Superiority of visual notifications

razer white and black corded headphones
Photo by Pixabay on

A sound is a terrible way to get my attention. I mostly live in some kind of background noise. So, there is a strong possibility that I will miss a notification through listening to music or podcasts.

Worse, even if I do hear it, I have no clue what weird thing is trying to get my attention. Some sounds I recognize due to hearing them frequently until the product changes it. At which point, I no longer have a clue what is trying to get my attention. The only way a phone call style works for me is that it is a sustained noise that last long enough for me to check the source and see that indeed it is still active and a phone call. (This kind of thing for everything coming out of a computer would be highly annoying.)

Toaster notifications, those little windows in the corner of the screen, or even phone icons at the top of the screen are far, far, far superior. True, I tend not to immediately notice them. So, it might be minutes (an hour) before I consume them. However, that is great for my ability to focus on work or others then circle back to handle a notification.



Geeking out for me takes the form of the explainer. I take what someone knows about something and describe how it works and why I find it interesting. My reading takes me all over the place, but I particularly of late enjoy nonfiction on interesting topics.

People find my reading about things like quantum mechanics for entertainment surprising. And my willingness to geek out about it even more so.

Occasionally people remark that I ought to be a teacher. Probably.

Doctor Freelove has a nice ring to it. Unfortunately, a career in academia is more focused on research than teaching. And K-12 teachers get stuck doing too much administrivia and not enough teaching.

My times in front of a classroom were entertaining for me. As campus webmaster at Valdosta State, I would guest teach students how to start their websites for several faculty members. I also taught faculty members how to use WebCT and web design and random of IT topics. In college, one class had me working with 2nd graders and a couple times I taught the whole class about something unprepared off the top of my head. And my mother had me talk about my IT work for career day to several classes.

Opportunities to teach like this are something I miss being in a more administrative position.

Managing Expectations

WaPo published Trump’s transcript from a recent interview with the AP. This exchange caught my eye.

AP: Did they give you any sense of the timetable?

Trump: I would say within a week. That’s my impression. He said two weeks. But they’re going to try and do it in less than a week.

An instructor in college taught us something I have always found useful: Say it is going to take longer than you need. Scotty told LaForge similar in the episode “Relics.” If you miss the deadline, then you look incompetent. If you get done early, then you look like a hero.

Trump clearly did a Kirk. The Saudis said two weeks. Trump probably assumed they are doing a Scotty and halved their estimate. (Technically, Scotty said he needed 4x longer than the actual.)

Everyone needs to assume Trump is going to halve their estimate and report that is the true estimate. So they need to always tell him quadruple.

Framing Dangers

From my 2015 beach trip

Hurricane Michael leveled much of Mexico Beach, which is a place I know pretty well. Spread out over my lifetime, but a rough impression is, I think, I have spent about half a year at this particular town. That would rank it third longest of places where I have lived.

Several people have expressed surprise about this hurricane was as strong as it was. I wonder if part of the problem is communication. This hurricane quickly intensified. A meteorologist I follow from UGA wrote Tuesday morning when it had increased to a Cat 2:

Michael will likely be a Major Hurricane (Category 3 or higher) at landfall.

And on Monday in Forbes:

As I write this, the [Big Bend] region is staring at the very real possibility of a strong category two or major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) making landfall in the Wednesday-Thursday time frame this week.

He was communicating this storm was quickly intensifying and to expect something far stronger than the usual storms that strike this area. People I love live in Valdosta, which was being named dropped over and over as a likely target for the storm after it made landfall. Everyone I know chose to hunker down and ride it out even as the likely winds to hit Valdosta increased through tropical storm to Cat 1 and Cat 2. People with large trees that could cave in the roof of their homes. My wife’s extended family in the Panama City area also chose to stay.

Why? I called my mother to encourage her to come to stay with us because Valdosta was in the path. She didn’t want to leave. My mother described that Hermine was pretty bad, but it wasn’t that bad for them. A tree damaged just a corner of the roof. Hermine was also a Category 1 with 80 mph winds where it came ashore and probably down to tropical storm strength where Mom lives. Thankfully Michael came ashore well west of Hermine and tracked away from Valdosta family, so they were spared the worst part. We still have not heard from most of my wife’s Panama City family.

So, while meteorologists were trying to say, “this is going to be really bad,” people didn’t really hear it that way. Mom is someone who took meteorology courses in college and wasn’t getting the message. The UGA one has a timeline defending that the NWS did enough to provide notice.

4 am Monday CDT (October 8): …  there is a real possibility that Michael will strengthen to a major hurricane before landfall.

He also said:

Yes, the rapid intensification was shocking but there was plenty of information hinting or explicitly stating that a major hurricane (even category 4) was possible.

I guess my point is hints are not enough. The reason why stores have prices ending in 99 cents is that one extra cent difference lowers sales because people tend to have the impression it is more expensive. Saying “3 or higher” pins people to think 3, not 4 or 5. This effect, called Framing, is pretty well studied in how people make poor decisions because of it. Even marketers study how to use it to influence shoppers. Maybe if some behavioral economics experiments are done to see show Framing affects the way people interpret meteorological messaging, scientists looking not to overstate what they are seeing may learn they are inadvertently giving people a different impression than intended. It is a struggle to be sure, to find the correct way to communicate this stuff.


Nothing frustrates me more than the non-update. I define it as:

a communication issued within the promised window of time to express the status of nothing has changed and to establish another window for an update.

I am patient and willing to wait for a real update. When I see an email from someone I am waiting to hear from, there is the surge of dopamine in anticipation of a completed task. Only to receive the disappointment of that surge of neurotransmitters being falsely exerted. I feel betrayed. Well, not at first, but when I’ve been strung out over and over, I come to feel like they are terrible at their job.

Save yourself the trouble.

  1. If you think you can have an update for me tomorrow, then give yourself an extra day. If you think you can this week, then give yourself an extra week.
  2. If there are obvious difficulties present such as your people are at an all week meeting, then do not commit during that event. Give me a time after it is over.
  3. If there is any likely stumbling block, then let me know ahead of time rather than after which sounds like an excuse. A vendor told me on a Monday they would have something for me that week only for me to find out the next week the system needed went down for upgrades and would be down two weeks. As soon as they learned it would be down, I should have been told rather than have to learn about it later.
  4. Hedge by giving me a range of time. “I’ll try to have this to by x. but it might be as long as y.”



Trying to get a price quote from a vendor. It has been two full weeks. The first week plus was confusion within their organization who should be working on it. See, back in April they reclassified our account, so we got a different representative, which is fine. But four months later, they should not be repeatedly trying to have the old one work on the quote. Only when the old one realized that we were not his client did it get shifted to the correct person.

However, three days since then I just realized that I have not seen anything from our representative that he is in indeed aware of the quote, confirming what is supposed to be in the quote, or providing the estimated time it should take to provide us a quote.

Hopefully, I am not a narcissist, but this lack of acknowledgment made me nervous the request had been overlooked. After yet another poke of the vendor, we did finally get a quote. Overall, it was two weeks, one hour, 28 minutes later after the initial request. I hate to nag, but I also hate to allow the request to be overlooked. The acknowledgment lets me know the fulfiller knows about it and it not being done is due to something else.

Automatic For the People

This program and I are at odds over what “automatically” means. It says that the dataset is updated automatically, which is fine. Except they produce new data multiple times a day at the most frequent and every couple days at the least. The agent software is supposed to update every day. My dataset was 202 days old, so something was obviously wrong.

I decided to give it a kick in the teeth by doing a manual update. Just annoyed at it informing me that I don’t need to do this because it does it automatically. Obviously I did because it was not actually automatically doing it.

Now it is telling me that I need to reboot and giving me a 20 day countdown until it does.

“Job Title”

No one knows what is a Technology Strategist. So, a while back, I changed my title on LinkedIn to Systems Architect and Engineer.

The side advantage to this is I can tell the source of where people have gotten my information. If they were looking at my Curriculum Vitae, then they would see Technology Strategist. If they got it from a conference I attended, then they would get the same.

The past several cold calls have all been the job title from LinkedIn. So, I decided to change the one on the CV to Application Infrastructure Architect. Now, all three have different titles. All three are fair.

Integrate PeopleMap With Office

I work to integrate systems. So, when I learn about things, I guess my mind drifts into how would we use it. And then into how would tie together this with other things we have to make them better.

Used with permission from atmasphere

Last week news dropped about Microsoft (MSFT) buying LinkedIn (LNKD). The big deal people seem to be making of it is the Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) potential for Microsoft. Imagine in Outlook having a guide about whomever you are emailing. LinkedIn potentially could supply the data.

So Friday I also took a PeopleMap System communication training. (Leader-Task) The idea is that people have innate preferences for how they process information. Understanding their preferences and tailoring your communication to key off them will make one more effective working with them.

I guess the MSFT-LNKD deal was still on my brain because it seemed like what we really needed was a PeopleMap plug-in to Outlook which would remind us the type of the individuals we are emailing. My vision was since everyone was providing management with our types, that information would be populated into the directory service. Then a plug-in would use the email address of the recipient(s) to display that person’s type and perhaps advice on how to communicate with that type. No more wracking one’s brain for what is their type and how to deal with them.

Of course, I used Google to look to see if this already existed. It pointed me to PeopleMaps which is a service for exploring one’s social network to find connections to sales targets and get an introduction and avoid cold calls. Microsoft’s Social Connector would pull photos from Facebook for contacts.

Carbon-Copy Evangelist

Sometimes I feel preachy when advising people to carbon-copy (CC) emails. Lots of good email etiquette advises to avoid using “reply all” with emails. I think the matter is a bit more nuanced. Thinking of the perspective of a small team…

  1. The more eyes that see discussions about work decision history, rationale, and possibility the better. Also, anything I write is my perspective which other coworkers might disagree with or challenge. Including the group allows everyone to be on the same page and have the information necessary to do so. Unless the email is of a personal nature, any email about a project should include the group.
  2. I may be tied up with other things or even gone. Including the whole team makes them aware of what is going on such that one does not need to track down as many messages to bring others up to speed. They will have a general idea of what is going on and enough to get quickly up to speed.
  3. Supervisors see what employees are working on, what help they may need, or directions they are pursuing.
  4. Keeping conversations in one-on-one conversations can lead to situations where one unexpectedly goes too far down an unwanted path when other could have advised on a better one. Those outside the group like to email a specific individual directly about things. That individual CC’ing the group in replies ensured others are aware of what is asked or wanted.

Admittedly I do often brazenly initiate one-on-one side conversations from group ones. “My hypocrisy knows no bounds.” – Doc Holliday, Tombstone.