionally, several of these positions are, in a healthy way, at odds with each other. Simply merging two scrum master and tech lead would result in only one individual responsible for both the results and the approach, which is a lot of weight to not be spread around the team. Perhaps technical leadership lies outside of scrum, but within agile’s self-organization principle, to be cultivated by the organization’s managers.
I’m going to stew on this for a few weeks. I was inspired by the content of the article, but I don’t know how to formalize it in my organization.
I appreciate a recent article from the Washington Post that discusses the changes to BSA policy and the Mormon faith. As a scout leader of eight years who is moving out of the area of my current service, this change has cause me to reflect on my involvement with Scouting and the policies of large organizations.
One key line in the new resolution that the scouting body approved is worth citing: “…any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of scouting age is contrary to the virtues of scouting.” That is it, in a nutshell. For the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this was never about whether the BSA or local scout leaders should try to discern or categorize ill-defined and emerging sexual awareness of pre-pubescent boys and early pubescent young men
“…Some may not see the sacred gatekeeping role scouting plays. They may see only fundraising and not a foundation. Others may brand scouting activities as merely outdoor recreation, but it can and must be shown that BSA is not a camping club; it is a character university centered on duty to God. I quote again from Robert Baden-Powell: ‘The whole of [scouting] is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.’
I am satisfied that a renewed focus on the BSA’s foundational principle – Duty to God – is sufficient for the continued support of the LDS Church and my continued participation, should new opportunities arise.