BrainBlog

BrainBlog is the Brains4All weblog. Established 2004 in The Netherlands. Brains have been working in IT since 1983, working on the internet since 1993, and using their own agile development process for design and application development since 2003. We talk about about design and usability, the industry of software and web development, web applications and simplicity, beautiful and spectacular things.

A couple of photographers...

November 30, 2006 |
marko

What is better then sharing a hobby?

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This young couple from Essex share their love for the camera as well as their love for eachother. It is nice to see both their views on the same subjects. Nice moody pictures, some nice light working here and there and there are some brilliant greyscale shots here. The picture of the clouds above is altered, but who cares? It's spectaculair!

  



Election Day Graphics

November 23, 2006 |
marko

Here is a selection of graphics from various Dutch media about yesterday's election results. Having a multi-party political system, doesn't make things simple.

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De volkskrant has the most traditional graphics. A grey shadow shows last elections results.

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ANP - Telegraaf - NU.nl Dutch press agency ANP also has a traditional bar graph.

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Trouw has a graph showing winners vs. losers besides more traditional bar graphs as well.

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NRC Handelsblad has some animations showing the seat distribution in the parliament.

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Nederland kiest - NOS Journaal - Nova The Dutch public broadcast association uses these cylinders. The outer jacket show last elections results, the inner jacket current results. Below is the current number of seats in parliament and below that number of seats won or lost by that party.

  



Dutch Design: Viktor & Rolf

November 10, 2006 |
marko

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Dutch fashion Designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren have teamed with Swedish fashion retailer H&M for its third high fashion collaboration. The cult label has appeared (and sold out) as a high street capsule collection for men and women in H&M stores across Europe, North America and the Middle East.

Items of the collection are already turning up for sale on Ebay and other classifieds and auctioning sites.

  



Warning: PayPal will cancel your subscriptions

November 3, 2006 |
marko

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If you need to change your credit card soon, please read below to prevent the loss of your PayPal paid subscriptions.

Did you know PayPal has an Escalations Agent? An Executive Escalations Agent? They'll need one, I'm sure.

es-ca-late [es-kuh-leyt] –verb (used with object), verb (used without object), -lat-ed, -lat-ing.
1. to increase in intensity, magnitude, etc.: to escalate a war; a time when prices escalate.

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1). Retrieved November 03, 2006, from Dictionary.com website.

So generally to escalate is to make things worse than they already are, and not by a small bit. Interresting customer service strategy. Interresting way to perceive your clients as well.

As a Design and Usability firm we consult with corporations how to Design websites and web applications for clarity, transparency and ease of use. The user-interface needs to radiate its function, its meaning. The more that interface succeeds in making clear what you can expect to happen when you interact with it (and then if exactly that same thing happens) the more that interface will be perceived as friendly by your customers.

On the other hand, if say, you just want to change your credit card, which you have to do once every few years, and you find that after you've done that all your subscriptions have been canceled is generally not experienced by any customer as friendly. It is a completely hostile move that has complete disrespect for a payment services' merchants and it's customers.

Especially if this happens completely without warning.

PayPal users take note!

According to PayPal (translated from a Dutch reply to my raising the issue):

To change the fund source for a subscription log into your account and click "history". Now try to find the subscription you want to change the payment source for. If you want to use a new credit card as a payment source for this subscription you first have to add it through your profile into your PayPal account!

Hey, if I translate it back to English word by word, it makes perfect sense again. There's more, but I don't really understand that bit, I think it is trying to say the same thing, but it goes on about having to search account information over two years in the past...

I think what PayPal is trying to say is if you want to change the credit card that you use for paying subscriptions (like your month-to-month Plan for 14Dayz time registration) you need to:

  • First Add your new card
  • Find your existing subscriptions
  • Change the funding source on your existing subscriptions to the new card
  • Then it is safe to remove the old card

Some simple instructions or a warning message if you have any subscriptions and you're trying to remove your card would be sufficient to address this issue.

For example:

You are about to remove a credit card that you use to pay for the following subscriptions:
If you remove this card, the above subscriptions will be cancelled by PayPal automatically without your consent (or knowledge). If this is what you want press the button below called: "Yes delete this credit card and all related subscriptions!". If however, you want to change your credit card please add a new one first by clicking add credit card here before deleting the old one. Thank you.

On the other hand, when your credit card expires, PayPal maintains a certain "grace period" in which they allow you to take steps to amend the situation. You have between 5 to 9 days to correct the payment source before your subscription is cancelled. It would be best to treat the removal of a credit card in the same way.

  • When you remove a credit card, you keep your subscriptions.
  • If after a day or so you have not provided alternate means of payment you get a warning email.
  • If this situation continues, vendors also receive a warning mail.
  • If at the end of the grace period no new payment source is provided, subscriptions can be cancelled, if only as a final measure.

This describes exactly the same process PayPal uses for expiring credit cards (or bounced cheques). If PayPal continues to treat their loyal customers the way they do now, I feel they are punishing those customers who are trustworthy enough to change their credit card well before they expire, while they're being very lenient to those that write uncovered cheques, use maxed-out credit cards or are too lazy or undisciplined to change their credit card when it expires. To me that makes no sense.

Anyway, we apologise on behalf of our payment provider and hope you can forgive their ignorance. We've got quite a lot of complaints about this in the past week so if this has happened to you for your payment source of 14Dayz please contact us at support@14dayz.com and our executive vice-president of de-escalations, that's me ;), will do his very best to help you remedy the situation as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

UPDATE: When you transfer some funds into your paypal account before canceling your old card this will carry you over the time PayPal needs to approve your new card. Thanks Olaf!

  



Baby step discovery learning

November 1, 2006 |
marko

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Here is an old post from my personal blog which I wrote about a year ago. When I was still taking my first steps with AJAX... I think it still has some value in it and I often find myself wondering about this curiously effective learning method.

I was watching my son, Quinten who is four years old, play with some Lego he'd got for Sinterklaas the other day. I was fascinated by the way he was going about discovering how it worked, and how he could interact with the toy; a Police car, bad-guy included.

This particular piece of Lego contains a lot of small parts and Quinten's fine motor coordination, let alone his constructive insights to build from a blueprint, is not quite up to the task of building the car completely himself. So his parents build the toy for him at first. That way the parents get to play with Lego too.

The way Quinten was experimenting with the car was curious. He would take apart some pieces slowly. He would take off the roof. Play with the car with the roof off. Put the roof back on. Then play with the car some more. He would then take off the roof again and then some other pieces as well. Play. And try to put the pieces back together again. And play. Sometimes he would get stuck, because he'd taken off too many pieces and ask me for help reassembling the car.

I was flabbergasted because I had caught myself using the exact same technique of learning by baby step discovery the day before. I was trying out some AJAX techniques. I was trying to combine AJAX and PHP, one of the languages developers use at work. What I did was to look for a working example. Then I played with it some. Then I changed a few bits here and there. Then played with it some more. I used a versioning system as my parent, always resorting to the last working state when I changed too much or weren't able to get myself out of the mess I put myself in.

As I was working this way, I was learning about this particular example I was building and I was learning about the way PHP and AJAX could work together. I was also learning about building AJAX based web applications as well. As was Quinten learning about the way his police car was constructed and he was learning about building with Lego as well. He was also learning how construction works in general.

I was surprised to see such elementary learning behavior al ready present in the child aged four as well as in the parent aged thirty-five. It appears to me learning behavior like this is genetically present in both parent and child.

The analogy with the way TDD works is also staggering. It is the analogy in which I have been building software all my life, and has only recently begun to flourish and be widely acceptable as the definitive way to build better software. At least until we find something else. ;)

My task was less exploratory because I had some clear goals I was aiming for. Quinten’s learning was much more playful. I wasn’t aware of any goals or particular piece of knowledge he was after. He was just playing with his police car. Seeing how it worked. Seeing how building with Lego worked and learning about construction in the same time.

Is this learning behavior a valid comparison? I think so. Though Quinten’s learning is more exploratory, mine is also exploratory in nature. However I have guided my learning onto achieving a particular goal that I have set myself upon discovering. Quinten may have a general interest in cars, Lego or construction, or he might just like police cars. He is hungry for ANY knowledge. Not any knowledge in particular.

The speed at which his mind is picking up concepts is quite astounding. He's progressed in his building skills and his Lego skills over the past day or two. Quinten has also received a Lego police boat for Sinterklaas as well, just a few days later. He is now quite comfortable adapting and expanding this along the possibilities of his imagination. And beyond. I am however still struggling to keep up.

Perhaps an exploratory fashion of learning is more efficient than the guided learning by taking or working towards a task I was using. Perhaps the child’s mind is more set towards a more general state of learning. Picking up general knowledge until it knows how, why and when to become more specific.

A movement in Dutch education also has no set program for learning in school. (Montessori) In essence a child can learn and study what ever it fancies. Perhaps this is not so bad an idea. I wonder how to cope with knowledge that is essential to functioning in today’s complex society? Where is the balance between guided learning and free learning and who is setting that?

As a parent I am one of the people or influences setting this balance for my children. The government and school are doing the same by offering educational programs in school or setting test result standards for graduation. People are deciding for other people what they think is right for them to learn, or what not to learn.

This may be right for knowledge we al ready posses as a species or social group. How to tackle knowledge that we do not yet have?

I have been thinking about learning and self organizing teams for quite some time. I am a follower of the situational leadership model by Hersey and Blanchard. It assumes a certain amount of directive behavior is required and starts out by providing structure and knowledge, then experimentation. Trying and doing. It then moves on toward more supportive behavior of the teacher, as the pupil finds out there is still so much to learn.

In self organizing teams there is however not always the knowledge to be presented by directive at first. It may be that exploratory learning is the key to uncovering these situations; learning by baby step discovery.

In the mean time, Quinten has become very effective with Lego. Brains4All has done things with AJAX and DOM that I've dreamed of doing for years, and I can safely say we've become very effective with that too. Not only did we explore the technical capabilities of the technique, but more importantly we now have insights into whether or not to apply the technique, or not.

So while in the past year I feel I have progressed in technical skills and definitively in Design and Usability skills, I didn't set out to acquire those. I find that through baby step discovery learning I've acquired an almost mesh-like network of knowledge that works like, and acts almost as an instinct for building powerful, valuable and easy to use websites and killer web based applications.

What are your experiences with baby step discovery learning?

  



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