June 13, 2014

First Strawberry

First strawberry of the season!

I sprayed the container with an animal urine solution and we've yet to lose a plant since. I'm seeing a few more bees so we're getting decent pollination around the garden. I planted two types of strawberries that grow at different rates. Hopefully we'll have a season with a handful of berries each week.

June 10, 2014

Bale Garden Update

My bales had a lot of oat seeds but it's not affecting my plants. I trim as needed, sometimes pull the oat growth, but so far, it's all good. This is two weeks ago, I think. There's an eggplant, some tomatoes, peppers, greens, lettuce, and cucumbers. I've added some flowers around the outside but they aren't growing much yet.

I put a weed mat under the bales. It's debatable whether it's needed but it has helped with water retention.

At this point, everything is fine. I pull grass growth when I see it and watch for bugs. I'm using a garlic tea spray on rare occasion when I see a pest I would prefer to avoid. It's worked just fine. I also used a urine spray to keep the bunnies and squirrels away and that's also doing great.

March 25, 2014

2014 Garden Plans

Last year, being the first summer in our new house, I worked a small semi-raised bed in my backyard. The previous owners probably hadn't used it in at least a season, but there was evidence of past vegetable growth. Going into the summer, I knew little about gardening and considered my attempt as an experiment to see what I can do with just basic materials and some plants.

My 2013 garden was quite a learning experience. We had a horrible summer for gardening, first with flooding rains and then drought-like conditions for the hottest part of the season. My potted eggplant didn't survive and was diseased and rotted. I had to give up on it by mid-July. My strawberries, grown in a deck box, kept getting eaten by a rogue squirrel, and my soil was too clay-like and packed to grow root vegetables (like the turnips I planted).

I did have success with my tomato plant, aside from that nasty squirrel's habit of stealing one a day and eating only half, and my jalepenos grew fast and well.

Overall, I learned what I was doing wrong, what's up with my soil - my lawn guy had some input on that, and after studying the U of MN home garden website, I'm a bit more prepared for the 2014 season.

This year is going to be tough with a very cold spring. We still have a lot of snow on the ground and I have no idea when we'll have 65+ degree days on a regular basis. It's hard to calculate back from potential last frost at the moment but I'm just going to start seeding indoors and see how things go.

I invested in a large (for a private home) greenhouse, which I'll erect inside on the bottom floor by the sunny patio doors. I'll add some UV lighting if the plants are stuck inside for more than 4-6 weeks. While waiting for spring to actually begin, I'm planting seeds in trays to grow:

  • pepperocini
  • red mercury peppers
  • gourds and pumpkins
  • two varieties of cucumbers
  • broccoli

I would prefer to directly sow some of those, but this weather isn't amenable to that.

I'll be moving the greenhouse outdoors in late spring and inside growing a few greenhouse crops:

  • green onions
  • cilantro
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • strawberries
  • carrots (in large buckets)

I'm also going to start some asparagus in the greenhouse and find a permanent home for it next season as it begins to mature.

I'm on the fence on whether to start my greens inside or out. I could go either way really. I also have to pick up some tomato plants later in the season to put directly outside.

Since my soil is terrible, really terrible, I'm doing my first bale garden this year. I got 8 oat bales from a local farmer and plan to start prepping them once the snow melts. It could take a month to get them ready, so I really do hope that snow is gone soon. For now, they're stacked in my garage with my soil, tools, and seeds.

January 21, 2014

Usability Testers and Interview Participants Needed!

It's going to be a busy spring! I am actively recruiting for three projects. Please check out the project information below.

Doctor's Office Appointment Reminders

There is conflicting information on the reasons patients miss an appointment without canceling or schedule. This is a project seeking to understand what leads to a missed appointment.

Who I'm Looking For:

  • Must be over 18 and in charge of your own healthcare (you make your own doctor's appointments).
  • Have visited a doctor's office for any reason in the past two years.
  • Missed an appointment without canceling or rescheduling in the past year.
  • Comfortable answering questions about the missed appointment.
  • Live in the United States.
  • Willing to talk by phone or Skype for 30 minutes in February or March.

For this project, participants may not work for a doctor's office, hospital, or health insurance company. 


  • All participants will be assigned an anonymous participant ID and no personally identifying information will be saved.
  • Sessions may be scheduled at a time convenient for the participant and will happen by phone or Skype
  • You will not have to share any medical or health information to participate. We are focused only on the circumstances and feelings around missing appointments.
  • Potential participants will be asked to complete a short screening survey.
  • There is no compensation available for this study.

Mobile Shopping Usability Testing

This project is still pending, but we are building a list of people who would be interested in usability testing a prototype of a mobile-friendly website using an iPhone or Android phone. We hope to kick off testing in February or March.

Who I'm Looking For:

  • 25-65 years old
  • Own and frequently use a mobile phone (iPhone, Android, etc)
  • Shopped online (computer or mobile) in the past 3 months
  • Check email, use a calendar, and/or play mobile app games on your phone
  • Live in Southeastern Minnesota (Rochester, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and surrounding communities). We may open this study to other cities once we've finalized our testing plans.
  • Willing to meet in person to usability test a prototype

For this project, participants may not work as a web or graphic designer, developer or programmer, or in market research.


  • All participants will be assigned an anonymous participant ID and no personally identifying information will be saved.
  • Sessions may be scheduled at a time and public location convenient for the participant
  • All sessions will be held in person, one-on-one
  • Potential participants will be asked to complete a short screening survey.
  • You may receive a gift card for participating in this study.

Date Picker Usability Testing

This is a long-term project looking at validating best practices for entering dates in online forms. Sessions are fairly brief and all held remotely through Skype.

Who I'm Looking For:

  • Must be over 18 and live in the United States
  • Use the Internet at least twice a week for email/calendar, shopping, web browsing, social media, or games.
  • Access to a computer with Internet and Skype for the testing session.
  • Willing to meet for 15 minutes to usability test several existing website forms.

For this project, we are not restricting by professional experience.


  • All participants will be assigned an anonymous participant ID and no personally identifying information will be saved.
  • Sessions may be scheduled at a time convenient for the participant.
  • All sessions will be held over Skype, one-on-one.
  • Potential participants will be asked to complete a short screening survey.
  • There is no compensation available for this study.
Interested in one of these studies? Send me a message with the name of the study in the subject line and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

October 24, 2013

Help Evaluate Website Photography for Mayo Clinic!

I'm helping the Mayo Clinic GBS art direction team learn more about how people respond to different imagery on a website. We've selected one page from the website and mocked up 10 different versions to test with the general public.

Please help us reach our goal of learning whether certain styles of photography are more appealing than others on a healthcare website. This online test takes just 2-3 minutes, it's super fast and easy!

Follow this link by November 1 to participate: https://usabilityhub.com/do/v/3f920068f900/cf98

You'll be presented with one image for 5 seconds. After that, you'll answer two quick questions about what you saw. It's that simple!

Spread the word. The more data we can gather, the better.

April 5, 2013

Jamie Heywood's HxD Keynote

One of the most powerful talks at HxD 2013, was from Jamie Heywood, co-founder of Patients Like Me. At a conference a couple years ago, one of Jamie's colleagues spoke about where the site was heading and the connection with medical research, inspiring me to sign up and track my health for a while. Having a chance to hear Jamie talk about how the site has evolved since 2011 and to hear him candidly share what he hates about the site was truly inspiring. His honesty was powerful.

Years ago, Patients Like Me began for Jamie's brother, an ALS patient. Overtime, the site became more general, focusing on more diseases, and ultimately, all diseases. By gathering regular, highly detailed feedback from patients over time, the site aims to measure condition severity and impact to support patients, clinicians, and researchers. Long-term, the possibilities are endless, but consider the impact of being able to predict what a patient will do, to decrease the time learning what works for a patient, and to help the next patient receive better care.

One problematic aspect of the Patients Like Me site is the treatment feature. Treatments aren't always medications, but users are asked medication-type questions. Imagine the user includes prayer as a treatment. Now the user is asked for the dosage. I went back into my account after the talk, and updated some information. Sure enough, I encountered this issue when I tried adding the use of a heating pad for how I treat migraines. Dosage = 1 heating pad? LOL

When the site was generalized to 1500 conditions, with the option to add new ones, they don't always match up to a site designed for ALS patients. The more the website added, the more the measuring, it became a hybrid failure between a clinical interview and a medical record. They expected the patient to know if something is a symptom or a condition.

"People spend hundreds of hours filling out the profile and we make it really, really hard."

One of the best points, "effective measurement requires extremely well done user experience."

March 26, 2013

Leadership, Leaning In, and Middle Management

I am reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and though only through the first few pages, I’m overwhelmed with the sentiment that I’m reading about myself. No, I’m not an executive, nor am I famous, nor on the fast track to a C-level position, but the feeling of being a woman in a male-dominated business world resonates.

When I was very young, my mom would take me to the library regularly (something I now do with my daughter). My most vivid memory is looking through the selection of books I’ve brought home and my mom yanking out one in particular, saying, “You will not be reading this book.” It was a picture book of career options, with all the women portrayed as secretaries, nurses, and teachers, and men as pilots, business professionals, and construction workers.

My parents never put down any career ideas. They thought the idea of art school was awesome, never once asking, “How will you make money with an art degree?” They never said I couldn’t be a lawyer or doctor or president. When I wanted to fly F-14s, my dad didn’t mock me.

Still, I realize how I’ve held myself back for the internal reasons Sheryl Sandberg says are commonly felt by women.

A few weeks ago, a recruiter called. There is nothing unusual about hearing from recruiters, but this call was for a leadership position. In my mind, I thought, “Wow, what an amazing opportunity!” However, what came out of my mouth was, “What makes you think I would be good for this role? It’s a leadership position.” I suggested a couple of trusted male colleagues because I couldn’t think of a female colleague who was interested in leadership. Looking back, of course I can think of several women, but at that moment, what came to mind was, “Who are the most take-charge, outspoken evangelists in my field?” and only men came to mind. Total fail on my part.

Later, I shared this conversation (minus the male/female bit) with a colleague, thinking it was a joke that someone was calling me for a leadership job. His response was, “well, why not you?” I had a moment of clarity and began to draw on memories of wanting to drive the strategic vision of an organization, but always feeling pushed back. My response, “I haven’t even been a manager, officially speaking.” I was rationalizing at this point. My very wise colleague returned, “Do you really aspire to a career in middle management?”

 To be completely clear, I’m in no way saying men don’t deserve leadership positions or that either gender is better than the other. I have no problem with all men or all women in any field, a 50/50 balance, or something in between. I only care that the right people are in the right roles for the right reasons. If a woman is right for the job and wants that job, then why shouldn’t she then fight for that job? Perhaps, she shouldn’t have to fight for it, but we’re in a hard job market, so I believe it’s a fight, regardless of gender.

I’m also not knocking management. Truth is, I like management. I love mentoring and growing team skills, delegating and balancing work loads to both include the best people on each project, and make sure people are challenged and broadening their experience. The idea of budgets and time management is exciting. I like finance and spreadsheets. I like solving problems. So, I’m not saying a career in management is a bad thing. I just question whether it is a necessary step before a director-level role, which is inherently a completely different job, focused on the bigger picture, not people and project management.

Sheryl Sandberg wants to see more women in leadership roles, as do I. The problem I see is that at the contributor level, it is impossible to see a path into leadership. How have women in leadership actually found opportunities to connect with people in executive roles before becoming an executive themselves? In many large organizations, there is an invisible wall between leadership and the lower ranks. To reach the top, there are several touch points in between, often making it difficult to connect and make an impression on those who could make a difference in one’s career. This isn’t just a “woman problem,” it is bigger and incredibly challenging for anyone hoping to take on increasingly critical responsibilities but who hasn’t the connections to get the ball rolling.

In the meantime, I've started a Lean In circle with a small group of women in my area. This process helped me realize, I simply don't know many career-focused women where I live. Perhaps a start in finding a connection with leadership is to simply find a connection with other women.