Columbus Group Alumni

When I returned from Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley to work in Vancouver, I landed at a small but growing web development company called Columbus Group. Only a couple of years later, in 2001, the company was acquired by Telus.

The Columbus Group offices in the Arts and Crafts building, near the old A&B Sound, were maintained by Telus for almost three years after the acquisition. At that point, when the remaining employees moved out, there was virtually no evidence of the company on the web. I’d seen various employee alumni sites, for example the Apple HI Alumni page, and decided to create one for Columbus Group.

I’ve now moved it to this new site, but over the six years it was on my old site it was, from month to month, often my most visited page. I think this is because it has long been one of the best ways to find some of the former Columbus Group employees on the web. I also put a fair amount of thought into the display of information on the page.

The central part of the page is a large table which includes information on role, years at the company, current whereabouts, and contact information, including a link to LinkedIn profiles where available.

The “Years” column shows visually the span of time each employee worked for the company, so you can see whether people’s tenure overlaps. The final element in this column is the Telus logo, which if present indicates that the person was employed at the time of the acquisition. And rows coloured green identify those who still work at Telus. Overall I think it’s a successful information design.

Percival Archie Corry (In Memory Of)

Last summer, Radiohead‘s Harry Patch (In Memory Of)—listen to it on Apple Music or Spotify—got me thinking about my great uncle Percival Archie Corry, who was killed in Belgium in December 1915 fighting in the First World War. I remember him every November 11, but there is something about this track that evokes the time: I think the instrumentation, composition, and arrangement are something that my grandmother Kathleen, Perce’s brother, would recognize and appreciate.

About ten years ago, I put together a genealogy of my grandmother’s family. She had eight siblings, and the long-term impact of war was made clear: the others had descendants, marriages, jobs, and stories. Perce’s page in the book was a dead end. Here are a couple of pictures of him, one on the family farm outside of Victoria, clearing land for the B.C. Electric power line; the other obviously in preparation for the trip to Europe, from which he never returned.

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The genealogy included the following text by Jean Rathgaber, daughter of Perce’s brother Art.

When the news was announced that Canada had entered into the war, Kath [my grandmother] and Babe were outside discussing it. They heard a whooping and a hollering, and Perce, on horseback, came dashing toward them as fast as he could gallop, shouting and waving his arms. He swerved at the last minute, just missing them, and yelled, “Hooray! War!” He and his brothers thought the war would be a great adventure; all three enlisted and were sent overseas. … The great adventure did not turn out as they had expected. George returned from the war with a steel plate in his head which caused him head pains all his life. Art returned with stomach ulcers caused from being gassed. For the rest of his life, he could tolerate only bland foods like milk, puddings and porridge made with milk. He never complained about this diet and lived on it for 40 years. And sadly, Perce never returned at all.

It’s tempting to think Perce’s romanticization of war is of another era, but I suspect that’s not completely the case.

I am going to work on updating the history for a reunion this summer, and one of the things I have found is Percival Corry’s attestation papers, online at Library and Archives Canada.

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It’s striking to see these papers, signed by an eighteen-year-old destined to die in the Great War almost a century ago. It’s possible to order copies of a soldier’s service files, which aren’t posted online, and I plan to do that to see what other information is available on Percival Corry.

I am the only one that got through
The others died where ever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I’ve seen devils coming up from the ground
I’ve seen hell upon this earth
The next will be chemical but they will never learn

—Radiohead, adapted from a BBC interview with Harry Patch, one of the last surviving veterans of the First World War

Dirty Laundry 2009 Madam’s Vines Gewürztraminer

I enjoyed their 2008 Riesling, and a clerk at Crosstown said this one is hard to find.

Clear pale lemon green with a light floral-citrus nose. Medium-dry with low-medium acidity and good body. Pronounced floral, grapefruit, and nutmeg notes; a quite distinctive and enjoyable flavour. Medium length. 13.2% alcohol. As with their Riesling, I really like this; recommended. $24.10. Dirty Laundry Vineyard, Summerland, BC.

The Simple Things: epost

I subscribe to Canada Post’s epost service, which promises to consolidate delivery of all your bills. It doesn’t quite manage that, largely because not all vendors support the service. That may change; in the meantime there’s a certain convenience to it, particularly in that it’s apparently the only way to get my Vancity Visa bills in PDF format rather than paper.

I’ve been thinking recently about usability issues related to this kind of regular but infrequent online experience. It seems that it’s often the simple things that cause frustration: the details surrounding getting to the desired or promised information. Destinations can be obscured by giving equal or greater weight to tasks and audiences not directly related to the notification. Memorability is an important aspect of design in this case, and it seems that this it often not well supported due to a lack of focus on the interaction initiated by the email.

The following screen shot shows the body of the email sent by epost when a new “mail delivery” is ready. Where would you click? Notice the prominence of the big blue “Remind Me” button, compared to the link to the service itself, where the bill can be accessed. Every couple of weeks I have to think consciously about where to click. How many people want to be reminded again, rather than just retrieve the bill, or leave the email in their in box, flagged or unread?

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After remembering to click the link, the main epost page is displayed. The email notes that they don’t link directly to the log in screen from the email due to security concerns. I’m not sure what value this really has, as a phishing attack could simply replicate the main screen as well as the log in page. So the epost customer is delivered to the same page that any new user would see upon first going to the site, which is focused on getting people to sign up for the service. The “Sign in” button is also in a non-standard location, and perhaps even below the fold for some people.

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Given that the security concern is a real one, why not pass a parameter via the email’s url so that the page swaps focus from “sign up” to “sign in”?

Simple changes to the email and landing page might prevent thousands of people from having to stop and think—twice—every time they receive a notification from epost.