Thing 1/25: I haven't eaten a Nilla Wafer in 25 years because, while I love them, I love my sister more.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
When I was 11 years old my mom, sister and I went to Europe during Summer vacation. During the days we'd see the most amazing things: the canals at Venice, the Colosseum, Pompeii, the leaning tower of Pisa. As amazing as the daytime sights were, sleeping in a different and very foreign place each night had quite an effect on my dreams. Some of the dreams I had while on this three week trip were some of the strangest and most vivid of my life. Two dreams in particular stuck in my memory past the break of day, and indeed stay with me even now. The first was easily understood and relevant. Two nights before we were to travel to Pisa, I dreamt that my sister Susie and I were climbing the stairs inside the tower and, about halfway up, she ventured outside of the inner spiral to the columns that line the perimeter of each story. I dreamt that while perched on the slanted surface she slipped and fell the long and uninterrupted distance to the ground below. Sure that she was critically injured, I ran to the edge and peeked over, to find that somehow she had only broken her arm. Actually visiting the leaning tower of Pisa two days later, she and I were walking up the stairs that looked exactly as I had pictured them, and about halfway up she wanted to venture outside the spiral staircase, just as she did in my dream. Though Susie was two years my elder, and not in the habit of taking direction from me, I begged her not to go out to the edge, even as I didn't tell her why, worried that I would sound silly or would be ignored. I asked her to trust me and not go out at that point, and we went to the top and looked out from the top railing. We even climbed the ladder to the higher inner ledge and, while I was naturally scared and cautious, I didn't have any portents about this part, so it was just normal everyday terror. This episode (and Pisa) past, we journeyed on to Florence. Another city, another hotel, another bed, and another portentous dream, just as vivid but entirely different than the last. Unlike the Pisa falling dream, which had a narrative, a clear position in time and space, an action and a consequence, this dream was much more a simple moment floating outside of any time I could define. Maybe it was tomorrow, maybe decades later. The dream was this: I was someplace (I don't have any recollection where) and I was eating a few Nilla wafers. While I was in the middle of eating one, someone rushed up to me and told me that my sister had died. That's it. The dream lasted all of 10 seconds and had only two salient details: My Nilla wafers and my sister's passing. I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night in the room that the three of us were sharing, and I could see that she was fine, sleeping peacefully. I have a hard time breaking habits or curbing desires. It took me years to stop sucking my thumb as a young child, and I still have poor willpower when it comes to desserts, but to this day, and forevermore, I have not and will not eat a Nilla wafer. My sister doesn't know about this. I've never told her. She doesn't regularly read my blog, so I don't know whether she'll hear the story due to my sharing it here, but who knows. It's something I do for her because I love her. It's not really the kind of thing you talk about. It doesn't really come up in conversation. To my recollection the only people who knew before this post were my ex-girlfriends Karen and Emily, and my wife Rachel. They've all watched out for me, knowing not to bring any into our home, and helping me steer clear from desserts that happen to have Nilla wafers, crumbled or otherwise, in them. A Japanese restaurant in Jack London Square with an amazing Bananas Foster comes to mind. I always order it specifically without the Nilla wafers that are otherwise added in. I won't eat generic knock-offs. I can still picture the taste of them, and there's nothing quite like them, but I feel pretty much nothing as I walk by them in the supermarket. We had shared good times together, but me and Nilla wafers have taken different paths, and will not cross again, because I love my sister too much to chance it, no matter how ridiculous that may sound. Oh, and if you read this and ever try to slip me one as a joke, don't even think about it.
25ish stories about me, an introduction
Saturday, May 23, 2009
So there's a meme that went around a few months ago that's pretty much played out. You make a list of 25 things about yourself that people might not know about you, and encourage others to do the same. I didn't think I could come up with 25 things in one sitting, and I was pretty sure that a few words per thing wouldn't do it justice, so instead I've been collecting a thing here, a thing there, plucking out interesting bits from my past, compiling a list of things that could each be a story. And so over the next several weeks I'll be writing stories, sharing some things that only my closest friends know and some things I wrongly assume is common knowledge. Consider it the Cliffs Notes for those who haven't been following my blog for the last 10 years. I hope you enjoy it. Oh, and '25' is just a benchmark. It might take me a while to get there, or I might keep going strong at 200.
Antarctic Fox: Port Lockroy
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
We just posted the latest installment of Antarctic Fox, where we visit Port Lockroy. I haven't been posting regularly on Fury when we update the Antarctic blog, but we're up to 33 chapters now and they're well worth a peek! (54 photos) "Originally discovered in 1903 by a French Antarctic expedition, the port was named 'Port LaCroix' after Edouard LaCroix who helped finance the expedition. Over the years Port Lockroy found use as an anchorage by whalers and in 1944 became 'British Base A', the first of the more than 20 eventual British bases established in Antarctica. This base is now restored as a historic site which has a gift shop and the only public post office on the Antarctic peninula. Base A was part of a secret wartime project to monitor German shipping movements. After the close of World War II it functioned as a civilian research outpost and was eventually shut down in 1962. It sat abandoned until a British team renovated the historical site and opened it as a monument and museum in 1996." Two of a Kind Close your eyes and think of England Click through to see the rest!
We will be liveblogging HAuNTcon 2009 starting tomorrow!
Thursday, Apr 30, 2009

What started out as a general love of Halloween has, over the last five years, grown into an obsession. Each year we would make our yard haunt more ornate, more interactive, more haunted. This year Rachel and I are taking the next logical step and attending HAuNTcon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


Catering to those who run professional haunted houses all over North America, HAuNTcon (like our own haunt) originated five years ago, moving to a new city every year. We had ideas of going last year in Austin, but wedding planning took precedence. But there's no stopping us this year, and as I type this we're sitting in the Denver International Airport waiting for our connecting flight.

Over the next three days we can expect to learn more about designing and running a haunt than anyone running a home yard haunt should ever need to know, and we're looking forward to sharing the experience with you. We're completely out of our league, but last month we gave our haunt a logo, business cards, and a website, so check out Haunted Fox Hollow to see photos from our past years haunts, and to keep up with new info for this year's haunt as it... materializes (pun-groan) (recursive pun-groan).

Time to catch our next flight, and we're looking forward to sharing the spook with you this weekend!

Google design: The kids are alright
Monday, Mar 23, 2009
Visual Designer extraordinaire Doug Bowman is leaving Google, and on his way out he wrote a passionate post on his blog detailing the core differences that lead to his departure, focusing heavily on the Google design process which, as he puts it, frequently puts data-driven design ahead of expert opinion. I respect Doug a great deal (we worked together on Google Calendar and other projects), but I think his indictment of data-driven design doesn't tell the whole story. Last night I wrote 1,500 words on the subject, but in the end the post was more about abstract design philosophy and practices, and less about Google and the matters at hand. So I started over from scratch but don't worry, I'll be sure to put those 1,500 words to use later on in a more instructional post about the dos and don'ts of data vs creative design. Instead, I've written a few letters: Dear Doug: Congrats on your move from Google to (presumably) Twitter. I'm sorry that your stint at Google was rougher than most's. While I take exception with your view that visual design didn't exist at Google until you came along in 2006, I acknowledge that you were the first person brought on exclusively as a visual designer, compared to the two dozen or so interaction designers, several with MFAs in 'classical design' and several more with ample coursework in visual design acquired as part of their interdisciplinary HCI or InfoVis masters programs. I don't think Google had to be a bad fit for you, but that you were put in to the wrong role. Back when Irene Au was building the User Experience team at Yahoo, visual designers (VisDes) were often paired with interaction designers (Gooeys) and usability researchers (UER) and together they would tackle design problems at the product level. This kind of arrangement would have probably been more effective at Google as well. Hiring visual designers only to silo them together means the visual design team lacks the benefit of sufficient inroads in to the product teams the interaction designers have been working with for years. This makes your job impossibly hard, because what product team welcomes a design that is handed to them without their involvement? I know you'll do fantastically well at (presumably) Twitter. Like you, I found the appeal of working without overhead with a very focused and nimble team too much to resist. I know you won't look back. Dear Google UX team: I miss you guys and the amazing things you're working on. I know as well as you do that every product team is different and I'm thrilled that on most teams UX involvement, respect, and leadership is really hitting its stride. Dear Google Founders and VPs: The User Experience Design team at Google has had a glass ceiling from the very beginning. You need to fix this if you want to continue attracting world-class talent. Seriously. Dear Google engineers and PMs: I don't envy you the balancing act of respecting the designer's craft while still contributing to the design and evolution of the product. When there are no clear distinctions between product strategy, feature prioritization and interaction design, negotiating progress can be a challenging process. While this advice only applies to a small subset, it's important to give: Data-driven design is a vital tool for hill-climbing iteration of a site, but you should take great care not to use it as an appeals process whenever you and your designer reach an impasse. It sidelines the designer into being no more than a brainstormer, devoid of design ownership. I realize this is not the usual case, so just treat it as a cautionary tale. Also please keep in mind that everyone has opinions on design, and that your UX professional has devoted years of their life to learning to separate their subjective opinions from their objective understanding about how the larger audience will interpret an interface. It's not as demonstrable as code that passes unit-tests, but trust in it anyhow. Dear Blogosphere: Resist the urge to take what few 'inside baseball' tidbits come from folks departing Google (or anywhere else, for that matter) and extrapolate the interior nature of the company from those small gleanings. On a numbers basis we don't comprise statistical significance and our choice to depart is clearly a confounding factor. You're trying to judge a group by their least satisfied (and most vocal) 5%. The data you need just isn't there. Dear Google users: Everyone's doing what they do for you. Design negotiation exists whenever more than one person works on a product. After working at a half-dozen web companies (including Yahoo and Google) what I've found to be unique about Google is that when there's a difference of opinion on a design, the disagreement is on which path serves you-the-user better. Compare that to companies where the disagreement is often between a sales rep (who works on commission) and a designer on the need to integrate a flash skyscraper and a banner ad onto every page of a site. Even when data-driven analysis is used to determine which design will be more profitable, at Google this is highly tempered against the impact to the user. Google could easily increase their revenue in the short term with just a few poor decisions, but they don't. This philosophy of 'put the user first and the money will follow' is so ingrained into the Google culture that many designers and engineers for whom this is their first corporate job don't even realize that this is unusual, and that is awesome. For those still interested in what makes Google design tick, I encourage you to read Google's Design Principles. It was one of the last things I worked on before leaving Google, and one of the things I'm most proud of.
Antarctic Fury: Leopard Seal Attack!
Tuesday, Feb 17, 2009
There have been a few chapters posted since my last update on Fury. I'll try to update here each time we post a new chapter, but I wanted to make sure you saw this one. It's one of the best.

(17 photos) WARNING - Some of the photos in this post are very graphic. If you would rather not see the Antarctic Food Chain in action we suggest you skip this post.

Excerpt: "As we waited, we watched the penguins on the shore. A big survival mechanism most penguins share is to approach the water in a group and jump in together, to provide a more confusing target for predators, and to not be isolated. We watched a group of about ten gentoo penguins approach the water's edge, hovering on the brink, nobody wanting to be first because of the possibility that they'll be the only one to jump. After several false starts by the ones on the edge, a few dive in at once, and several more quickly follow..."


Click on over to Antarctic Fox to see the rest!

Phil Gordon's rules of UI Design
Wednesday, Feb 11, 2009
In his 'Little Green Book', poker great Phil Gordon outlines a basic principle of poker play: At each turn to act, ask yourself: "Can I fold this? Can I fold this? Can I fold this?" If the answer is yes, then fold. If not, then ask "Can I raise this? Can I raise this? Can I raise this?" If the answer is yes, then raise. If the answer is no to both questions, then and only then should you call.

To a reasonable degree, I adhere to the same philosophy when iterating on a design. First, for each functional or aesthetic element, ask "Can I cut this? Can I cut this? Can I cut this?" and if you can, if the functionality isn't vital on the main page (or sometimes, at all), then cut, cut, cut. If you can't, then ask "Can I improve this? Can I improve this? Can I improve this?" If you can (and 'improve' here takes a meaning more nuanced than 'add to' or 'make more complex') then do it. If you can't cut it and you can't improve it, then leave it alone for this iteration and move to the next bit.

Cutting is really hard, and often inspires users to pen 'if you don't put it back then I'm leaving you' ultimatums, but be liberal in cutting within the privacy of your own development box and then step back and look at the whole canvas. Cutting one thing may make you miss the thing, but cutting several things can give you a whole new design that's worth getting to know.

More Antarctica chapters posted!
Friday, Jan 16, 2009

Rachel and I have posted three more Antarctica chapters in the last few days over at Antarctic Fox. If you like the images below then you should click through to the rest!

I'll be posting updates here periodically, but if you're interested in finding out about Antarctica updates as they come out, I encourage you to visit the Antarctic Fox feed, where you can add it to your iGoogle page or feed reader, or subscribe to email notifications.

Introduction: Telling the Story - Antarctic Fox
Monday, Jan 12, 2009
We were given the amazing opportunity to join ten of our family and friends and go on a twelve day private expedition cruise in the Antarctic Peninsula on the Hanse Explorer. Over the course of the adventure Rachel and I took over 16,000 photos while having some of the most amazing and unexpected experiences of our lives. Click through to see the pictures
Admiral Nimitz at my Polling Place
Tuesday, Nov 04, 2008
Today I voted at Nimitz Elementary School. As I waited for Rachel to vote I admired the library, computer room, and auditorium as kids in the next room rehearsed singing 'This Land is Your Land'.

Mounted discretely on the wall, without any significant fanfare or attention, was a letter from Admiral Nimitz that he wrote to the students of this school upon its opening 50 years ago. Reading the letter I was warmed and surprised by its relevance, both for this particular time and place, and for this era in general. Since the letter probably won't be noticed by anyone else at the polling place today, I thought it was worth highlighting here.

16 May 1958

Dear Sixth Graders of Chester W. Nimitz School:

On the eve of your graduation I send you greetings, congratulations and best wishes for happiness and success in the next step in your education.

A basic responsibility of all American citizens is the safeguarding of the freedoms won by the founders of our country.

These freedoms - which all of us enjoy today - can be threatened in time of peace as well as in war.

Alert and intelligent participation in civic affairs when you are grown is your best means of safe guarding your rights in time of peace.

Your schools are the best means of preparing you to meet your responsibilities.

Chester W. Nimitz
Fleet Admiral


Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at since 1998.
I can be reached at .

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I'm co-founder in
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I post most frequently on Twitter as @kfury and on Google Plus.


I've led design at Mozilla Labs, designed Gmail 1.0, Google Reader 2.0, FriendFeed, and a few special projects at Facebook.

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