[REVIEW] Cosmopolis – Digested and Respected

And now a review of Cosmopolis because a status on my Facebook was not enough…

I have been watching a lot of movies lately thanks to my handy dandy UGC card. And afterwards I have been reviewing them very briefly on my facebook wall (I am lame). I tried that with David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis… but it was just too difficult. So much to say… It’s that kind of movie.

I honestly am not very well versed in David Cronenberg’s style/movies as I am pretty sure this is the first one I have seen. So this perhaps will be a useful to other Cronenberg philistines like me.

Enough of that… Quick! Plot Synopsis! Go!

Eric Parker (Robert Pattinson) is a young billionaire tech/financial/genius guy. It’s not a very good day for him as his life spirals out of control.

The movie is artfully and of course purposefully, based primarily in Parker’s limo.  He is among but withdrawn from the people, sealed off with cork so that he does not hear the outside world… much. Parker meets with the people in his life as he slowly is driven to go get a hair cut.

Also, it is a commentary on Capitalism.

Weird huh?  It is.

See it!  Or not…

Cosmopolis is a mind meld or a mind “f***” to be crude about it. As I am told it is typical Cronenberg style, as the king of venereal horror (fancy talk for body/mind horror).

Cosmopolis is not a normal “enjoyable” movie, though you may find it enjoyable.  The trailer will trick the masses into seeing it (as it makes it out to be some cool action/NINesque music video flick) but the masses will not enjoy it.

Even in France, a nation known for dry drawn out movies and polite patient audiences, there was a mass exodus in 15 minute intervals. At least 10% of the people left.

But even if you do not enjoy it… I argue you should respect it.  It is an exercise of the mind. Something not so enjoyable for those who went to the movies for escape (after all we have plays and books for thinking!)

In fact, it feels very much like an esoteric play, especially given the style of acting which is wooden like a poorly rehearsed play.  But I can only assume Cronenberg wanted this from his actors.

Very dry. Very disconnected. At first very alientating… but in the end perfect for the reality of the film.  Because that is what it is… disconnected “slice” (I cringe to say that cliché) of realities on either ends of the economic scale.

How to enjoy this film

You will hate this movie until you accept its weirdness.  Like the main character Parker, you must observe the passing world.

And afterwards you may find yourself needing to “digest” the film. Austin and I walked home instead of biked just so we could discuss it.

Digest it, think about it afterwards, bring a friend so you may discuss it later: but during it, just hang on to each word and observe.

The acting… did Pattinson sparkle?

Robert Pattinson… was really good in it, or maybe the “plasticness” of the acting style necessary for this movie fit his style of acting. Actually though it made me want to check out his following flicks.

I must say I found myself impressed with his bed eye acting style (well really… perhaps “romanced by it” is a better turn of phrase).  I understand why the girls swoon.  He has sexual magnetism even when getting an anal check up (pretty good scene actually!) or hugging a big burly black man.

On other actors not named Pattison

Some really grade A acting overall: intense and funny at parts.

You get to know the characters in passing… there is little to no explaination and you may fall behind if you do not pay attention to the nuances of each line… it really is a quite unforgiving film.

You may not even realize who the characters are until well after they are off screen.

But still the characters, each basically in their own strange vignette as they come into contact with the main character, are interesting and on the whole very well acted.

I especially enjoyed Paul Giamatti‘s (though usually he is not my style) and Samantha Morton‘s performances.

[ELITISM ALERT] And another thing…

After reading some reviews… this is going to sound really bad. But if you think this movie is poorly constructed, its probably because you didn’t understand it… And this probably threatened you.

You don’t have to love or even enjoy this movie but you should respect it.

So in the end?

I have convinced myself the more I think about it… I really enjoyed the mental exercise that is Cosmopolis.

I dare you to try it – S

“Paris, Mon Amour” – A Poem about the Paris Love Affair

So come Christmas I started a poem and today I dragged it back out and finished it.

I started it in one of my many moments of being struck by the beauty but the struggle (emotionally, financially, etc) within Paris that people experience as the make their place here.

Paris is that city/that relationship that you hate to part with.  With all its beauty and grandeur, there is raw grittiness to it that can be harsh. As like any big city you want to make it in, I suppose, just with thousands of years of love, life and art behind it.

Austin and I are epic-ly lucky and not on the streets.  But there are many here that live on the beautiful streets of the most romantic city in the world.

Honestly this is just a poem about love and life.  And what we put up with to be where we need to be.

——————————————————————–

Paris, Mon Amour

J'adore Paris

Paris, Mon Amour
My mistress and my wife
My dirty little secret
I cannot afford, so keep me

You’re deep among my pockets
You’re streaked upon their face
They’re weary and uncertain
Except where they want to be

They come to you in droves
Then sleep beneath your clouds
Bundling the cold in
Thick life coats your street

You snarl but entrance
You love us all the same
We want only to sit and watch
As the rushing tides retreat

The tear stained entries welcome
And in century old puddles we reflect
I reach out to clean your cheek
Smearing mascara upon your face

I love your curves and hollows
I twist come every turn
With a swift drop I soar
Then down into a dive I race

If I wanted to leave your arms
I could not find the door
For with the long walk out
We are always turned within

But I am okay with wandering
As long days turn to longer nights
In shadows I still find shapes
The light persistently dim

I hunger for you but when I tire
I need not sleep but wake
Regard the sky completely
And breathe in all the more

You’re sexy but lethal
We want to swallow you whole
You build us, break us, feed us
We are for you…

Paris, Mon Amour

Sunset from Belleville

Or in other sung words:

– S

TLDR? – 8 Bits of Advice for Your 1st Year Abroad

This is my summary of what if anything I would suggest to do/or would have done differently approaching my 1st year abroad.

1. Learn the language right away:

Just rip that bandaid off… do it.  You will want to eventually, and its way worse the more you wait… It’s less cute when you have been here a year and you ask your bank representative “Can I have elephant?”. Even for a short stay this is worth your time and in addition will help you understand the culture (as language is often closely tied to cultural view).  This is part of your epic story abroad! I discussed this in my last post… Plus, I like you so much… here jump to the good meaty advice parts about how to approach learning the language. Basically start speaking and learning the language (and only that language) right away, no matter how short or long you will be there.

2. Research living needs, visas & important stuff yourself:

I know its boring… I know you may trust your employer/university/family to help you out with this.  But who is best to take care of your life but yourself?  You can ask for their help but in the end you need to research, double check, & triple check all facts.  Go to the closest embassy (even if the closest is far away) and then call a couple others around your country  until you get conclusive answers (a rare beast!). Contact locals you may find on social networks.  Contact future colleagues.  This is especially important when it comes to visas… living needs… apartment finding… contracts/your rights as a worker… etc. Do your research and peer review it and you will be happy for it.

3. Take care of it before you come:

Austin covered in stuff...
Austing all packed up and ready to move to Paris… wearing 4 layers of clothing and electronics so he does not trip the weight limit.

Piggy baking on the last advice, your life is not permanent here until you have your visa… so know you cannot get settled until then. In addition, there will be important things you need to settle in your home country pre- travel, so just get it done.  Flying back to settle it is expensive or dealing with it abroad sometimes impossible/stressful. So get your visa and important stuff settled before hand. 

4. Come early, give yourself time:

This may not always be possible.  But come early and resist starting work/school right away!  The difference between us and some of our colleagues is we had a month to settle our affairs in the US and then a week once we got here.  We spent that week looking into apartments, settling our bank account, getting to know our neighborhood and recovering from jet lag…  Meaning we had an apartment, where another colleague was staying at a hotel for a couple months…  It will be hard for you to get this stuff done after you start work/school, so give yourself space if possible.

5. Meet as many people as possible: 

Pizza maker in the 11th
One of the friendly locals we have met at the delicious Pizzeo in the 11th. Picture by my mother.

Fraternize with coworkers, talk to your local baker, join some meetups or learn to dance!  You will not feel like one of the people until you meet the people. 

Plus it takes a village to raise an expatriate… 

6. Find connection back home and in your new home:

Weird Cat Judges You
Our first home purchase… We did not feel quite okay until we had a weird cat perched upon our shelf. A creepy family tradition!

Conversely… still take time for yourself.  Nurture both sides: the new one and the old.  You do not want to get to the point where you are burnt out AND homesick.  Take the time to still call home when you can.  Be okay with spending a Sunday in cleaning your house. Even if a temporary home, decorate it some. Basically find some regularity in the irregularity. Dumping a fish into new water will cause shock, same will go for you.

7. Go with the Flow: 

Weird stuff will happen… be okay with it and learn. 95% of all weird/uncomfortableness/confrontations will be due to culture differences.  Observe first before reacting. Once you understand the complete situation then you will know what to expect and when you need to stand up for yourself.

8. Enjoy your time!:

On the Seine at sunset
Us Week 1 in Paris. Sunset on the Seine.
You will be stressed at points… you will be lonely at points… You may think that you will not be able to make it work!  All the more reason to try to just enjoy where you are… right here and now.  This is a once in a lifetime chance for many people… so try to sit back and enjoy it as much as possible.
So… Carpe Expatum!
– S

Life in Paris Season 3 – Living the American Dream in Paris

 

On the Seine - Picture by My Wonderful Mother
Us - Season 3

So here we are!

Parisian life Part/Year Deux.. but we in the Suarez-Flores household call it Season 3, as far as Parisian life changes go.  We have been back around a month now, after our trip to the US, but with the flourish of guests… our work schedule… and settling back in, I have barely had a moment to breath let a lone write.

Season 1 was our first job. Season 2 was the move to unemployment and then quickly luckily into new employment.  Season 3… is what I shall call… actually settling into Parisian life.

But first some reflection and advice… Primarily: Learn the language.

So what is life like?

  • We work a lot.
  • We eat a lot.
  • We walk everywhere.
  • We teach dance weekly.
  • We travel when we can.
  • We fumble around with French.

Really not much different from Season 2… but it feels different.

The Difference

Well, the big difference is where my head is at. I am fed up.

Before, with so much uncertainty, it was okay to be confused at all times… It was okay to frown but accept weird charges on my phone bill.  It was okay, to be at odds at all times. It was okay, to accidentally order three soups instead of two. Why? Because we were new here and this is what we took as the cost of being an expat in a country where the language was not our native one.

My mother and I sont les ignorants.
"Les ignorants voyagent à Paris!" - My Mother and I posing for our favorite inside joke.

In fact, being back in the US for those 3 weeks it felt WEIRD to finally not be uncomfortable at all times  (which is a post for another time).  Not a complaint… but it made me laugh how used I had gotten to being uncomfortable.

And now I am back.. and I no longer want to be uncomfortable… I am sick of being apologetic and akward. I want a “normal” Parisian life (which will always include apology and formality I realize, as is their way).  I want my old confidence back in my surroundings… I want..

I want the American Dream!

The American Dream in Paris is to blend in.  To order wine with ease.  To meld with your sometimes bewildering French colleagues (because trust me… working in a different country is well, different). To be able to complain about the weather with your fellow boulangerie patrons. Perhaps, it is not the dream for some of the famed ugly american tourists, but it truly is for us Expats that have fallen in love, figured out how to move here and now call this mystical/sometimes mythical place home.

We want to be French.

Karma.. Karma... Chinese Lion
Me, as the social chameleon.

Or at least succeed at becoming French for our time here.

And right now, despite the support of my French and international friends I have yet to achieve that comfortability.

And its my fault.

Í have yet to achieve it because I do not know the language fluently.

There are jaded and not so jaded expatriates that will tell you otherwise about achieving this dream of fitting in… They will tell you that Paris is for the French.  That you will never fit in. I have heard this on several occasions.

Well, first of all I do not want to fit in with those types of exclusive Parisians, which I know those exist.  I just want to be able to live my life normally and interact with them if need to but otherwise interact with the awesome accepting/welcoming/funny French/Parisians that I have met.

But I will never feel at ease here until I learn the language…

Until I see a charge on my phone bill and then can call up and speak in French and explain and get although probably begrudging… but at least palpable… assistance to fix it. Or at least understand what they say when they hang up on me.

My cable has been on and off broken now for a year… And I live in fear of speaking to a human to fix it.

This is not I!

So I must learn French… I want to… I always have… but with not working in French, I have not made the effort enough outside of work to become fluent.  I am fine… I can mumble out some food words… or talk to a foreign french speaker.

But that is not enough.  As I live in fear of probably 95% of potential interactions I may have with the populace on a given day.  I need to get this down to at least a solid 25%.  Because it is isolating and damned uncomfortable.

SO THAT IS MY VOW.

So young... so strong...
Us on our Honeymoon 1.5 years ago at Place Saint-Michel - Ready to conquer... So young.

I will conquer you Paris… and your beautiful mystifying and sometimes odd sounding but beautiful language.  I will gnaw on the metaphorical skull that is your language.

And how! No really… how?

I have some tools I want to share in detail later but basically:

  1. Devouring all culture possible in French only.  Bought us an unlimited movie pass for two people for 35EUR a month!
  2. Only French spoken now at home (no joke).
  3. Flashcards… lots of digital flashcards.
  4. Reading fun stuff in French on my kindle, thanks to the help of a french dictionary I installed on it. Should probably switch to a French to French dictionary…
  5. Actually talking to people in French. Like a real person!
  6. Listening to podcasts as much as humanely possible, all in french.
  7. Hope to start journaling in French soon.
  8. Finishing my grammar lessons at home… (also a pending todo)
Really just making myself do it.. And already only a week into it.  There is a difference.
Any way here I go…

Allons !- S

Pre-Travel: Have You Talked to Your Bank?

As family has been asking for travel financial advice, I thought I would share what I have been sending them.  I assume this advice can go for any destination you are traveling too.
The question is: What is the best way financially to go about money conversion/banking overseas?

Ask the right questions to your bank.

There are no pictures that will make talking to your bank fun... SO HERE IS A BIG PHONE!
As all banks differ, I suggest you call your bank and do the following:
    1. Tell them the exact days you are going to be overseas and any countries you will be in.  This will not keep them from shutting off your card… as we have found but makes it less likely.  Ensure they put this note on every card that you might use.  Be sure to bring back up cards.
    2. Ask them if they have any sister banks in your countries of travel.  I know in France there is BNP which is a sister bank of Bank of America, so they do not charge BOA travelers there a fee to take out money.  BNL is the BOA sister bank in Italy. There are more…
    3. Ask about the different fees on your different cards in different situations.  For example, if we needed cash we used our debit as our credit card charges a big premium.  BUT, if we went out to eat, our credit card was cheaper (probably has more security on it too).
      Fees could include:

      1. Conversion fee 1-3%
      2. ATM retrieval fee $5-40ish per take out from an atm.

      In our experience, we found it best to go to an ATM of our sister bank and take out as much cash as possible.  If it is a sister bank, there is no fee per take out but still we were afraid of taking money out too many times, in turn making them freeze our cards.  We then stashed most of it in our hotel.  This also means we can take a certain amount per day and keep us on a budget.  Cash is accepted everywhere (more places than credit card) in most countries.

    4. Ask what your limit for taking out is in 24h, then see what that is in the local currency.  That lets you know how much you can take out in a day.  You may want to raise it if its super small (less than 300).  Also, this way you know not to request more than this limit, that way you lower your risk of getting your card frozen.  Couples with joint accounts know that your limits are separate, yay!

Get Currency Pre-Trip

See if you can order currency ahead of time from your bank!
 This will be your best conversion rate also it ensures you have some local currency before you come here.  You may have to do this in person at the bank, where the above you could just call about.
You need some lead up to this because the bank will have to mail away for the currency and you come pick it up.
Be sure to not store the money though in your baggage and put them several places on your person, in case of theft or baggage loss on your trip overseas.

What else?: Other financial todos/notes…

  • Take at least two photocopies of your passports, drivers license and credit cards you are taking with you. Store these in two different places in your luggage or on your person.  This way if something gets lost you have copies and can report them lost with the exact information.
  • If you have a credit/debit pin code over 4 digits, go and change it to 4.  They do not accept more than 4 digits in most countries (especially Europe).
  • For Americans in Europe, your card will not be usable at all places as European cards have a chip.  So notabley at the train/metro station, unless you go to a person teller.  So when ordering train tickets online, make sure you can go to a teller as you will not be able to get them from the machine (also allow time to do this before your train leaves).
  • Do not get money from the airport/mall money exchange people.  And if you do, make sure they charge you what they advertise as they will tack on fees and not tell you.  Really  just avoid any conversion shop.  Comes down these people make their money on urgency… so try not to put yourself in a place where things are urgent.

Feel free to comment if you have further suggestions or questions!

And now for something completely different:

 

Bank on it – S

A New Beginning, A New Poem, & Home

Where is my mind?

So I have been absent from the blogosphere but this is all due in fact to diving into another product management position at another startup: TravelAvenue (new site coming… very very soon).  Starting first as a consultant, I was offered a permanent position which I gladly took!

So life?  Well, life is hectic.  But recently on a train to Lyon, I gave my self a moment to reflect and I wrote… a poem.

I am a Poet

For those who know the Sheila of… maybe 6 or 7 or 8 years ago. Even further… I used to write.  A lot.  And some of them?  Not so darn bad, I do think.

In fact, my tattoo on my foot is dedicated to my passion for writing.  I really. really. enjoy it.  And I once took solace in the fact that no matter what life path I took, deep down they would all be ok, because I knew who I was.  A poet.  Melodramatic, huh?  I even have a t-shirt commemorating the epiphany! I may have been a strange teen.

But I have not truly written consistently in at least 5 years… Why?

Trouble was I was often fueled by turmoil, usually romantic.  As any 17 year old is. And well, 6 years ago I met Austin.  I wrote a couple of my best poems after meeting him, sometimes because they were not so raw but matured, and perhaps not even about emotion. But honestly, I just never was truly motivated, to get it all out unless I had a crisis that forced me to NEED to get it out.

I just did not make time, sadly.

That Brings Me to Today – At Home?

Things are good just sometimes overwhelming, as to be expected with any Expat.  And this will be the first Christmas I miss spending with my family.  So in a moment of quiet reflection, I produced a poem.

Introducing my first poem in at least three years:

Home

IMG_8276

While sitting at home
I wonder
Where is home?
I ponder

Is home with my family?
With unconditional smiles
Drawing me back
No matter the miles

Is home with my love?
An embrace that enfolds me
Closer than my skin
Attached and cannot flee

What of friends?
Expectations none
Strangers now familiar
Fashioned by camaraderie and fun

Of substance or immaterial?
This place called home
We buy, we rent, we build
Fashioned of our own bones

And when work is fun?
And colleagues your mates?
Long hours immersed together
Longer than at your estate.

And of common man?
Of doors held open
To experiences, to compassion
Without trying to condemn

A country? A city?
A province? A state?
Branded upon your soul
Where you were born by fate

Delve deeper
If home is where the heart is
Is it in my chest?
Surely not among that bloody mess.

Home cannot just be a collection of arteries
Or only of another’s love
Nor constructed purely out of time
But home is all of the above

Home is now
It is me
It is you
It is where you feel truly and completely…


Free

Author’s Note:

A little cheesy, but satisfying and true.  I know both Austin and I truly relate to it.  So this is of course dedicated to our entire family: friends, coworkers, & kind strangers included.  But especially our family, in this holiday season. ;p

Now I am free to, go to bed – S

The Unconventional Naturally “Spicy” Salad

My need for lightness + veggies + balsamic vinegar + SPICE (PUT SPICE IN ALL THINGS!) lead to….

 

Spicey Salad of the Gods
Unconventional Naturally Spicy Salad of Wonder!


This salad was invented by my husband and actually only has one conventionally “spicy” thing in it (can you spot it?).  The rest are veggies that just naturally have that zing.  Not only is this salad intellectually and thematically interesting.. but its tasty too!

 

Ingredients/Steps for One Serving

 

Basically cut up and add to a bowl in this order… AS PER USUAL: I no good at this measurement thing… so best judgement is need.

  • Two handfuls of Roquette (Argula) – (WOW, the english wiki has nothing on roquette… So here is the french one, look at the pretty pictures) Mixed greens can be substituted if necessary.  But roquette has a zing that completes the salad.  Edit: Thanks, Cliff!  It’s called Argula in the states.
  • Cubed half of a tomato
  • 1/8 of an onion sliced – Three slices about
  • Handful of julienned radish – Small red ones or large white one
  • 1/4 julienned zuchinni (optional) – Not sure if this adds anything but it was in my fridgerater and hence in the picture above. Just more greenery! Sliced cap mushrooms are also a nice neutral complement.
  • 1/3 cup cubed feta (optional) – Optional only if you want to save some calories.  OTHERWISE ROCK THAT FETA! I like the basil, olive oil soaked type… but any will do!
  • 1/4 cup Hot wasabi fried peas (optional) – Okay, not really optional. Because they are awesome. But I suppose you can save some calories again by cutting them out.   I prefer the spicy wasabi ones but you can get them non-wasabi’d.
  • Dress with 1 tbsp of olive oil and 2 tbsps of balsamic vinegar – I actually like to use the olive oil from the jar feta. 🙂
  • A couple dashes of ground pepper on top – Do not even bother if its not fresh ground pepper.
So voila!  The radish, onion and roquette are “spicy” or zingy naturally.  And with the crunchy spicy wasabi peas, balsalmic and ground pepper on top, they are perfectly complimented.  It is a simple but very satisfying salad!
To be fair though, I find celery spicy. – S

Seven Tips For Keeping Creative While on Deadline

Creativity is for hippies… and well everyone else as well.

In my previous post (“Ode to the Art of Product Development.”), I waxed on the artsiness of product and UX development.  Still these professions are not always treated so.  Often there is a trap that even I fall into, where we expect that anyone can plan/layout a site as long as they understand user experience concepts or the product goals. And that when the site moves to the graphic designers, that’s when the real artsy magic happens.

 

But it takes some serious problem solving, inspiration and creativity to lay out a site in a logical, readable, attractive manner that supports the product goals and suits the target market’s needs.  This especially can get difficult with more “tool” like websites that must be easy to use for a variety of different workflows.  Or for those in product development, discovering that perfect product or “tool” for your market.

Glad I never worked in a place like this...

 

Knock Knock. Mr. Deadline who?

 

But we don’t have time!  Deadlines press on us and the world turns!  And often we try to set a time limit on the product and UX design process.

Sometimes an hour is not enough...

Marty Cagan speaks about this in his book Inpired: How to Create Products Users Love (a must read for web professionals even if you are not a product manager recommended to me by the awesome Mr. Tim Rosenblatt).  I feel that this conundrum of needing to meet deadlines but allowing time for creativity  effects all areas of the web development process including UX design, marketing and software development.

 

Following are some tips that help me when on deadline and needing to work quickly and creatively… Applicable to all though I may tend to write from a product/ux/consultant point of view.

1.  Research Should Not Be Sacrificed

No matter how snap the decisions have to be made: do not let it snap your necks.  As in, take the time to do SOME research, even if you have to timebox it to a short period of time.  This research can be as simple as searching the internet for inspiration.  All your decisions need to be informed, and being more informed will in the end give you more ideas, helping with your creativity. Best yet, giving you informed ideas! 

2.  Keep Open

 

While working under pressure do not let that limit you (easy to say, huh?).  Maybe you won’t have time to wireframe out all your pearls.  But atleast start by listing or sketching out all your ideas before pursuing one.  As with research, to ensure you stay on deadline be sure to timebox your brainstorm session.

What is key is to not judge these ideas right away.  The biggest poison to creativity is closing yourself off by judging prematurely.  SURE the idea may be stupid at first, but if you have a little time to follow the thought process out you may arrive at a golden solution. And if you train your brain to judge your ideas immediately, you shut yourself off from fully utilizing its creativity.  Meaning, less ideas come out when you blockoff pathways.  Also, when you move on to picking the key ideas you will pursue, you still have a list of ideas to fall back on.

3.  Keep Focused Via the POWER OF LISTS

 

 I. Love. Lists. As anyone that knows me… well, knows.  YES keep open but at a certain point you need to hone in (or clear the clutter of your frantic mind).  The best way to keep your priorities straight is to have lists. Make a list at least of your top product goals (or other goals if you are not a product manager).  Also a clear list of feedback is good, when reviewing your solution for a 1st,  2nd or 3rd time.  Try to keep these lists short though… even with feedback, try to boil it down to key points.

Now you have these lists, use them.  When you get lost, refer back to them and center yourself.  Another reason why for product manager’s personas (<– click there to read all about the magic of personas) are key!

 

4.  Digitally Brainstorm, Save Trees, Save Time

 

For the first three tips you could do this on paper.  And for sketching that is often the fastest unless you have a tablet and software skills.  But for the rest, try to do this using google docs, a word processor program or a awesome list software like WorkFlowy.

Why? Because when the time comes to present your ideas, spec your ideas, etc, you already have them typed up.  Clean them up and VOILA.  Saves you time from parsing your scribbles on paper and transcribing them for that power point. Yay, for copy and paste!  In addition, those brainstormed ideas are digitally saved for later.

5.  Feedback early and often

No one likes to waste their time (or your client’s, colleagues, etc).  You will find when you are working close with your client (maybe even in the same room) you will move faster.  Or if this is not a client situation, your teammates, test user, etc. Like in a game of Marco Polo, you need to get feedback often or you may hit into the wall of the pool opposite from your target.

For those who have not played Marco Polo. Basically you close your eyes and flail around in a pool trying to tag your friends. When you call "Marco", they must respond "Polo", helping you find them.

Do not do get feedback via email – if possible.  Even if you have to arrange an impromptu, walk over to your client/boss/colleague’s desk for advice or video skype meeting, be sure not to waste your time writing up some big email just to get quick feedback.  Also that way you can see their reaction first hand and quell any worries on their behalf.

6.  Feedback as Inspiration

 

To continue the last tip’s line of thought, you need to strike a balance between showing people your product too early and shutting them off from you following that train of thought and getting the feedback you need.  This is especially true for consulting… and I could write a whole novel on this. So while I encourage early feedback, do take some time to fully explain your idea and make it clear this is just the beginning of the baby’s life.  Depending on the client, you will have to find the sweet spot, where early is not too soon.

What is important is, do not let feedback/judgement stymy your creativity.  Take it as a challenge/new aspect to design around and not necessarily a reason to move on immediately.  Feedback is not a final deathtoll and is is just a reason to reflect and adapt your idea.  At points you do need to give up the ghost on an idea, but the first negative feedback should not be the death rattle.  And starting over should be avoided especially when on deadline, unless with more feedback you realize its a deadend.  Even then parts and main concepts learned for your idea should be salvaged (thank you Mr. lists).

7.  Take a break

 

When especially frustrated… take a walk!  Bounce a ball against the wall!  Or if you cannot rip yourself from the computer, just peruse the internet for inspiration.  Something as simple as searching for your key goal words in google images, to see what comes up.  Work smarter, not harder.

 

 

 

 

GO TO YOUR HOME!

 

So in summary, the above tips are for creativity when in a pinch.  There are of course more tips necessary just to ensure you MEET your deadline. Such as avoiding the dreaded feature creep beast.  But that is a post for another time..

 

Let’s end with a laugh shall we?  This is what I think about every time I cannot figure out where to place an item while wireframing:

You too good for your home? – S

Affording Paris – Setting Your Budget

This is the first part of my three part (at least) series on settling into Paris.  Most importantly finding a roof for your head.

But the first question you need to ask yourself is…

Can I afford this?

 

Or really, HOW can afford this?  If living in Paris is what you desire, depending on your income/savings you may have to make some “sacrifices” in creature comforts to afford what you need.  And although I find it worth it, you will know your own limit.  Life in Paris is in no way a hardship, its just is different from in-particular lifestyles in suburbia USA.  And I am sure these same sacrifices you  need to make to live in other big cities such as NYC and Chicago.

Anyway… let’s analyze the bare minimum of what you should expect to need.

Cost of Living (minus lodging):

I find lots of cost of living sites on the internet misleading (often inflated).  Comes down to how YOU are willing to live (especially with food and entertainment). I recommend thinking about what your core basics are and then research perspective companies that might offer them, to calculate costs.  Also, try to find locals or bloggers on the internet that might be similiar to your situation to ask.

An idea of monthly living costs, as of October 2011 (for a couple):
  • Transportation – 120 EURO for two monthly metro/bus passes
    • Though personally we just walk and buy carnets (books of 10 tickets) for our occasional ride.
    • Add 30 EURO more to the pass if you live outside of the city.
  • Electricity – 50 EURO for 2 people in a 27meter squared one room apartment.  This escalates closer to 70 during the winter, depending on your heating preferences and the age of the building.
  • 2 Phones/Internet/TV – 90 EURO
    • Take 30 EURO off, if you have one phone.
    • Yes, these all come as combos usually.  As in, we didn’t want TV, but it comes with it.
    • We currently are with Bouygues.  Not super impressed… I hear FreeWifi is better and cheaper.
  • Water – 20 EURO?
    • Included in our rent so this is a guess.
  • Apartment Insurance – 12 EURO/month
    • Required to rent.  And you need it before you secure a long term apartment lease.  I went with a local agent, recommended through a friend. But I heard you can secure this via the internet.  Make sure you get coverage for theft & window/glass breakage.
  • Food for Two – 600 EURO/Month or 20 EURO/Day
    • This of course varies.  And this is if you are very good about eating in with an occasional dinner out.
    • Some meals out can cost 7EURO-30EURO per person… so its up to you.  And those on the lower end are not usually bad.  Just have to find the right spots!
  • Misc – 100 EURO
    • Medicine, cleaning stuffs, etc.
This comes out to 992 EURO/month for two people minus lodging.  That’s if you live minimumally.  Which you have to have an iron will to live as such in Paris.
For one person, I would say take off 400 (as couples share most expenses).  So 592 EURO/month for one person minus lodging.
Do not forget the Shiney Things:
  •  Entertainment and inevitable travel (you are in Paris/Europe after all!)… this could be up to 500EURO/person a month… but that depends on you!  But its foolish not to fit some of that into your budget.
  • Shopping? – I do not but… you might want to.  Depends on your tastes, the amount varies you can pay for this.
  • Booze & Other Vices – A beer or glass of wine is at least 8EURO  if you go out to a bar.  Happy hour is pretty popular here and will save you a EURO or two. Cigarettes are 5 Euro a pack.
  • And then of course the expense of traveling to/from whence you came, if you plan on going back to visit.
  • Medical Insurance? – While basic coverage free in Europe, when in an emergency you could still accrue some heavy bills.  Plus dentistry and optometry costs are not covered. If you plan on getting some supplemental insurance, plan at least 50 euro a month for a good plan.

Oh Right… Savings…

Do not forget a buffer!  For example getting locked out of your apartment could cost you from 400-1k (a blog post for another day).  So once again… look back at your budget and expected costs and perhaps cut out some shiney things to ensure you have some savings.  Saving at least 10% of what you make is a good start.

ADDENDUM: Taxes… Oh right!

Working here?  They will take out most of your taxes (up to 25%) BUT I would suggest saving an extra 10% as at the end of the year the government will be sending you a bill for the rest!  (That’s right you report your first year but the following years they calculate it for you!)  Worse comes to worse you save too much and have some to burn on travel at the end of the year!

What about Lodging?

That is actually a separate topic as this can be greatly variable depending on your needs and wants.  In fact I encourage you to calculate the above first and THEN look at what your lodging budget will be (then of course tweak your utilities to fit the space of your abode you desire). And perhaps make some sacrifices on your shiney object budget.

Expect a post shortly talking about researching/gaining lodging.

But if you need a ball park now.  Expect to pay as little as 500 euro/month if you do not mind living in old maids quarters (10 square meters and a bathroom in the hall) to 2000 euro/month for large flat’, 2-3 bedrooms, 60-70 square meters.  We pay 850 euro/month for our 27 square meters one bedroom apartment a little north of the center of the city.

 

Til next time – S

 

Ode to the Art of Product Development

Lately I have been working with a company giving UX advice and revising wireframes for their new site.  It has been a fun and rewarding experience!

Friday it struck me once again, with a sappy sort of realization how creative the user experience design process is.  This should be evident but by the word, “design” but often the process is not thought of as so.

Product Development as well demands such creativity (and really any of the web professions, when you need to problem solve and develop).

I wrote a WHOLE post about creativity, tips, etc, but that needs to be honed and posted another day. (Edit: That day has come! Seven Tips for Keeping Creative while on a Deadline)

But for now I present a metaphor…

 

I like to think of the product development & user experience process like sculpting.

You happen upon a big lump of concept in which you can see a glimmer of an fully formed profitable product inside.

You chip at it and make something that you think is pretty darn good looking, using inspiration from experience, other artists out there (past and present), books about sculpting and what you know about your future viewers.

Sculpt
By TochiPhotos

But then you step back or have an art critic look at it… And its a hunk of crap.

Ew

And with the feedback you roll up your sleeves and jump back in with your chisel.

And repeat this… for who knows long until FINALLY you step back, look at it from all angles, have that critic come back over to gander, show your mum and some random passerby… and it is right!  Or right enough to test further. 🙂

Funny things is it often looks MUCH different from what you originally invisioned… but if done right…

By KittiVanilli

It’s better.

– S