What a TV ballgame can teach us about design

This afternoon, the 2021 slate of spring training games started for Major League Baseball. And of course, being the big baseball fan that I am, I took to it like a lion to a steak.

I wasn’t thinking too much about design or layout until I heard Michael Kay of YES mention, “I think our fans will like the new clean design of our scorecard.”

At least that’s what I think he said. It threw me for a loop, because I am enough of a baseball fan that whenever I go to the ballpark, I’ll buy a scorecard and keep score during the game. So when he said “scorecard,” I thought about a pencil and paper in my hand (and, usually, a hot dog or a beer in the other). At that point, I realized that he was referring to the score display in the upper left-hand corner of my TV, as pictured below.

It then occurred to me: “wow! That’s a TON of information contained in that one graphic!” At that point, I felt compelled to write this article.

So, let’s break down just how much information is contained here. (A warning to those of you who don’t know anything about baseball: for most of this article, I am going to “speak baseball.” If you’re not a baseball fan, you’re just going to have to bear with me.)

First, I’ll start with a paragraph as to what information is contained in this graphic. Be forewarned: I am about to inundate you with information.

In the top of the third inning, Toronto leads New York, 3-0. There are runners on first and second, with nobody out. Jansen, the Blue Jays’ number 7 batter in the lineup, is facing Wojciechowski, the Yankee pitcher. Wojciecowski has thrown ten pitches, and has a full (three ball, two strike) count to Jansen.

That’s a lot of information to glean from a single graphic, isn’t it? Let’s break it down.

  • We’ll start with the score. Toronto 3, New York 0. (I’m sure that will please many Yankee haters out there.) The score dominates most of this graphic. I don’t want to say that’s obvious, but it does take up most of the image, and is the largest takeaway.
  • Underneath the score are two names, located under the teams for which they play: Jansen for Toronto, and Wojciechowski for New York. The 7 in front of Jansen represents his spot in the lineup (which would be a number from 1 to 9). “10 P” indicates that Wojciechowski has thrown ten pitches. (Note: since Wojciechowski is an unusually long name, the pitcher’s name and the number of pitches would not ordinarily run into each other like that.)

On the right side of the graphic, we see a couple of smaller graphics.

  • Let’s start with the box containing the shapes. We see three boxes, two of which are blue (and the third is gray), denoting baserunners on first and second base. The boxes represent the bases (going right to left, first, second, and third base). The boxes that are blue indicate that they are occupied by baserunners. If the bases were loaded, all three boxes would be blue; if no one was on base, all three would be gray.
  • Under the boxes representing the bases, there’s a “3” indicating the inning. The arrow (represented by the triangle next to the 3) denotes whether it’s the top or bottom of the inning. Therefore, the arrow pointing up and the “3” indicates that it’s the top of the third inning.
  • Now, let’s look at the “3-2” with the two gray circles underneath. The 3-2 refers to the batter’s count. For those of you who are baseball-challenged, a “count” represents the number of balls and strikes on a hitter. A batter who gets four balls is allowed to go to first base (called a “base on balls” or a “walk”). A batter who gets three strikes is out. So the “count” represents the batter’s status, and is always represented as numbers denoting balls-strikes (2-1, 1-2, 3-2, etc.). Therefore, 3-2 indicates that the batter has three balls and two strikes on him.
  • Finally, the two circles under the count represents the number of outs. Each blue circle represents an out (there are three outs in an inning). That these circles are gray indicates that there are no outs in the inning. (And no outs, with a 3-2 count, and two baserunners are a pretty good indication that the pitcher — Wojciechowski — is in trouble.)

The point is that within a relatively small space, a great deal of information can be gleaned. This concept carries over into many concepts of design, including data visualization and interface design. A person who understands how to read that information can obtain a large amount of information from a well-designed graphic.

Whomever it was that designed this score display definitely knew what (s)he was doing. Kudos to the person who designed it. I think this is a great example of how good design can effectively convey information.

Think spam calls aren’t a big deal? Think again

We all get them.

There’s a message on your voicemail saying “we’ve been trying to reach you about your warranty” or “we’ve detected problems with your computer.” They’re full of crap, and you know it. You figure that they’re mere annoyances. You don’t answer the phone anymore, or you’ve installed a spam filter on your phone (disclosure: I’ve done both of these). If it’s important, let them leave a message. Just ignore them. Not a big deal.

I’ve personally discovered that it is a big deal. They are not only disruptive, they are potentially dangerous. And I have some stories to explain how they’re dangerous.

I’ll start with one that’s not necessarily dangerous, but it did disrupt something important. I recently had an email exchange from someone asking me for my personal info for tax reasons. This was a legitimate exchange; this was NOT spam. I called and left her a message. A couple of weeks later, I received an email saying, “I’m still waiting to hear back from you.” I responded with, “did you not get my message?” It turned out that she did not recognize my phone number and deleted the message. This was an important, time-sensitive message that could have caused problems if we had not resolved it.

Another incident happened a few months ago (and unlike the above story, this one was dangerous). I’m purposely keeping this vague for privacy reasons, but here’s the gist of it: one day, I received multiple phone calls from a number I did not recognize. Of course, I ignored them as spam. They did not leave a message. I later received a phone call from the hospital. It turned out that those calls were from EMS regarding someone who had me listed as the emergency contact, informing me that this person had to go to the hospital. Unlike the previous story, this was a situation that was dangerous and could have had disastrous consequences. (As it turned out, it ended well, and the crisis was averted, but it could have ended up much worse. I could argue that EMS should have left messages, but I digress.)

I could list several more stories, but by now, I think you have the idea.

The bottom line is that spam phone calls are NOT inane and harmless. They’re the little boy who cried wolf, and they need to be dealt with. I don’t know what the statistics are (if any exist), but it wouldn’t surprise me if spammers were responsible for millions of dollars of losses, and possibly even hundreds of deaths. I realize that trying to track down the criminals who are responsible for spam is nearly an impossible task, but it needs to be done, and they need to be prosecuted. I realize that communication companies and cybercrime units are doing the best they can, but it’s a tall order.

When (not if) you receive a spam call, try to take steps to report it, if you are able to do so (and yes, I realize that it can be a pain). The sooner we put these criminals behind bars, the sooner we can start picking up the phone again.

Remember the past, embrace what’s next

“Don’t hang on; nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky; it slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy…”

Kansas, Dust In The Wind

“Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway; movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by…”

Jim Croce, I Got A Name

When I was in grad school, I wrote a quote for a paper I wrote. My professor loved it, and I’ve used it plenty of times since then. “Ben Franklin had it wrong,” I wrote (or something like that). “There are not two sure things, but three: death, taxes, and change.”

What made me think of this is a Facebook meme that made its rounds over the weekend. Valentine’s Day was this weekend, and a meme with the hashtag #ValentinesDayChallenge was going around. I figured it was fun and harmless (as far as I know, I didn’t include any security info that could be hacked), so I participated.

I still look my answers over, even a couple of days later, and it makes me smile. My wife and I have had some fun times during our years together, and I certainly hope they continue. We’ve done a lot of things that I would love to relive. But, of course, that’s impossible. That time has passed, and we need to confront whatever is ahead.

The fact is, we cannot move backwards in time, and we can only deal with what’s in front of us. What’s done is done. If it was something good, you reflect on it. If it was bad, you learn from it and move on. Unfortunately, too many people (and I’ll admit falling into this trap myself on occasion) don’t understand this. They don’t just want to remember the past; they want to live there. But the fact is, time marches on, and change happens. Those who continue to try living in the past are doomed to fail.

Memories are a wonderful thing — as a song lyric once lamented, they’re “sweetened through the ages just like wine.” It’s okay to remember and reflect on them. But it’s not okay to dwell on them. Memories belong to the past. You can only control the future. Don’t try to go back to what’s already happened. Instead, create new memories that you’ll enjoy reflecting upon once they’re done.

Dating yourself on your #resume — #JobHunt

I’ve spoken to a number of friends about my frustration regarding the job hunt (going nine [!!!] months — and counting). I’ve wondered, at times, whether one of the reasons why I’ve been constantly rejected is my age.

Ageism — a.k.a. age discrimination — is, of course, illegal. But when it comes to the job hunt, it’s nearly impossible to prove. I’ve spoken with a number of my friends and colleagues who believe that it not only exists, but is prevalent. (Before anyone decries me for this statement, no, I don’t have any facts to back this up; this is merely what has come up in conversation. Maybe someone who knows more about human resources can explain this better than I can.)

In any case, one piece of advice I’ve received is to only include the last ten years of experience on my resume. That’s well and good, except that I have a lot of relevant experience that goes back a lot more than ten years. As a technical writer, I want to keep all my listings consistent. How do I go about keeping these experience listing on my resume without listing dates?

The solution: I divided the work experience on my resume into two sections. Under my Work Experience heading, I listed my experience going back to 2009 (slightly more than ten years, but for my own purposes, it works). The second section uses a heading labeled “Previous Work Experience (before 2009),” under which I list my positions — without dates — that I held before then.

It seems like a good solution for obfuscating older experience dates that might reveal your age. However, also be wary of other parts of your resume that might also indicate how old you might be. For me, personally, that section was my education. Before I revamped my resume, my bachelors and masters degree listings included my years of graduation. Those years were also removed as well. Prospective employers just need to know that I have those degrees; they don’t have to know when I got them.

So, if you’re a job hunter who’s older than, say, 35, hopefully this tip will help you with your job search and combat any ageism that might exist.

February CASSUG Monthly Meeting

Our February meeting will again be online. NOTE: you MUST RSVP to this Meetup at https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/275968506/ to view the Zoom URL!

Our February guest speaker is Elizabeth Noble!

Topic: Streamline Database Deployments

Our online meeting schedule is as follows:
6:00: General chat, discussion, and announcements
6:30: Presentation
We usually wrap up between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM.

Please RSVP to this Meetup, then use the online event URL to join (note: you MUST RSVP for the URL to be visible). We will send out a meeting password as we get closer to the event.

Thanks to our sponsor, Datto, for making this event possible!