Hangouts: Watch Me Run Screaming From Dark Green Conversation Bubbles [en]

[fr] Vous avez vu la nouvelle version de Hangouts pour iOS? Texte blanc sur fond vert, donc lisibilité décrue, pour le texte de votre interlocuteur. Révolte! Je reviens à la version précédente...

I’m generally pretty good at dealing with my internal resistance to change when it comes to upgrading software. I know that we get used to a lot of things.

But Google have crossed the line with their new iOS version of hangouts. So, for the first time in my life, I’m actually downgrading the recently upgraded apps on both my iPhone and my iPad. I know it’s not a permanent solution, but maybe somebody at Google will realise that reading white text in a dark green bubble set against a light background makes for a rather unpleasant reading experience.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so head over to this review with screenshots to see what I mean (the one below is lifted from there). Sure, it’s pretty, but what about readable?

old vs new Hangouts

The old version of hangouts served similarly contrasted text for the whole conversation:

  • your interlocutor’s words on a white/light background, with dark text
  • your words in the same text colour but on a light green background, so slightly less contrast (you don’t read your words that much… right?)

Compare to now:

  • your interlocutor’s words are white text on a dark green background, set against the light background of the app (reminder: this is the text you’ll be reading all the time)
  • your text is dark on a light background


Inverted color schemes are less legible.

Too much contrast hurts legibility as much as not enough can. (Yes, the page is old and ugly.)

Check out some research:

From these results, one can say that contrast affects legibility, but unfortunately, it does not seem to be as simple as high contrast being better than low contrast. In the main experiment, GN/Y had the fastest RT’s, and in the control experiment, medium gray, and dark gray had the fastest RT’s. In neither experiment did the BK/W condition show the fastest RT’s. These results show that these participants had faster response times when more median contrasts were used. These results supported Powell (1990), who suggested avoiding sharp contrasts, but did not fully support Rivlen et al. (1990), who suggested maintaining high contrast.

According to a manual by AT&T; (1989), the direction of the contrast (dark on light, or light on dark) might also affect legibility. When light text is placed on a dark background the text may seem to glow and become blurred; this is referred to as halation, and it may make the text harder to read. Some evidence for an effect of halation was found in the current experiment.

(via Coding Horror)

You’d think they would have paid more attention to readability for an app many people (myself included) spend pretty much all day using. How did this get out of the door? And why is it still out there?

Give me a sec while I go grab my pitchfork, I’ll meet you down in the street.

Mood: horrified.

A Post About Many Things [en]

[fr] Des choses en vrac!

It happened again. As time goes by and things to say pile up, the pile weighs heavy on my fingers and blog posts don’t get written. Been there, done that, will happen again.

First, a heartfelt thanks to all the people who reacted to my post about being single and childless, here and on facebook. Rest assured that I actually rather like the life I have — it’s full of good things. But it’s very different from the one I imagined. I will write more on this, but exactly when and what I am not sure yet. Also, one can grieve not being a mother but not want to adopt or be a single parent. There is a whole spectrum of “child desire”, and it’s not at all as clear-cut as “no way” and “I’ll do anything”. Check out “50 Ways to Not Be a Mother“.

Most of my working hours are devoted to running Open Ears and a series of digital literacy workshops at Sonova. I’m still way behind on my accounting.

Tounsi (and his pal Quintus) went to see an animal behaviour specialist, because I was starting to get really fed up cleaning after Tounsi’s almost daily spraying in the flat (thankfully his pee doesn’t smell too strongly and I’m good at spotting and cleaning). I plan to write a detailed article on the experience in French, but it was fascinating and I regret not going earlier. As of now, spraying is pretty much under control, and I’m in the process of finally chucking and replacing two pieces of furniture which are soiled beyond salvation.

What I learned:

  • outdoor cats can also need stimulation (play, hunting…)
  • even a 20-second “play session” where the cat lifts his head to watch a paper ball but doesn’t chase it can make a difference, if this kind of thing is repeated throughout the day.
  • making cats “work” for their food can be taken much further than feeding balls or mazes: change where the food is all the time (I wouldn’t have dared do that, didn’t know if it was a good idea or not, but it is); hide kibble under upturned yoghurt cups; throw pieces of kibble one by one for the cat to run after (another thing to do “all the time”); use an empty egg-box to make kibble harder to get to; etc. etc.
  • clicker training for things like touching a reluctant cat: my baby steps were way too big and my sessions way too long
  • Feliway spray is way more efficient than the diffusor (at least to stop spraying)
  • cleaning with water (or water and neutral soap) is really not enough, there are products to spray on soiled areas which break down urine molecules (even if you can’t smell anything, the cat can)
  • spraying can simply be a “vicious circle” — it seems to be the case with Tounsi: he sprays in the flat because it’s a habit, and because there are “marking sign-posts” (ie, smell) everywhere

While we’re on the topic of cats, I’m playing cat-rescuer and looking for homes for Capsule and Mystik (together, used to living indoors but that could change) and Erika (has been living outdoors for 5 years but super friendly).

I don’t think I mentioned StartUp podcast or Gimlet Media here yet. Anyway: want great podcasts? Listen to Startup, Reply All, and Mystery Show. And in addition to Invisibilia and those I mention in that article, grab Planet Money (I swear, they make it interesting even for me!), Snap Judgement (great storytelling), and This American Life.

Reading? Spin, Axis, and Vortex, by Robert Charles Wilson.

Something I need to remember to tell people about blogging: write down stuff that’s in your head. It works way better than doing research to write on something you think might be interesting for people.

Procrastinating and generally disorganised, as I am? Two recent articles by James Clear that I like: one on “temptation bundling” to help yourself do stuff while keeping in mind future rewards (delayed gratification, anybody?) and the other on a super simple productivity “method”. I read about it this morning and am going to try it.

Related, but not by Clear: How to Get Yourself to Do Things. Read it, but here’s the takeaway: when you procrastinate, the guilt builds up and you feel worse and worse. But as soon as you start doing it gets better. And so the worst you’ll ever feel about not doing something is just before you start. Understanding this is helping me loads.

Enough for today. More soon, or less soon.

Thanks to Marie-Aude who gave me a nudge to get back to this blog. I’d been in the “omg should write an article” state for weeks, and her little contribution the other day certainly played a role in me putting “write CTTS article” in my list of 6 things for the day. Merci :-)

The Right to Grieve — And That Means Being Sad [en]

[fr] Avez-vous remarqué comme personne ne veut qu'on soit triste? La tristesse est néanmoins une émotion nécessaire, celle qui nous permet d'accepter une perte, d'en faire le deuil, et de pouvoir continuer à avancer à travers et au-delà de la peine.

Have you noticed how nobody wants you to be sad? Tell people around you that you’re sad, and immediately they’ll want to cheer you up.

Sadness is not bad. Sadness is necessary. It is through being sad that we are able to accept our losses and move on. That is what grieving is.

Our friends don’t want us to feel sad, because they don’t want us to suffer. But refusing to be sad and to grieve brings along a lot of suffering — certainly more, in the long run, than the pain of sadness.

Sadness is not depression. Unprocessed grief can lead to depression, though.

Sadness is the feeling of loss.

A person who is experiencing loss needs the courage to feel sad, and in a world which wants to shove sad under the carpet at the first opportunity, that can be far from easy.

What is valued is staying strong in the face of loss, grief, catastrophe. Not collapsing. Not showing how much pain we’re in.

But what we need when we’re sad and in pain, most of the time, is support so we can dare to feel all this. A safe place to be heard, recognised, and not judged. Love and acceptance that does not desperately want to save us from our emotions, but on the contrary, regard them as part of ourselves and our journey through life.

To grieve and to move on from all the various losses in our lives, all the nevermores, we need to be able to be sad. It is a good thing.

Coming Out as Single and Childless [en]

[fr] Quarante ans, célibataire, sans enfants. Un deuil à faire, et une porte à ouvrir pour en parler.

I turned 40 last summer, and it hasn’t been easy.

To be honest, I kind of expected it to be rough: my mother died when she was 40, 30 years ago, and in my mind 40 has always been a kind of “cut-off” age for having children. But it’s been (and still is) much more of an upheaval than I guessed.

If you follow me on Facebook or maybe on Twitter, you certainly noticed I shared a slew of articles about childlessness over the fall and since then. This summer plunged me into a grieving process I’ve been doing my best to avoid for years — and am still resisting. It’s not a coincidence that my blog has been so silent.

As I started researching childlessness, and talking a bit around me, I realised that this is something about myself I have never really talked about in public. Or talked about much, full stop. Same with being single. It’s not something I’m really comfortable discussing publicly. Which is kind of strange, as I’m a very public person. So what is it about the childlessness and singleness that keeps me quiet?

Some have suggested that it’s because it’s personal. But I talk about a lot of personal stuff. It’s painful, too. Maybe it’s the grief? Not either: over the winter of 2010-2011 and the months that followed, I wrote a series of extremely personal articles dealing with the death of my cat Bagha, and the grief I was going through.

And I understood: it’s shame.

Failing to have a partner or children, when it’s what you want, is shameful — particularly for a woman. The grief of childlessness and singleness is something that we have trouble dealing with, as a society. Chances are you’re thinking “wait, 40, everything is still possible, the miracles of medicine, you have plenty of time; you’ll find somebody, all hope is not lost”. Do you see the problem here? I will write more on the subject, but for the moment please just take it as given that my chances of ever being a mother are vanishingly small — and that the best I can do is grieve and get on with my life, “plan B”.

I have kept quiet about this, and shoved it under the carpet, because it’s an issue that’s loaded with shame. And as such, it stands to be pointed out that the grief of childlessness, and to some extent singleness, is a taboo subject. People do not want to face it. When bringing it up, it is automatically negated (“there is still time”, “children are overrated”, “look at the great life you have”, “you probably didn’t really want children that much or you would have them”). We don’t know what to say. We have scripts for losing a loved one. Even a pet — when Bagha died there was an overwhelming show of support and affection around me.

But childlessness is another can of fish.

Grief has a public dimension. To grieve, we need our pain to be recognized from the outside. Grieving can not be done in complete privacy. That’s where it gets stuck.

As much as I didn’t want to, I realised that I was going to have to start writing about this. Because this is how I process. I cannot do it alone: I need you too.

I’m not where I was back in July. Things are moving along, slowly. I’ve been talking to friends, and joined an online community of childless women for support. Read about dozens of stories parallel to mine. And though a part of me still rabidly refuses to accept I will continue my life without children, tiny bits of acceptance are sneaking in. I first drafted this blog post back in December, and getting it out of the door today is part of the process.

My name is Stephanie, I’m 40 years old, single and childless — and it’s not what I wanted for myself.

Here’s the post on Facebook.

Disconnection [en]

[fr] Certaines formes d'écriture ne peuvent plus se faire déconnectée, pour moi.

I’m at my chalet. Cats are curled up on the bed and I have a nice cup of tea ready. There is no wifi here. Cellphone reception is extremely patchy — and cellular data, when it works, is excruciatingly slow and unreliable. This is my “disconnected place”.

There is a lovely café in the village which offers free wifi as well as delicious home-made syrups, smoothies, and cakes. And tea for winter, of course. I go there to work and connect with the world.

I use MarsEdit to edit and write blog posts offline. As you can imagine, this is not something I do often. But this time around, I had quite a few to work on for my client, and I figured I could also do some of my work at the chalet.

While I was at it, I updated the settings for my blog (yup, still in server-move limbo) so that I could write an article or two. Everybody knows that being offline is great for productivity, particularly for writing.

Well, it turns out that there are certain types of writing for which it isn’t all that great. A lot of the stuff I write about here is nourished by things I’ve read online somewhere. I want to include links, check sources again to make sure I remember correctly what I have read. Search for more information.

I have become so used to writing/blogging plugged into the internet that I forget how much I rely on this extension of my mind that the network has become for me. (See, I’m sure there is a good piece somewhere to link to about that — but as I’m writing this offline, I can’t dig it out for you.)

I don’t think this is a bad thing. My brain still works. I haven’t lost the ability to write, and more importantly, to think. But I find myself in the situation where I am so used to functioning with a given tool that I forget its absence will prevent me from doing certain things.

The article I wanted to write is about doing what we want versus doing what we have to do. I’ve been through a series of realisations on that topic, and I want to be able to reference them and map them out for — maybe with the same sources, somebody will come to the same realisation, and my article will have been useful. Oh well, I’ll write it another time, when I have access to the internet.

Maybe I just have to remember that blogging/writing is not something I should try do to when offline.

Invisibilia: A Podcast About the Hidden Forces That Shape our Behaviour [en]

[fr] Un super podcast à découvrir: Invisibilia. Ça parle des forces invisibles qui conditionnent le comportement humain. Et c'est super bien fait. Quelques histoires pour démarrer: l'homme aveugle (sans yeux) qui voit par écholocalisation et fait du vélo, la femme qui ressent physiquement ce qui arrive à ceux autour d'elle (un cas extrême de "synesthésie miroir"), le rapport entre nos pensées et qui nous sommes (sommes-nous nos pensées? quelle importance leur accorder?), et j'en passe.

I thought I’d written a post somewhere introducing the podcasts I listen to regularly. I don’t watch TV, but I do listen to a bunch of podcasts religiously: Radiolab, On The Media, The Savage Lovecast, and The Moth. Serial was great, too.

Through Radiolab, I recently discovered the new show Invisibilia. It’s actually co-hosted by one of Radiolab’s former producers, and there is clearly in the choice of subject matter a kinship with what drew me to Radiolab in the first place all these years ago.

Invisibilia is about the stuff that we can’t see and which shapes human behaviour. In the pilot season, you’ll find stories about a blind man who can actually see by using echolocation, a woman who cannot feel fear, and Paige, tragically flipping through gender categories. And that’s just the beginning. Subscribe to the podcast and start listening.

Here’s a bunch of random takeaways for me after listening to the first episodes:

  • the three “stages” in the history of our thoughts: 1) all thoughts are meaningful (Freud), 2) some thoughts are BS and we can think ourselves out of them (CBT), 3) our thoughts don’t deserve that much attention (mindfulness)
  • how important categories are in helping us make sense of the world (I kind of knew that); reminded me of India again and the utter confusion of the first weeks where all my European categories broke down, and I didn’t have any Indian ones yet to work with
  • how gently facing one’s fears works much better in getting rid of them than obsessing about them and trying to avoid their object
  • how important our expectations of what people can do are in determining what they actually are going to be capable of doing (“blind people can’t do that“)
  • venting when angry, whilst therapeutic in the moment, actually makes us more angry and aggressive in the long run

Sound interesting? Check out the list of the previous episodes. If you start listening, let me know!

The Zeigarnik Effect and Open Loops [en]

[fr] L'effet Zeigarnik, c'est ce qui nous fait finir quelque chose dans lequel on est lancé, ou qui fait qu'on repense à ce qu'on a interrompu pour y revenir. A mon avis, cet effet joue un rôle clé dans ce qui nous attire encore et encore à retourner sur Facebook ou autre: en prenant part dans des communautés et réseaux en ligne, on met en marche toutes sortes de choses dont on veut voir l'aboutissement. J'ai posté un lien, la chaîne d'actions logique est ensuite que des gens vont liker, commenter et partager. Il y aura peut-être une réponse à donner, ou tout du moins, je veux "suivre" pour savoir comment ça fini. Les conversations en ligne, idem: il y a toujours quelque chose qui se passe dans un chat, la discussion ne se termine jamais.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon the Zeigarnik Effect. It is the effect that prevents us from interrupting our teeth-brushing in the middle. Once we’ve started, we feel a need to keep going. It’s really useful.

For me, it was a missing piece of the puzzle that fitted nicely alongside the idea of GTD’s “open loops”. If you have to interrupt something before you’re done with it or the task is completely, the Zeigarnik Effect will make sure your brain nags you about it.

It explains why it’s important to “just get started” or “just do something”. It also explains why having a lot of ongoing stuff in parallel is stressful.

While I’ve been writing this post, I’ve given myself a wonderful demonstration of the Zeigarnik Effect in action. You see, I couldn’t remember exactly where I’d heard about it. I’m pretty sure it’s in one of James Clear‘s posts, because it’s definitely the kind of thing that he writes about, but I’m not 100% certain.

I can remember the context: for a given task, there is a kind of “tipping point” where the Zeigarnik Effect kicks in, and you finish what you’ve started. Knowing where that point is comes in really handy for getting things done rather than just thinking about how we’re not doing them. I remember the example clearly: for flossing, the “tipping point” or “trigger” in question was when he’d torn the piece of floss off the roll.

I’ve just spent… oh, I don’t even dare tell you… way too much time trying to find that article so I could link to it. I found plenty about flossing and the Zeigarnik effect. The worst is that I already spent way too much time trying to dig out that source when preparing a mini-workshop on “time/task management” I gave two months back. And didn’t find it.

You know the irony? I just stumbled upon the article in question! It wasn’t James Clear after all. And you know the funny bit? I thought I’d add a link to a Google search in the above paragraph. Just to show you how much stuff about Zeigarnik and floss I had waded through. To my surprise, many of the links there were not those I had been wading through an hour ago. Maybe I only searched in specific places where I thought the article was, like Clear’s blog. Anyway. I have it! Incredible!

The reason I went down that rabbit-hole was because it was an “unfinished task”. And the more time I spent trying to “finish” it, the stronger my urge to keep going became. Typical, right?

And here we go again: while looking up some old articles of mine, I remembered that the markdown plugin wasn’t working on the new server. I had to hold myself back from downloading and installing it. It would have meant interrupting the writing of this blog post, though, so I guess that is what just saved me. But now I have this nagging “open loop” in a corner of my mind.

(Bear with me while I add it to my running list of things that need to be done so I can stop thinking about it.)

(Oops, while I was there, I quickly checked a spreadsheet to see if there were any new sign-ups for my next workshop. There weren’t. Do I leave the form open or close it now?)

As you can see, there is a clear link here to multitasking, procrastination, and the general feeling of “not enough brain space” that I have a times. It also makes me think about how when I start something, I have a lot of trouble stopping. Hypertrophied Zeigarnik Effect?

Today — and this is what prompted this post — I suddenly realised that the Zeigarnik Effect played an important part in dragging me back to my computer, or my phone (home to Facebook and Google Plus). By participating in online communities and networks (sounds better than “social media” doesn’t it? more human?) I set things in motion that do not end.

An online conversation is never-ending. There are always people in the chatroom. I post a link, it will be interesting to see who likes, comments, or shares it. I stumble upon interesting articles that need to be read.

My time on my phone or my computer is spent creating innumerable open loops that I am then desperate to close, while at the same time opening yet others that will also have to be closed. Whack-a-mole.

It feels like my “tipping point” for feeling the urge to finish something (or at least dive in) is ridiculously early. Am I mixing two things up here? Do we still speak of the Zeigarnik Effect when a task has not actually been started? Is thinking about doing it sufficient in some cases to “initiate” it?

So here’s my next mission: taming my open loops. I can’t remove them, but I can learn to live with them better.

(This was originally the title to this post, but given I’m not sure how I’m going to do that it seemed a little misleading.)

Before writing this post, I googled for “open loops social media” and other related searches, and I now have about a dozen articles to read about “compulsion loops” and the inevitable “social media addiction” (disclaimer: I’m not convinced it is correct to speak about “addiction” in this context). I’ll probably have more to write on the topic… if I manage to get around to reading them. 😉

Fouiller dans ses publications Facebook [fr]

[en] So late to the game... just realised that I can easily search my posts on Facebook now by typing things like "my posts about slack" in the search bar.

Ça date, donc j’ai vraiment trois trains de retard, mais si jamais vous êtes dans le même train que moi, voici la bonne nouvelle: on peut faire des recherches dans ses publications Facebook. Et d’après mes premiers tests ça semble marcher pas mal.

Dans la barre de recherche Facebook (que vous utilisez déjà tout le temps, n’est-ce pas?), il suffit de taper l’objet de votre recherche en langage naturel. Exemples:

  • “my posts about skiing”
  • “Stephanie’s photos about Quintus”
  • “my links about slack”

Allez, je retourne me donner des coups de pieds de n’avoir pas réalisé ça plus tôt. Assez impardonnable.

“It’s Just a Game” [en]

[fr] "C'est qu'un jeu!" J'ai beaucoup entendu ça ces dernières semaines. D'une part pour dire "tu as vu le temps que t'y passes?" et d'autre part pour dire "machin t'insulte mais c'est pas grave, c'est juste un jeu". Et toi, tu passes combien de temps à regarder la télé? Quant au reste... le jeu est un jeu mais les relations entre les joueurs, elles, sont bien réelles. Etre harcelé ou insulté dans le cadre d'un jeu n'amoindrit pas le harcèlement ou l'insulte.

“It’s just a game!”

I’ve heard that a lot these last weeks. About Ingress. Of course it’s “just a game”. But.

Before I get to the “but” bit, here are the two contexts in which I’ve heard “it’s just a game”:

  1. you spend so much time on it, how crazy, it’s just a game!
  2. don’t get so wound up that people are behaving like jerks, it’s just a game!

Context 1: how much time do you spend watching TV? at the gym? and if I was walking or jogging around instead of “playing a game”, would you still comment on how much time I play? or if I was reading a book? It’s interesting how because it’s a “game”, and therefore “fun”, spending time on it is a “bad thing”… And in the case of Ingress you can’t even argue that it’s “time sitting behind a computer”, because it’s actually “time spent walking and walking and walking”. Exercise is supposed to be good for you, isn’t it?

Context 2: the game is a game, of course, but the human relationships between players are real. If a player is bullying another player, or insulting them, or treating them badly, the fact that what brought them together is a game is pretty irrelevant. It makes sense to say “it’s just a game” when it comes to gauging how seriously to take the actions of the game (is it really a question of life and death, worth getting mad at others for, if Portal WhatNot is still standing in 20 minutes?) But it doesn’t make sense to use “just a game” as a reason to discount the impact dysfunctional relationships or group dynamics can have on the people involved.

The Frustrating Easiness of Sharing a Link on Facebook (and Twitter and Google Plus and Tumblr and…) [en]

[fr] C'est tellement facile de partager des liens sur Facebook et autres que je finis par ne plus le faire sur mon blog, parce que c'est laborieux. Il y a un moyen plus simple?

Today, when I stumble upon an interesting link, I share it on Facebook. And usually also on Twitter. And on Google Plus.

It’s easy. More often than not, I found the link in question on Facebook, Twitter, or G+. Resharing on the same platform is two clicks maximum. The link is expanded into an excerpt and a photo which are nice and pretty and often spare me having to write any kind of introduction to the link (I do, sometimes).

Sharing on other platforms? At the worst, copy-paste (goes quickly when you use keyboard shortcuts and know your way around your browser tabs). Or the bitly bookmarklet.

Sharing on social media is rewarding: people are there already, they comment, they like, they reshare.

I pull quotes out of what I’m reading with the Tumblr bookmarklet and post them to Digital Crumble. That in turn gets sucked into Facebook, to the annoyance of some and the delight of others. Super easy.

You know what’s not easy? Collecting a bunch of interesting links I’ve found recently into a blog post on Climb to the Stars. That sucks. I’ve done it at times, yes, but I do wish there was an easier way to do it than copy-pasting article titles and putting links on them, after having let them pile up in an Evernote note until there were enough of them.

I’m sure there is a way to do this more elegantly. Tell me!