The Kindle Experience

Warning: non-running post.

My stepmother, Betsy, received an Amazon Kindle for Christmas, courtesy of my dad. She got the Kindle DX, which is the larger one. The Kindle itself is a nice little piece of functional bling. It’s thin, fairly light and the display is razor sharp and very readable.

But the Kindle experience was horrible. Part of what I do for a living is designing (or sometimes fixing) so-called “user experiences.” For the sake of brevity, here’s the grossly oversimplified definition: a “user experience” is the customer’s experience of interacting with a product or service and the company or other entity (such as a government agency) that provides it. It can refer to a discreet interaction (such as using a website to purchase something) or the whole shebang: phone interactions, emails, real world environments, software applications, product design, etc.

Some fun “real world environment” examples:

  • The Stew Leonard’s chain of food stores has a user experience that requires you to walk through the entire store in a serpentine path. IKEA is similar. I hate this. So do other people — so much so that I and others have found shortcuts (squeezing ourselves between the end of an aisle and the back of a dreary refrigeration unit, for example) to navigate through the store faster. I find I actually enjoy subverting their insidious user experience in this way.
  • Disney is legendary for its theme park user experiences. As the “Happiest Place on Earth,” they make damned sure that you’re happy. Every aspect is engineered to enable visitors to have a consistent user experience and positive interaction with the Disney brand. I find it exceedingly creepy, but I do admire the thought that goes into what they provide and how much they’ve been an innnovator in the area of user experience design.
  • Saturn turned the car shopping experience on its head about 15 years ago. Not only did they do away with “haggling” (the price on the car was what you paid), but they also took the pressure out of shopping for cars. You’d walk into a Saturn showroom and be pretty much left alone, rather than instantly circled by sharklike salesmen. They also treated me, as a woman, with respect and didn’t assume that I was either a total idiot or wasn’t making the purchase decision — a negative experience that was virtually guaranteed at other dealers. Still, I didn’t buy a Saturn, and others didn’t either.

The user experience starts with the first contact between customer and product or provider. In the case of the Kindle, that meant opening the box and reviewing the manual. Amazon needs to look at Apple’s user experience when it comes to its consumer devices. Apple typically labels everything with helpful clues like “Open me first.” Its quickstart guides help those of us who are too impatient to read manuals, and they usually contain the right details. In the case of the Kindle, the manual instantly fell short and things continued to go south in cascading fashion from there.

First, let’s start with the basics. The Kindle manual talks about “connecting” your Kindle to download books. But it never provides the basic definition of what that means: if you are in range of their nationwide network (WhisperNet), your Kindle should autoconnect to download books. Since this wasn’t mentioned anywhere (and my dad lives just outside of the coverage area), we were left clueless. So clueless that I went out and bought and installed a wireless router, thinking that’s what they needed to “connect.” That didn’t work. So more than 24 hours after unwrapping the Kindle, it was still unusable.

Calls to the Kindle support line followed: two of them. The first was to “re-register” the Kindle. If you buy the Kindle with one Amazon account and then give it to someone else with an Amazon account, re-registration is necessary. Amazon should have considered how widespread this issue would be, considering that the Kindle is heavily promoted as a gift item.

The second was to figure out what the fuck “connect” means in their world. During that call I was told that even though we were outside of the WhisperNet coverage area, Betsy could still purchase books online at Amazon.com and download them to the Kindle. A helpful email would follow. An email did follow, but it was not helpful. It simply said you could store Kindle format files on the device. But how? How?!

So we proceeded to shop for Kindle books online. We looked for many popular titles, but kept coming up empty for anything available in Kindle format. Then I noticed that Betsy’s “country” setting was set to the United Kingdom. I switched it and we shopped again. This time we got maybe one out of five titles we looked for. So we purchased one to download. Or so we thought. Nope. We chose the wrong menu item during purchase and ended up with a file Betsy would need to wait for WhisperNet access in order to download.

So here’s another point: If you’re selling access to an electronic version, why not make it process agnostic? You buy the book, then you get a confirmation form (and, for good measure, an email) that provides the option of downloading the file instantly or waiting for WhisperNet access to obtain it. You’re no longer screwed if you choose the wrong option during purchase. Easy for Amazon to deliver, and it guarantees a happy customer.

Also note that the Kindle search function on Amazon is horrible. If something isn’t found in Kindle format, that message is fairly hidden and the available format is very prominent. So like an idiot you click on it and see there’s no Kindle version.

Another nit: We had to go online and do a Google search to figure out how to turn the Kindle off. That is bad product design (and poor documentation).

To Amazon’s credit, the download of the book that Betsy bought did happen automatically once she was in range of the network by going into town. Still, that was a full two days after receiving and unpacking the Kindle. If I bought a new $500 toy and two days later was still waiting for it to perform basic functions after multiple phone calls, emails and one unnecessary network installation, I’d be a little pissed off.

RLaG in 2010: Plans and goals

My goals this year are modest. In years past, I had ambitious goals that revolved around mileage and race times. Not this time. Here are my goals for 2010:

  • Enjoy running, training and racing again
  • Avoid injury
  • Listen to my body and rest so I don’t get overtrained
  • Don’t race another marathon until I feel ready to do so

I’m exiting 2009 in a state of extreme rest. This was the year in which, if I ever wondered what my limits were in terms of training, I found out.

For now, between recovering from the CIM race, a head cold, work pressures, terrible weather and the holidays, I’m not worrying about running. I’ll get back into it in January. I accept that I will have lost fitness and will need to have some patience with myself.

The plan over the next few months is to get back into marathon training, but incorporate a lot of shorter races. I have no spring marathon planned. As for those shorter races, I don’t expect to pick up any PRs early on, but perhaps by sometime in late March or early April I can make some updates to my Stats page. Mostly, I’m looking forward to having fun racing again and not having all my eggs in one basket.

I’m awaiting the new training plan. But I do know that the mileage will come down in both peak and recovery weeks. That should help me avoid both the overtraining and injuries that have plagued me this year. I should be racing at least 2-3 times a month from February into April.

I’m registered for the full NJ Marathon on May 2, but I’ll be deferring my entry until 2011. If I’m feeling good in April, I may race the NJ half instead. The room’s reserved, so I can play things by ear without having to scramble for accommodations.

I’m also picking up a pair of inexpensive racing snowshoes. These will allow me to view a coming blizzard with delight rather than dread. The running path from Hartsdale to Valhalla allows for a good 10 mile out and back, except when it isn’t plowed (which is throughout the entire winter). Now I’ll be able to use it.

Plus, there’s this race. I’d have to drive for 2+ hours each way. But it’s at 11AM and it would be a new adventure.

Another decision I’ve made is to stop combining a major marathon with a vacation. Who wants to spend half or most of their vacation exhausted and in a crappy mood? So that era is over. I now get why people fly in and out on marathon weekend. In fact, I may not do any major travel at all in 2010. I spent six+ weeks and more money than I want to ponder on travel this year. My house needs attention and I need a break.

Looking farther down the road, we could Amtrak it to this race in the fall. Small, good course, and many good reviews. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Sitting here with a head cold, knowing my fitness is leaking away just a little more for every day I’m not running, it’s easy to feel stuck. But I suspect this rest is doing me more good than harm, and I’ve got a plan for next year, however loose at the moment.

New blog: The Tagliner

I apparently don’t have enough ways to waste my time, so I’ve started yet another new blog, The Tagliner. It’s a place to channel the strange thoughts that enter my mind whenever I’m in a commercially rich atmosphere (this unfortunately includes my own living room when the TV’s on, during most of my workday, and every time I leave my home). I’ve also got some funny, writerly friends whom I hope to cajole into contributing regularly to this newest internet blight.

Since this one’s considerably less labor intensive than is Object Haiku, I hope it won’t go so neglected.

Obligatory “year in review” blog post

Doing a “look back on 2009″ post seems to be all the rage among running bloggers this month. Although I normally purse my lips in disapproval at such conformity, I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

Now is as good a time as any to reflect upon the past year, which from a marathon racing perspective was a disaster for me. But it was not a disaster in all areas. For one, I ran some stellar races (and workouts) at various points in the winter and spring. I almost ran a stellar 5 mile race in the fall (only to DNF at 3.7 miles with a raging hamstring). And I learned a lot, oh, yes. I learned a lot — about training in general and about myself as a unique physiological running specimen.

Here’s what I learned this year:

  • High mileage results in huge gains for me, but only up to a certain point. If I run high mileage for too long, I will eventually break down in the form of either overtraining or injury.
  • If I have injured myself, I often have a short window of faux-recovery during which I can nevertheless run a spectactular race or speed session (and fool myself into thinking I’m not really injured). But if I continue to run hard after that I will get reinjured.
  • A hot, hilly long run or race will fuck me up for weeks, if not months.
  • Doing a very long and very hilly run at the end of one or two high mileage weeks is dangerous. Depending on how long I’ve been doing high mileage, chances are good that doing one of these will push me over the edge into injury, although it can take anywhere from 7-10 days to develop. Training in Central Park is an especially hazardous prospect in these cases.
  • Extreme changes in weekly mileage are a bad idea. Going from 50 to 95 (even if I’ve recently run 95 without issue) is a great big embossed and monogrammed invitation for Injury to attend my next workout, and perhaps even bring a guest.
  • If I’m feeling very worn down and don’t want to run, I need to take the day off. A few missed runs won’t destroy a season. But too many runs that I shouldn’t have done will.

Bonus realization:

  • My right gracilis muscle does not like running in weather below 20F. My left one, however, is completely okay with this.

The above lessons are hard won. But I won’t soon forget them.

As for what happened in Sacramento two weeks ago, here’s my theory: I suspect that I was undertrained for the marathon specifically. When you look back at my training in the fall, it was constantly being interrupted by one thing or another. First it was a two+ week trip to South Africa, which involved days of travel, a large time zone change, eating and drinking a lot of stuff that isn’t on the menu for marathoners in training, and big time stress in the form of all of the above along with the added treat of being a victim of major property crime. Not to mention some terrible workouts due to poor conditions (brutal heat among them).

Then I came home and had a few good weeks only to experience the first of two serious injuries: hamstring pull followed by inflamed tendon. I didn’t give myself time to heal properly from the first, piling on 95 miles after a 52 mile injured week, and the second injury came in to take its place. All told, injuries screwed up my training for close to a month total. So out of a 13 week schedule (3 of which were taper weeks), at least 6 were heavily compromised. For you mathletes, that’s a screwup factor of 60%.

I toed the line in Folsom thinking that there was a good possibility that I might have to settle for a 3:20 or even a 3:25. I might have been able to make that time somewhere else, but not on that course on that day. The downhills chewed up my quads a la Steamtown and the headwinds were just, wow.

This was all on top of whatever was wrong with me in the spring, which for the sake of simplicity let’s say was overtraining. After an amazingly good buildup from the fall into April, I crashed in May. I was a wreck in June and July, then ran in a holding pattern in August and commenced training in September, as described above.

So that was 2009. Good riddance.

2010 will bring some changes. More on that soon.

“Was this review helpful to you?”

No. But it did bring up some interesting questions:

  • Is the writer’s native language English? How did he or she manage to get so many of the basics wrong yet use and spell the word “dissipate” correctly?
  • Does the conducting medium have to be honey or peanut butter? Will Nutella work? What about Marmite?
  • Why would it occur to someone to smear peanut butter on their own body for any purpose other than fulfilling a sexual fetish or attempting to attract an elephant (or both at the same time)?

Hey Nineteen

Jonathan and I have been en pièce jointe for 19 years today. Being nontraditional (and unmarried), we don’t celebrate our anniversary with anything more than a passing acknowledgment that the 17th of December has some meaning, whereas the 16th and the 18th do not.

The title of this post references one of my favorite Steely Dan songs. Although our age difference doesn’t approach the one in that story, it’s there: a little over eight years between us (also, I know who Aretha Franklin is). It didn’t mean a lot to me when I was in my mid-twenties and he in his early thirties (and — clang! — recently divorced! — clang!), and it means even less today. All I knew was that he was attractive, funny and kind. I couldn’t say the same for the person with whom I was living at the time. And smart, very smart.

Eventually we made our way to each other. It was good to be in a relationship that was easy, not filled with drama, conflict and the constant implication that I was doing something wrong. Fuck that. I wanted someone I could play Nintendo with until 3AM, then get up and go for a walk with before breakfast. Or sit on the couch and talk. Or not talk. This guy was perfect.

Through the years, together we’ve gone places, been broke, learned to drive, spent money on items large and small, gotten sick, lost people and pets, had fun, been disappointed, and everything else that should happen over a couple of decades in any life. Nineteen years seems like a long time. But it’s flown.

The More is no more

Or at least it appears that way. The listing for the April More Magazine-sponsored race is shown as the More Half Marathon. No full.

Loyal readers will recall my critical analysis (and I do mean critical) of that event’s rapid growth of the half, coupled with the equally swift demise of the full. No mystery there. The Westchester Marathon followed the same, sad trajectory.

Oh, well. Another one bites the dust.

In other NYRR news, I can’t find any evidence of the Bronx Half, which usually happens in early February. The NYC Half Marathon ($79 plus $5 processing fee — are you shitting me? No. Just, no.) has been moved to March. The 15K Colon Cancer Challenge is also notably absent. I wonder if moving the NYC half from the brain-frying height of summer to spring has buggered up the rest of the race calendar now.

I’m in a criminally bad mood these days when it comes to anything running related. Evidence of race calendar monkeying is not helping.

2009 CIM: Not a Race Report

I got something like 700 hits to this site on Sunday, which is roughly four times what I get on a big day. So I guess lots of people were curious about how the day went (and I’m sure a fair amount of the traffic was from other participants looking for race reports from the day).

If you’re looking for a race report, I’m about to disappoint you. I don’t want to write one, not so much because I’m upset about the whole thing. Which, of course, I still am. No, a race report invites analysis and scrutiny from everyone reading it. I’m not going to attempt to analyze what happened in terms of the actual race. So I really don’t want to read others’ attempts to do so either.

The race itself was not the problem, meaning nothing “classic” in the marathoning sense went wrong. I didn’t go out too fast, or get injured, have stomach issues, etc. The race was just a natural outcome of whatever fatal flaw has been undermining my training over the past year. I don’t believe that flaw can be found in the race data.

I do appreciate a lot of the comments. Many were thoughtful, smart and full of new perspectives. I know I’ll revisit them in the coming weeks as I think about the year ahead.

I’m not making any decisions about anything at this point. But I do know that the marathon is for me, right now, like a red hot stove. I’m staying away from it for as long as my hand is still wrapped in gauze. Figuratively speaking.

Finally, just something that popped into my head during those awful two hours in which I struggled, mile by mile, along the second half of the CIM course. A few weeks ago I read the autobiography of Sonia O’Sullivan, one of Ireland’s great distance runners. O’Sullivan is famous for, among other things, having exited the 5000m final in 1996 at Atlanta — not just leaving the track but actually running out of the stadium entirely with a lap and a half to go.

As the great Irish hope that year, she was under enormous pressure to perform well. She didn’t. Her father, who was there to witness his daughter’s disaster as a tsunami of criticism toward her formed, said the best thing when a microphone was shoved in his face: “Nobody died here. It’s only sport.”

The singing room

Imagine that you’re a singer. In your home you build a special room just for your singing. Every day you go into that room and for anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours you practice your singing. Some days are more challenging than others, with big octave shifts, trills or timber exercises. On many days, you go into your singing room twice a day.

For six months you pursue your singing, in your singing room, every day. Besides the time you spend singing, you sacrifice other things that might affect your singing. You miss those things. But, on the other hand, you love singing and you know you have the potential to get a lot better at it if you work hard and stay disciplined. So it’s worth it.

Twice a year, you get the opportunity to perform. You think about these upcoming performances each day, as you sing alone in your room. Those dates keep you going, even when the practicing gets tedious or you hit a patch when it doesn’t seem to be going that well. But overall, it’s going well. You’re getting better and sounding very good as the days, weeks and months roll on. You feel positive about that upcoming date, when you’ll take your talents and skills outside of your room at last.

Your performance date arrives and you take the stage. You’re a little nervous, but that’s normal. You’re confident and know you’re ready. You open your mouth to sing.

What emerges sounds exactly like a startled screech owl.

You’re disturbed, mystified, embarrassed. But mostly, you’re shocked. It’s like being slapped in the face by someone you love. The loss is terrible. But you get over it. Then you pick yourself up and you try again. You pick apart what may have gone wrong and try something new. Something that, while different, has you working just as hard and sacrificing just as much, every day, as you did before.

Six months later, the curtain opens, and the exact same thing happens.

—————————————————————-

Don’t worry. This post is where the self pity ends. This year was a terrible racing year and I’m writing it off. Thank you for all of the kind comments. I don’t know what I’ll do next.

CIM: Epic Fail

3:46:33.

Slow from the get go. In trouble at mile 10. Died at the halfway point. The rest was a fucking death march.

At least I qualified for Boston. Again. Barely.

I don’t know that I ever want to do this again.

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