Finding a Home

Finding a home is probably now one of my new-found least-favorite activities. I think it ranks up there with cleaning floors and doing laundry, which are some of my least favorite chores. I should probably clarify; finding a home that is within the realm of what I want to pay, doesn't increase my already hour-long commute and has laundry within the unit is a huge chore. Continue reading "Finding a Home"

Whatever happened to digital photo albums?

Anthony and I were in Montreal over the weekend. We had a blast and, unsurprisingly, spent a lot of time eating. During one of those moments, we happened to be in the Old Montreal area at a restaurant called Le Robin Square enjoying a leisurely lunch. We had VERY leisurely lunches. While the service at all the restaurants we visited was great, we noticed there's a bit of a slower pace of life in Montreal — especially when it comes to dining — that is pretty much unheard of in New York. Not a bad thing but just different!

This poutine did not stand a chance!
This poutine did not stand a chance!

While we were there for lunch, we happened to notice the restaurant had a TV screen with some digital ambiance playing on it. This consisted of a stock video of a vineyard and you could see the leaves gently swaying in the wind. This got me thinking about the idea of the "digital picture frame."

Remember when that was a thing? Continue reading "Whatever happened to digital photo albums?"

A Small Omission: Gran Turismo Sport and Female Gamers

The other day, my husband decided to share a trailer for the latest Gran Turismo game that was unveiled for the Playstation console at the latest E3 events. I remember playing Gran Turismo games with my little brother way back when on the original first Playstation! I also really enjoy, now as an adult with a driver's license, having the opportunity to drive high performance cars from time to time; though, most of the time, I'm rolling around in a compact car with good fuel economy thanks to Zipcar. All that said, we watched the trailer together and were in awe of the beautiful graphics that made sleek sports cars look even sleeker.

However, while the game graphics look fantastic, I noticed a small omission in the trailer I watched. Let me explain.

At about 45 seconds into the video, multiple world flags appear circling the globe with some text overlayed that says "Driving is for Everyone." I thought that was cute and chuckled softly to myself. Yes, driving should be for everyone because, personally, I find it fun and convenient for getting across this giant country we live in.

By about 2 and a half minutes in, they start presenting images about live tournaments they'll be running regularly. I think to myself, "How the hell are they going to manage that?" but I'm sure they've figured out some way to automate it so that people can play in these tournaments online and it works fairly seamlessly.

At 3 minutes in, the screen now reads "Open to all ages, anyone can enjoy" but all the faces I see feverishly playing the new game are men. Eight seconds later and I think I've spotted ONE woman deep in the background at this tournament event they are showing footage from. Another six seconds go by and I see a crowd of people clapping for the game, not sure if they are fans or journalists but it is fairly clear that they are also ALL men. By 3 minutes and 38 seconds into the video, it is still a sausage fest with a group of male victors celebrating.

By 3 minutes and 50 seconds, I finally see a woman in the foreground and she is congratulating a winner, who is of course male. Continue reading "A Small Omission: Gran Turismo Sport and Female Gamers"

Candidates for a Work Appropriate Laptop bag

I work at a company that loves email. You might work at one, too! I spend a good part of my work day simply triaging and responding to email. And, because the little red circles next to applications on my iPhone keep me up at night, I cannot stand for an Inbox that has double or triple-digit unread messages.

On a particularly tough work day, I discovered a really cool thing that Outlook does. When I receive messages, even if I haven't read them, everything about that message has been downloaded (included attachments). For NYC area commuters with limited wifi access, this means you can spend your commuting time managing your inbox (provided you get a seat). I turned a colleague onto this who commutes via MetroNorth (the above ground railroad that leads to points north of the city) and she proclaimed it a godsend. Hooray for productivity!

Of course, after I discovered this, I started toting my laptop home with me more often. On the ride to work, I could clean up whatever was in my inbox that I didn't get to the previous day and start my day fresh! Or maybe I could work on a document during that time. Either way, stealing moments to catch up on work during particularly busy stretches helped immensely.

However, what didn't help was the fact that my laptop got a little hefty after a while with all its accessories. I decided to stop bringing the charger home which definitely helps lessen the load (I keep one charger at the office, and another at home). That said, I discovered a good bag to tote it home in would be necessary. Right now, I have a leather bag designed for 15 inch laptops which is far too big; especially on the subway where I feel like a bull in a china cabinet. And I tried to search for this type of information (i.e. "best laptop bags") but the ideas that turn up are usually centered on men's bags or bags that can exclusively hold a laptop, but not much else.

My ideal bag doesn't look like it has a laptop in it. Perhaps that's the New Yorker in me but I would like to walk down the street and not feel like someone might target me because of what they know exists in my bag. Also, my ideal bag consolidates a lot of different bags. On many days, I carry a gym bag so I'd like to avoid having 2 additional bags (purse + laptop bag) on top of that.

I did a lot of soul searching and I'm mostly decided but here are some of the bags I'm looking at. Consider this a highly curated list of the "best work appropriate bags for ladies who like large (and organized) laptop bags that look as good as they function." That's not a mouthful! Continue reading "Candidates for a Work Appropriate Laptop bag"

Career Day

The word "career" is loaded with so many expectations.

Over the past year and half, I've really wrestled with the significance of this word. I started my career knowing that I definitely wanted to learn and grow as a developer of technology. I was always striving to learn how to develop in a new language or learn a new facet of how the sausage gets made, so to speak. To that end, I spent a good ten years dedicated to developing web-based experiences. I was pretty confident that I could do this — and more — and so I embarked on a new phase of my career.

I decided to transition away from the familiar world of entertainment and execution into strategy and an industry I've never worked in before. While I've enjoyed the fact that my technology background has allowed me to dip my toe into various industries, it's been truly eye-opening working in the financial services industry. The amount of regulation we are subject to (and that I must now be aware of in my day-to-day work) and the volume of outsourcing (across all kinds of functions) is pretty staggering. I've also come to find that I miss the good ole days when I knew what I was doing from one day to the next. Being in a more strategic role means that as strategies change, so does what you are doing; there's definitely less exposure to that volatility at the developer level (or at least, maybe you don't feel the ambiguity as ultimately someone is always telling you what to build).

That said, I recently created a small web application and I felt like I was back in my element. I created the app for my husband to be able to update his podcast feed on his own; there are definitely services that do this but since we have the means, I figured I would build this myself. It's nice to have a compact finished product; this reminds me of a previous job I held where I did get to make a lot of decisions on product direction but I was also directly involved in building the interface to support those decisions. Today, it takes a village to get anything done at work. This is great when it works but frustrating when it doesn't. It can definitely trigger a feeling of impotence when you go to work day in and day out but have little output to show for it. Continue reading "Career Day"

A Serious Commitment: Co-Watching TV

We are living in a golden age of television.

Seriously, how great is it to be a television fan? What used to be relegated to HBO and Showtime (and sometimes Starz) has now been extended to all methods of consumption. There are great long-running shows that first aired on cable like the dramatic Mad Men and the often ridiculous It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Then there have been amazing shows on Netflix like the addictive House of Cards and the adorable Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. And don't get me started on all the programming on network television! Shows like Flash and New Girl come to mind immediately, but there are many others.

And, on top of all the great programming that has been developed, we have more ways to watch than ever. Netflix and chill is a thing because pretty much everyone has Netflix. And since a lot of people have Amazon Prime membership, Amazon Prime Video is also a thing (it doesn't hurt that they have the entire HBO back catalog — now I can watch Six Feet Under and The Wire!). Finally, there's also Hulu which amazingly has carved out a niche for itself with original series content as well.

With so much great stuff to watch, it's often hard to find the time. What can make it even harder is if you are part of a couple that co-watches. My husband and I typically try to watch shows together because we enjoy talking about them when we aren't watching them, but also because it's another way to spend time together. And you know that co-watching is a real cultural phenomenon when even the New York Times devoted some space to it, touching on how it impacts real relationships.

And, while I fully acknowledge this is a total first-world problem, co-watching can be really challenging! My husband, Anthony, and I want to watch things together but sometimes I'm at Muay Thai class late or he's off covering a soccer game. The reality is that because we are two fiercely independent people, our schedules don't always line up. We don't always watch the same things, but when we do, it can be something that we literally need to schedule on our calendars to ensure we can watch together.

But, this can put a strain on a relationship and cause a partner to stray — and watch TV shows without their partner (instead of patiently waiting for a co-watching opportunity). I've often said that Anthony has "cheated on me" with a particular program that we wanted to co-watch. Like most things in this day and age, thankfully, there's an app for that!

Screenshot of Phones from SeriesCommitment.com
Screenshot from SeriesCommitment.com

Continue reading "A Serious Commitment: Co-Watching TV"

In Defense of Cold Feet

Right now the temperature is starting to warm up in New York. However, it's inevitable: winter will be here again before we know it.

Ned Stark in Game of Thrones
#winteriscoming

And every winter, I'm freezing to death because at some point in time I wore the wrong shoes. Like that time I was going to Philadelphia and needed a headphone splitter so my husband and I could co-watch a movie on the bus ride down. I spent the better part of an hour searching for one while the snow came down around me. All I found was that my boots had sprung a leak and that apparently the only place to buy dry socks in TriBeCa is at the Equinox where you will spend too much money for them (do rich people not need socks?!).

Continue reading "In Defense of Cold Feet"

A Quest for Wireless: Part 1 – Wireless Headphones

Over the past few months, I've been on a quest. My mission has been to find an affordable pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones. The purpose for this mission is pretty simple. I wanted to have some headphones that I could wear while running now that I work from home one day a week and can feasibly run during my lunch hour then. While I don't love running, I love the dedicated time with my music. And when I focus on my music and the landscape outdoors, running turns into something I can get into.

Of course, it would be great if these headphones were also esthetically-pleasing, had great battery life and could replace my every day headphones (and headset for phone conversations) that I typically carry in my purse.

In short: one pair of headphones to rule them all!

Continue reading "A Quest for Wireless: Part 1 – Wireless Headphones"

The Best of the Best: Hotel Tonight

I don't think I've written here explicitly about Zipcar but, if I did, you'd think it was a paid advertisement. I can't say enough good things about them and I'm a huge advocate for car sharing (though, if someone invented teleporting, I'd have to switch my stance…). I get regular email communications from them and fairly recently, they sent over a discount code for a hotel booking through an iPhone app called "Hotel Tonight."

Perhaps I'm atypical or maybe this is how I fit into the millennial sterotype, but I don't always book hotels. On at least a couple of occasions, I've gone with the AirBnB-type rental in lieu of a hotel and have been very happy. Additionally, when I do book hotels, I don't have a ton of brand affinity. Generally, I try to stay at nicer hotels but tend to find better deals at boutique hotels so I don't necessarily have Hilton points or anything like that I'm trying to rack up.

That said, Anthony and I were planning for a very abbreviated trip to Boston for my birthday and we were in the market for a hotel room. I had briefly looked at the AirBnB market and the pickings were pretty slim. On a whim, I decided to download the Hotel Tonight app. I think what immediately impressed me about this app is how streamlined it was to use. Many apps push you to create an account before you even start using the app. I typically dislike this approach because it's really a cheap way to gain users — you can say you have 1 million users but if most of them signed up once and then didn't continue to use your app later, what value was it to have those folks signed up?

Want to try out this app?  Use my promo code "JGALLARDO42" and you can get $25 off your first booking.
Want to try out this app? Use my promo code "JGALLARDO42" and you can get $25 off your first booking.

I wanted to use my promo code so, prior to booking, I went to the tab that looks like one for profile information and loaded in all my pertinent information, including the promo code. Once the code is loaded into your account, it will be applied to your reservation at checkout. You don't have to do anything extra to apply it which is nice.

Really clear error messaging when you don't have a signal.  And look!  No "hamburger"!
Really clear error messaging when you don't have a signal. And look! No "hamburger"!

Additionally, another point to note is that you don't have a "hamburger" menu here that hides a whole bunch of options you couldn't figure out how to fit into your app. The options presented make it clear what Hotel Tonight is trying to do: get you to book with their hotel partners AND refer friends to Hotel Tonight to drive their download/membership/engagement numbers higher. Also, the error conditions — when you dont have wireless or cell signal, for example — are really well done.

One of the really neat things about this app is that you can track hotel prices for a given location over a certain period of time in which you want to book and Hotel Tonight will notify you if the prices have gone down. This was actually very helpful to me as I thought I had missed out on a deal but the next day received a notication that the prices were lower and, sure enough, the original hotel I wanted to book was available again.

All you have to do is authenticate with your thumb!
All you have to do is authenticate with your thumb!

The absolute best part of this app, however, is the integration with Apple Pay. Paying for your hotel is incredibly easy. After hitting the "Book Now" button on a listing, there is nothing left for you to enter. Because I've already entered all my information, the only thing left to do is pay. From the confirmation screen, I can see the dates I'm signing up for and the full price I'll be charged. Simply authenticating with my thumbprint is the last step and confirms that I am authorized to make this purchase.

Expedia's app has an accelerometer controlled door tag and really poor error messages...
Expedia's app has an accelerometer controlled door tag and really poor error messages…

In what has lately been a very busy time for me, I've found that apps that make my life easier have truly been vital. Hotel Tonight will definitely fall into that category and I wouldn't hesitate to use it again in the future. Competitors such as Expedia, for example, often do too much or try too hard to sell add ons/gimmicks rather than focusing on the right customer experience to make the act of booking travel less of an ordeal.

The New York Yankees Don't Always Dominate

The New York Yankees are well-known in the baseball world for having many many championships. While I'm a much bigger fan of the other baseball team in the city (the New York Mets), I still end up finding myself at Yankee Stadium often enough. Ah, the things we do for love!

That said, on our most recent trip to Yankee Stadium we were approached by a young lady offering us the opportunity to take our photograph. This seems to happen a lot at most sports venues and, if you are with a large group, it's nice to have someone else take a group shot — even if you do have to go retrieve it later and pay a boatload of money for it. Though the woman who took our photo was very nice, she handed us a poorly designed business card sized piece of paper for us to use in order to retrieve our photo.

I've done this before but I was surprised to find that, of all the stadiums at which I've done this, the Yankees have the absolute worst fan photo user interface. Let me explain…

The business card instructs me to go to a specific website and that my photo code is XYZ (for example). When I arrive on the website, it isn't immediately clear to me where my photo code comes into play. I click on "Baseball Fan Photos" instead of "Soccer Fan Photos" — that much is clear.

Which game did we go to again?
Which game did we go to again?

Then, once I'm in the baseball area, all I see are various dates of games. Again, it's still not immediately clear where I'm supposed to enter my photo code. Also, I've had this card sitting at the bottom of my purse for a few weeks now — without going back to my calendar, it's really hard for me to remember the date of the game I went to. However, that's exactly the exercise the New York Yankees expect you to embark upon when selecting your photos.

Now which of these cryptic folders should I open?
Now which of these cryptic folders should I open?

I went back to my calendar and found out when I went to the game. It was a Sunday in mid-July so I found it. At this point, it now shows me a list of numbers appended by "NY" — I see "09NY" and notice that this matches my photo code. Again, I still don't have a way of entering my code and quickly retrieving the photos from this particular day.

Searching gets you nowhere...
Searching gets you nowhere…

Nonetheless, I decide to click on "09NY" and see what happens. At this point, over 300 pictures load in a thumbnail view. I'm still not clear on whether I can search but I do see a "Search" button so I click on that to see if maybe I can enter the rest of my photo code to get directly to our photo. Sadly, when I attempt to do that, all I get is a black overlay over the page, but no interface or anything appears via which I can search.

Given that I still can't search, I decide that I'll just browse. The one thing they did get right in this user interface is that they use lazy loading rather than having me click through 10 pages of content. I continue scrolling until I find my photo code number. Once I find it, I'm severely disappointed — the people in this photo are not me and my friends! Not even close to being us. And I have absolutely no way of finding the photo I was trying to find.

Who are these people?!
Who are these people?!

This UI is so severely broken and such a negative touchpoint for an organization that is such an established brand. The New York Yankees may want to consider partnering with a better vendor to do this work in order to maintain the kind of on-the-field dominance they exhibit in their off-the-field interactions with their fans.