Court of Last Resort

On May 30, 2010, in Consumer Advocacy, by Rob Levandowski

What can you do when you just can’t get satisfaction from a software company despite your best efforts? What if the company’s tech-support script monkeys have left your computer nonfunctional, worse than it was when you started, and they refuse to provide any more assistance?

Sue them in small claims court.


Review: Incase Grip Protective Cover for iPad

On May 17, 2010, in Recommendations, by Rob Levandowski

Since I got my iPad, I’ve been a bit worried about dropping it.  The aluminum back doesn’t give one a lot of confidence; while I’ve not dropped it yet, it sometimes feels distressingly like it could slip out of one’s grasp.

It seemed like a silicone slipcover would be just the ticket.

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While visiting New Jersey this weekend, I stopped at the Williams-Sonoma store in the Short Hills Mall.  Williams-Sonoma is an upscale kitchen-accessories store.  The Short Hills Mall is an “ultra-premium” mall, the sort of place where the anchor stores are Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdale’s instead of JCPenney and Target. What should’ve been a premium shopping experience turned into a frustrating trip that makes me unlikely to visit that store again.

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Policies of Confusion

On May 14, 2010, in Language, by Rob Levandowski

Are you responsible for writing policies at your company? Whether you’re writing them for the entire company or just your own group, are you writing effective policies?

Too often, I’ve seen business policies at are very poorly written. They aren’t comprehensible, or they say things they don’t mean. If you ever have to tell people “I know the policy says that, but it doesn’t mean that,” you have a bad policy that needs rewriting.

Rule 1: Use as few words as possible. Extra words produce confusion. Try rewetting your policy to eliminate as many words as you can without changing the meaning of the document. Enlist good writers to help you. Legislators follow a fundamental legal principle that every word in a law must be interpreted as if it’s part of the law for a reason. Your policy is a law within your company. Follow the same principle in your policies.

Rule 2: Use care when using terms. Be sure the term means what you think it means. This is especially true if you’re using a term that may have a very precise, technical meaning among members of your audience. If you misuse terms, assuming people will know what you really meant, you will write a policy that enforces rules you never wanted.

Rule 3: Be reasonable. Any military officer will tell you the truth of the old maxim, “Never give an order that you know will not be followed.” Before declaring a new policy, find out if it will be so onerous to your business that no one will follow it. There’s no point in publishing policies that will go unused from day one.

Rule 4: Watch out for unintended consequences. Check the impact of your policy with the people who will be affected. If your wordings overly broad or inappropriately narrow, you may end up restricting activities that are important to running your business smoothly. For example, you may have a legitimate need to restrict employee use of cellular phones, but a poorly worded cellphone policy could keep your information-technology employees from being able to receive and respond to urgent equipment failure pages sent to their BlackBerries.

Rule 6: Don’t assume that you’re a good writer. Very few people are good writers. Your organization undoubtedly has a few, and they probably have jobs at aren’t primarily about writing. Seek them out, befriend them, and get their help saying what you mean to say. If the policy will affect them, they’ll probably have a lot of intrinsic motivation to help you.

Poorly written policies infuriate employees and create resentment. They also make the company look bad. Neither one of these things is good for a manager.

It should go without saying that these rules are even more critical when you’re writing policies that impact customers. Employees have to deal with your poor policies, unless they are willing to quit and find employment elsewhere. Customers, however, can very easily take their business elsewhere, and they will rarely tell you that they’ve abandoned you because they found your policies asinine.


It’s Lilac Time!

On May 6, 2010, in Personal, by Rob Levandowski

I miss the Lilac Festival in Rochester… even though when I was there, I always hated trying to navigate the extra traffic in the South Wedge… especially when I lived in the South Wedge…

When we moved into our current house and started sprucing up the very sad gardens that were there, my first order of business was planting some lilacs.

They’re definitely at peak bloom today.  For the past few days, if the windows are open, the whole house smells like lilac.

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Better looking web pages… for the rich.

On May 6, 2010, in Doing It Wrong, by Rob Levandowski

I read today that the font foundry Monotype is now offering a service providing over 2,000 fonts for use on Web sites.  This sounded like great news—one of the things I hate about trying to make a decent web site is the horrid state of web typography.

Of course, it’s too good to be true.

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Website conversion under way

On April 30, 2010, in Administrative, by Rob Levandowski

I’m making changes to

The blog is going to become the focal point of the site.  I’m moving all the static content over to WordPress, so it will be integrated with the blog.

Before the old content goes away, I’ll be adding redirects so that existing bookmarks will continue to work.

During this construction phase, you’ll notice the static content slowly getting added to the blog pages.

Please excuse the dust.


Recommendation: Cook’s Illustrated

On April 26, 2010, in Recommendations, by Rob Levandowski

I first started cooking for myself in high school.  I think the thing that got me started was making homemade peanut butter cookies for a girl I was sweet on.  (She enjoyed them, but not enough to dump her boyfriend and take a good hard look at me.  But I digress.)

In college, I lived in a dorm that was at the outskirts of campus, a 20-minute walk from the nearest dining hall. This was in Rochester, NY; for those not familiar with the area, Rochester is famous for its lake-effect snow.  It usually starts snowing in late October and lets up sometime in April.  This dorm was originally built as graduate housing, so each 2- or 3-bedroom suite included a kitchen and a bathroom.  I very quickly decided to take full advantage of the kitchen, and I almost always cooked my own dinner.

My early companion in learning how to cook was the venerable Joy of Cooking.  I’m not going to link to that book; you can find it easily enough at any bookstore.  Why not?  Because I now know that a lot of the advice in that historic tome is just plain wrong.  I weep for the number of home cooks that have been lead astray by that book.

When I really decided to take my cooking past the “competent at preparing basic food” stage and learn how to truly cook, I was heavily influenced by Alton Brown and Iron Chef.  But there was one discovery that truly helped me take it to the next level.

Cook’s Illustrated.

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What a twit…

On April 25, 2010, in Administrative, by Rob Levandowski

I now have a Twitter account. Follow me to get notifications of new blog postings.


No, really, JIRA pisses me off.

On April 18, 2010, in Doing It Wrong, Technology Horror Stories, by Rob Levandowski

I love JIRA, I really do, so long as I never have to do any administration to it.

I’ve got a JIRA instance set up as a household to-do system.  Today, I tried installing JIRA 4.1 as a test instance, upgrading from version 4.0.  It turns out I won’t be making that upgrade for real any time soon, as 4.1 breaks many of the plugins I need for my JIRA workflow.  If I upgraded, I’d cripple my setup beyond usability.

Unfortunately, Atlassian has chosen to leave many obvious and necessary workflow actions out of JIRA, instead relying upon third-party plugins to provide them.  This wouldn’t be a problem if Atlassian didn’t change their plugin API more often than Tiger Woods picks up new sexual partners.

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