Chicken Saddles Website Analysis

The website http://www.mbldesigns.com/chicken_aprons.html is rather ineffective for several reasons, but it is not entirely bad. The content that it contains is sufficient to communicate with the reader the essential information. It is fairly easy to find information about what the product, prices, shipping, and how to purchase. However, there is so much superfluous content that it distracts from the website’s primary purpose. There is both too much text and too many images.

The structure is very flat. All of the content is contained on the landing page, and any links either are for email or direct to third-party sites. This excludes the navigation bar at the top, which allows the user to view other products from the same person. In one sense the structure is good, because no important content is more than three clicks away from the landing page, but on the other hand having everything on one page is overwhelming and detracts from the overall effectiveness.

The voice is casual and in the first person. This makes the website feel personal, but not professional. The author is not operating a large business, but changing the voice to be more professional might convince wary buyers to be more comfortable.

The website design is almost exclusively bad. According to the source HTML, it was written in 2003. The website uses almost no custom styling; that is, it uses whatever font the browser uses for a default (in the case of Internet Explorer it is a serif font), the tables have borders that were common with websites in the 1990s, and the headings and text are formatted by the browser. The border is too small and the content bleeds beyond it. The navigation bar is merely two tables filled with links. Almost all of the meaningful content is below the fold, and it requires far too much scrolling to view the entire page. There are large blocks of text and large blocks of pictures, especially near the bottom of the page. It would be far more effective to mix these two elements together. Some of the links direct to images with no surrounding content; why would they not be embedded? From a technical standpoint, the author uses deprecated HTML tags (i.e. ). This practice is discouraged and makes it difficult for technologies like HTML to mature.

The site is fairly functional, primarily because there is no dynamic or interesting content to load. It loads quickly, and most of the links seem to work. (The email links did not work on the computer this is being written on, but they are standard mailto links, which means if there was an email program installed on this computer they would have worked.)

The site does a good job of engaging the audience, if only because it is such an ugly site. It has two things going for it: it is uncommon for websites to be this bad in today’s web, and it is uncommon to see websites advertising for chicken saddles. These two aspects make the site reasonably interesting to read, but perhaps not for the purpose that was intended.

The links on the site seem to all be working, except for the PayPal link, which directs to a generic pop up advertisement for PayPal.

Advertisements

Major Writing Assignment #1 Postmortem

This writing assignment ended up being a little bit easier than I had initially anticipated. In other classes, writing 5-7 pages in 11-point font with 1.15 spacing is quite a daunting task, but because of the structure of the paper (6 sections to discuss per assignment), I was able to write this much faster than normal. I started the assignment on Sunday by writing part of the executive summary, the interview summary, and the titles for the sections. I then wrote the analysis for each piece (one each) on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Finally, I proofread and put on some finishing touches on Wednesday and Thursday morning. This time frame was a little more spread out than other papers that I’ve done in the past, primarily due to the changing due date, which was nice. However, I wish that I had allocated more time for proofreading and revising.

The main surprising thing about doing this assignment was how quickly it went by. Like I mentioned earlier, papers of this length typically take me much longer. It was also surprising to me that all of the people who I emailed about the interview were willing to respond; I didn’t expect to have to tell people that someone else had beat them to responding. The hardest part of this essay was avoiding writing in the first person, especially in the interview summary: it is very natural to say “I interviewed [subject]”, and seemingly more awkward to say “[subject] was interview”. The easiest part, as mentioned a couple of times above, was reaching the length suggestion. This was a pleasant surprise, as I had assumed that it would be one of the harder parts.

To proofread the paper, I read over it on the computer screen, then printed it and edited it with a red pen. I like to do this for all long writing assignments, as I typically find more errors on the physical copy than I can see on a screen. I’ve even used this technique for debugging code in the past. The next time I do an assignment like this, I will be sure to leave more time for proofreading and revising. I liked writing one analysis at a time, as I didn’t experience significant writer’s block. If someone doing this assignment asked me for advice, I would tell them to split the work up between different nights. This helps by both lessening the amount of continuous time spent in front of a computer screen, as well as giving the mind a chance to take a break between writing something and revising it. I find that this break is important; when I don’t take a break, my papers tend to be more error prone.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this assignment. It didn’t take nearly as long as I expected, and it helped me learn about what I will be writing and reading in the workplace.

Interview with Cameron Buescher of Pariveda Solutions

On 2/5/13, I conducted an interview via email with Cameron Buescher, a software engineering consultant at Pariveda Solutions on the topic of writing in the field of software engineering. Below is a transcript of the interview:

1. How much writing would you say that you do on a daily basis?

On a daily basis I write a lot of emails. That may seem mundane, but writing good ones has been one of the most useful things I’ve learned since being here. Every few weeks I’ll also do some technical documentation work.

2. What types of writing do you do for internal use? External?

Internal: I’m working on a self-evaluation right now, although I don’t know a particular stereotype that falls under.
External: Technical documentation–text, diagrams, and graphics.
Both: Email.

3. What is the process for editing/proofreading documents you produce?
Email: I proofread for several things:
– structure: did I state the most important things first, followed by supporting material in descending order of importance?
– purpose: was I clear about why I’m sending it; is it an FYI or a TODO for the recipient?
– context: did I provide enough for them to understand what I’m talking about, and did I make any assumptions about what they know?
Technical stuff: usually there is review and proofreading by peers and managers in addition to my normal mental checks.
In general:
– I try to test my writing on how it sounds out loud. If it sounds bad out loud I reword.
– I generally consider the most concise way the best, and try to cut out anything that’s irrelevant and/or “fluffy”.

4. Would you say that the majority of your writing is collaborative or individual? What kinds are collaborative, and what kinds are individual?
Some of both, although the significant pieces are almost always collaborative.

The last two questions refer to the following 6 genres of writing, as defined in Philip Rubens’ “Science and Technical Writing”:
– Marketing – provides summary and overview information aimed at persuading the audience to initiate an action (posters, online/print ads, social media, etc.)
– Conceptual – provides background and theoretical information to explain central ideas (textbooks, trade journals, etc.)
– Procedural – helps the user accomplish an immediate task, imparting short-term knowledge (cookbooks, assembly instructions, etc.)
– Tutorial – teaches a skill, imparting long-term knowledge necessary to accomplish important tasks
– Job aid – provides quick-reference information for essential tasks
– Referential – provides encyclopedic, in-depth information about a product or service

5. Which of these genres (top 3) do documents (informal or formal) that you write at work fall into? Can you describe some examples of documents you’ve written in each of the top three?
– Job aid and Referential: technical documentation for projects. These docs can cover things ranging in detail from high-level architecture to implementation-level details. These can really fall in nearly every category above, although they lean towards these categories in general. Unfortunately I don’t know of one I can send you… sorry.
– Procedural: emails. (Boring, sorry). I attached one which I recently sent asking about Dallas networking groups.

6. Which of these genres (top 3) do you most commonly read at work? Can you describe some examples of documents you’ve read in each of the top three?
– Referential: lots of technical documentation (MSDN, jQuery, [insert any framework/technology documentation]). One piece related to Windows Azure: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windowsazure/dd894031.aspx.
– Job aid: quick fixes to problems via internet search (Stackoverflow for something I hit today: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2239143/automapper-how-to-map-to-constructor-parameters-instead-of-property-setters )
– Conceptual: some tech, some business. Examples include http://www.codeproject.com/Articles/133738/Quick-Ways-to-Boost-Performance-and-Scalability-of and http://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/lessons-in-creativity-from-pixar/

Critique #1 Postmortem

This assignment was different from most other English assignments that I have done both in high school and in college, primarily because of the tight constraint on the length of the paper. When I write a paper I write out all my thoughts, ignoring how long my paper is, and adjust the length after that. Typically in reviewing I have to cut out or add a few things, but in this assignment I had to remove an entire paragraph’s worth of text. Normally that wouldn’t be too difficult, but when the assignment is only one page long, removing a paragraph means taking out about 30% of the material, which is not a trivial task.

I started this assignment on Sunday evening, when I read the article. On Monday morning, in a break between classes, I wrote my initial draft. I revised it and shortened it on Monday evening, and added the finishing touches on Tuesday morning. This is actually a very good time frame for me, considering my past record. I typically start a paper the night before the due date and end up staying up too late to finish it.

The most surprising thing about this assignment was just how short it had to be. I included what I considered to be a minimal amount of crucial information in the summary section, but it was still too long for me to fit in a response that was a reasonable length. Unfortunately I had to cut out of my summary some of what I would consider the author’s main points.

The hardest part of this assignment was definitely cutting down on the length. As I detailed in the first paragraph, my initial draft was significantly too long, and I had to remove much of my content. The easiest part was summarizing the article, because the article was well-structured; it was easy to pick out what the author intended to be the main points.

Next time I do a critique I think I’ll aim for the same approach that I used this time. The time frame worked very well; I appreciate being well rested today and waking up early enough to go to the gym this morning. If someone else doing this assignment asked me for advice, I would tell him or her to follow the same time frame that I did. It helps not to do everything in one sitting; especially writing and reviewing. I find that I catch significantly more errors if I review something the day after I write it, instead of immediately after finishing.

Hopefully my next critique will go as smoothly as this one did.

Responding to a critique of The Return of the King

A critic on “Christian Science Monitor” reviewed the final installment of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Return of the King”, as a 50 out of 100 on metacritic.com. The critic made three major claims. First, he claimed that Jackson’s transition of Tolkien’s story into “cinematic terms” was “uninspired”. Second, he claimed that the movie was too long and was unable to keep the excitement that he acknowledged in a few scenes consistent throughout the movie. Third, he claimed that, save for Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis, the acting was “dull”.

His score was by far the lowest on metacritic (the average score is 94), so clearly there must have been something astray in his analysis. The three points can be individually countered.

First, the film was clearly up to cinematic standards. The film won 11 Oscars, which are generally accepted as the most well-respected award in American Film. If the movie was “uninspired”, it could not have accomplished this.

Second, the movie was not too long. An enormous amount of people were willing to sit through the whole 3+ hours, and most were satisfied by it (as evidenced by the high score on metacritic).

As for the critic’s third point, many organizations that give awards for movies disagree with this, giving awards such as “Oustanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture” (Screen Actor’s Guild) and “Best Supporting Actor” (Seattle Film Critics – for Sean Astin).

The three points can be countered, so it stands the reason that this critic’s review was “uninspired”, rather than the movie itself.

My Favorite Movie

My favorite movie is probably the Lord of the Rings trilogy from Peter Jackson, though it is not without competition. These movies were my first introduction to the incredible world created by Tolkien, and inspired me to later read the trilogy of novels that the movies were based on.

There are several things I like about the movies. One is that the story is not what it seems to be at face value. Watching the movie for the first time, one would think that the primary story is about destroying an evil ring. However, when investigated further, one finds that it is really much more about the journey than the end result. Once one comes to this realization, it answers the oft-asked question: Why didn’t the eagles, who helped out at the beginning and saved them at the end, not just fly the ring to Mordor and drop it in Mt. Doom? The answer is simple: that would miss the point. The real story is the bond of friendship that grows between Frodo and Sam, the reinstating of the proper king of Gondor, and the tragedy of Smeagol.

Another, more “surface-level”, aspect of the movies that I enjoyed was the reserved nature of the CGI used. The movies were made in the early 2000s, so the capability of computer graphics was far more limited than it is today. Jackson realized this, and unlike many movies of the time, was not overly flashy with the computer generated imagery. Because of this, these movies are still watchable and believable a decade later.

A third aspect of the movies that I like is the excellent performances by many of the actors, especially Elijah Wood and Ian McKellen. They played their parts convincingly, and were true to the characters they represented from the novels.

I highly recommend these movies to anyone who has not seen them (and who has about 10 hours to spare).