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(This was originally posted on Google+ itself. I’m also keeping it here, for easy reference.)

A friend of mine notes that one of the problems of the current Google+ “real names policy” is that “Google is attempting to deal with (I’m assuming) manufacturing a community of 1-to-1 RL presence-to-online presence” — in particular, he says that while he does have questions about how Google is attempting to do this, he also has a lot of respect for the fact that they are trying to.

I’m not so sure that I do. Partly because I’m not convinced that there’s any value in creating a community of 1-to-1 real-life presence to online presence.

That’s partly because I’m not convinced that there’s any such thing as a 1-to-1 correspondence between real-life presence and real-life presence. I mean, seriously, are you the same person at work as you are when you’re down at the bar with friends? As when you’re having dinner in a nice restaurant with your lover? As when you’re in bed with him or her?

The idea of a 1-to-1 correspondence between real life presence and online presence is based on the idea that there’s a 1-to-1 correspondence between identities (personalities) and physical bodies. That idea is wrong. We all shift identities based on who we’re interacting with and what situation we’re in. That’s part of why we even shift our names based on that:

  • My fiancée calls me “Darling”, “Sweetheart”, “Dear”, “Love”, or “Honey”, according to her whim at the time. (We like variety, and we like to avoid getting too canalized to one particular term of endearment.)
  • My co-workers usually call me Kagan.
  • My friends usually call me Kai.
  • My siblings usually call me Kai, but my brother sometimes calls me “brother” or “bro” — and, truth be told, I like this occasional familiarity.
  • Sales people and waitrons and so on call me “Sir”. And this is not an outlying data point, because I answer to it, and I expect them to call me by this name. We all consider it right and proper.
  • Telemarketers and professional service people (bankers and whatnot) would do well to call me “Mister MacTane”. They often presume that they can call me “Kagan” — but this is a mistake on their part, because they are presuming a level of familiarity which (unlike my brother) they have not earned and do not deserve.

All of these different names, and different reactions to them, are signs that indicate that I enact different identities in different contexts. We all do.

And a social network that tries to straitjacket me into a single identity is doomed to omit huge chunks of who I really am. In so doing, it fails to serve my needs. It makes it harder for me to engage with the network at all… which makes it much more likely that I’ll leave.

I understand that Facebook is very deliberately built to enforce a single-identity model, because (as I’ve posted here before) Mark Zuckerberg actually believes that “[h]aving two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” But Google doesn’t have to subscribe to Zuckerberg’s delusion.

Sadly, I see little hope that they’ll deviate from the “one physical body, one online identity” model that Google+ currently tries to operate under (and can never successfully enforce without causing even more problems).

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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I received a phone call at work this past week, while I was in the middle of debugging some complicated JavaScript. Usually, my desk phone shows the internal extension that’s calling me; this time, it showed a series of asterisks. Intrigued and confused, I picked it up… and discovered it was a recruiter calling me. Apparently a row of asterisks must be how this phone indicates “Caller ID blocked”. (Now I know.)

The next morning at 7:53, I got a call at home from a number that didn’t report any name. I always let those go to voice-mail. I heard another recruiter leave a message, including “it’s eleven o’clock”.

Two different recruiters in two days, making such elementary mistakes? I’ve been working on this article on the back burner for a couple of years, but it’s obviously time I finished it up and posted it.

Never Call a Prospect At Work

And I really do mean, never. You don’t know if your prospect’s current employer monitors calls. You don’t know if your prospect has already told their employer that they’re looking for other opportunities — but it’s safest to assume that they haven’t, because it is definitely not safe for an employee to tell their employer that. Especially in “at-will employment” states (like California), where an employer can terminate an employee at any time, for any reason or none at all, there’s an all-too-real possibility that the employer will just fire the worker immediately. (I’m not saying this would be a smart thing for the employer to do. And I’m not saying the likelihood is high. But it does exist, and it’s too much risk for the employee to take.)

Telling your employer that you’re looking for a new job can get you canned, posthaste. Having your employer find out from some third party that you’re looking for a new job can also get you canned. You know what’s the one thing that would be even worse than getting fired for being on the job market before you can find a new job?

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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The more stuff you have open (or habitually leave open) in an application, the more it becomes part of your consciousness, an extension of your mind. For many of us, the question “What are you doing right now?” could best be answered by, “Here’s a list of the tabs I have open in my web browser.”

Hackers* use the word “state” to describe “information being maintained in non-permanent memory”, whether that memory is in a human skull or a computer’s RAM chips. In fact, that ambiguity over exactly where the state is being maintained is one of the word’s strengths — as the browser-tabs example shows, there’s getting to be less of a distinction between the two. The stuff in my browser’s tabs is a reflection of what’s in my own brain, and a nearly-seamless extension of it.

Like every other web developer, I recently got a message from Firefox saying it needed to upgrade. (Because security researchers found yet another hole in Adobe Reader.) Despite the fact that I had over a dozen tabs open, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about performing the upgrade, because Firefox would remember all my tabs and reopen them after restart. It’s basically a momentary hiccup in my workflow; I can start the upgrade and then use that 30-second break to refill my teacup or go to the bathroom. Come back, sit down, close the spare “You’ve just successfully upgraded Firefox” tab, and just keep working.

Compare that with Windows Update.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Apparently tomorrow will be the “National Day of Unplugging”, when people who are ready to “take the unplug challenge” will obey the call to “put down your cell phone, sign out of email, stop your Facebook and Twitter updates”. But this isn’t just some kind of stunt or willpower exercise; there’s a point to it. Unplugging is supposed to help people “reclaim time, slow down their lives and reconnect with friends, family, the community and themselves.”

Uh, what?

Let me get this straight: Not posting any updates on Facebook, and not checking my friends and family’s Facebook updates, is supposed to help me connect with them? Turning off my cell phone, and refusing to send or check my email is supposed to bring me more into connection with other people?

What in the world do this event’s organizers think the rest of us are doing with Facebook, with email, and with cell phones?

The organizers are a group called the Sabbath Manifesto, and they espouse ten principles. The first two are “avoid technology” and “connect with loved ones”, respectively.

How the hell am I supposed to connect with my loved ones without using technology? Fewer than 10% of my friends, and absolutely none of my family, live within walking distance of me. (And I’m a fast and powerful distance-walker.) If I drive down the Peninsula, or take CalTrain to go see a friend, that’s using technology. If I quit using technology, I’d have to give up at least 90% of my social circle.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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In two months, the third international Ada Lovelace Day will take place, on March 24th. Bloggers around the world will devote posts to writing about the achievements of women in technology and science. This is wonderful, and I highly support it, but…

What about the other 364 days of the year?

Setting aside one day per year to write, “Hey, there are women in technology, too!” is not enough. In fact, I’d call it a bare minimum. If you only post in your blog once a week, you’re putting out 50+ posts per year. If only one of those has to do with women, you’re ignoring half the human race 98% of the time.

Technology is not just for men. It doesn’t solely affect men. Men aren’t the only ones to drive it, or develop it. And I’m sick and tired of the culture of machismo, sexism, and outright misogyny that’s been turning high-tech — and particularly the open-source and startup arenas — into a little boys’ club that drives women away.

Blogging about the accomplishments of women for Ada Lovelace Day is not enough. But it’s a start, at the very least. We can’t say, “I wrote about Grace Hopper on March 24th; there, I’ve done my duty. Can I have my Nice Guy badge now?” We can’t write one article and then rest on our asses the rest of the year.

Instead, I see Ada Lovelace Day as a springboard — a starting point.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Why I’m In Favor of WikiLeaks’ Professed Ideals and Aims

I am not a fan of government secrecy. Maybe some things should be kept secret, but by and large? Our government has overused that excuse to the point of absurdity. We can no longer trust the government to keep its citizens informed about what it’s doing.

Since the run-up to the Iraq War, it’s been pretty obvious that we can no longer trust the news media to keep us informed, either. At that point, journalism utterly failed in its civic duty to question the government and inform the populace about critical issues. Someone needs to step into that gap.

Why I’m Not Pro-WikiLeaks

Some of the information they leaked includes data that identifies people in the field. This puts real people at real risk — people who are trying to do good. This is not responsible reporting.

For all the reasons that it was bad when the Bush Administration blew Valerie Plame’s cover, it’s also bad now that WikiLeaks has blown the cover of various sources in the field. I can’t support that.

Why I’m Very Much Anti-Anti-WikiLeaks

For all the danger that WikiLeaks’ cover-blowing has caused, I feel much more threatened by the attempts to censor the Internet and shut down discussion. The idea that Senator Joe Lieberman can ask ask Amazon to pull the plug on any organization’s Web presence and have it done in under a day is absolutely chilling.

Now, upstream providers are denying service to WikiLeaks mirrors as well. There’s a concerted effort to turn WikiLeaks into the Internet equivalent of an unperson. And “unpersoning” people is not the action of a free society. It’s the way a totalitarian regime operates, not the way I want my democracy to behave.

I’m disgusted with the number of financial institutions that will happily process donations to the Ku Klux Klan, but not to WikiLeaks. It’s been pointed out with some accuracy that it’s now easier to send donations to al-Qaeda than to WikiLeaks.

This says something about who and what it is we really oppose. And I don’t like what it says. We need to stand for freedom, for an informed citizenry, and for justice.

(In that vein, AlterNet’s list of Six Companies That Haven’t Wussed Out of Working With WikiLeaks is somewhat encouraging.)

Regarding DDoSes as A Form of Protest

I agree with the EFF’s statement that it “doesn’t condone cyber-vigilantism, be it against MasterCard or WikiLeaks. The answer to bad speech is more speech.”

Regarding the Pentagon Papers Parallel

The argument that this is in any way different from Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers is ridiculous. The two are very similar. If you ever wonder how you would have stood during that incident (”sure, it’s easy to see in hindsight what was right… but would I have done the right thing back then?”)… take a look at your reaction to WikiLeaks. The two parallel each other pretty well.

To the journalists who are calling for Assange’s prosecution: Are you mad at him because he’s doing the job you should have been doing? Are you so full of spite that you’d advocate to eviscerate the First Amendment that protects your own profession? Oh, right — many of you weren’t really making use of the First Amendment’s protection anyway, since you’re not rocking the boat. That’s why Assange had to rock it instead.

Regarding Rape Allegations Against Julian Assange

There has been a lot of disinformation about this. The pro-WikiLeaks side have been claiming some things that are completely untrue. The only reason I can think of to spread such disinformation is that they don’t want anyone to know the real allegations. That doesn’t make them sound like they’re very confident in Assange’s innocence, by the way.

The charges against Julian Assange include allegations that he tore a woman’s clothing off, that he had sex with a woman without her permission while she was asleep, and that he held a woman down by her arms and pinned her with his body weight.

These are real charges of real rape activity, and the things you may have heard about “a condom broke”, or some bizarre thing called “sex by surprise” are all 100% fiction.

Furthermore, the pro-WikiLeaks side’s false claims haven’t just been about the charges against Assange, but also about the women who brought the charges. For example, there’s a claim that one of them is “a feminist” — as if wanting equal rights should be used as an excuse to deny her justice? There’s the claim that she wrote some kind of “article about how to get even with men”, which is also completely false: she translated a preexisting English eHow.com article on revenge in general, not “against men”. Then there are the claims that either or both of the women are in the pay of the CIA — claims that have not a shred of evidence to back them up.

Assange’s supporters have gone beyond simply smearing these women, and have posted their names, addresses, and other identifying information. In many cases, people claiming to support Julian Assange have threatened to rape his accusers. Then they’ve gone ahead and harassed and bullied other women who had the temerity to point out that the “it was just a broken condom” claim was a lie. And of course, that harassment includes death threats — threatening to kill people merely for trying to speak out publicly.

This behavior is completely unacceptable. It’s inhuman. It’s disgusting.

I am in favor of the free flow of information. But I’m also in favor of taking rape charges seriously. And I’m in favor of whistleblowers, accusers, and those why cry “An injustice has been done!” being able to get a fair hearing without being subjected to death threats. That applies to the Swedish women’s accusations against Assange just as much as it does to WikiLeaks’ revelations about the actions of world governments.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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A good domain name should have the following features:

  1. When someone says it to you, you know how to spell it. This means that if my friend wants to tell me about your site at a party or a club or out on the street somewhere, she doesn’t have to spell it out for me. She can just say your site’s name, and I immediately know how to type it into my browser.
  2. When you see it written, you immediately know how to pronounce it. This is the other side of the coin, and it matters when I read about your site in print and then want to tell a friend about it. In fact, if your site’s name is sufficiently opaque, I could read about it, visit it, sign up, and use your service for months… and still not know how to tell a friend about it without having to say awkward things like, “Ummm… Zip-tick? something like that? I don’t really know how to pronounce it, I just know it’s spelled X-Y-P-T-I-Q.”

Marc Hedlund writes about Why Wesabe Lost to Mint, and manages to miss part of this point:

Mint was a better name and had a better design – both of these things are true, but I don’t believe they were primary causes for our company to fail and for Mint to be acquired. Mint’s CEO likes to talk about how ridiculous our name was relative to theirs, but I think the examples of Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Google, and plenty of others make it plain that even ludicrous names (as all of those were thought to be when the companies launched) can go on to be great brands. (emphasis in original)

He cites “Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Google” as examples of “ludicrous” names, but he misses the fact that all of them meet both of the requirements above — and Wesabe doesn’t. I’m assuming it’s pronounced “wee-SOB-ay”, but it could just as easily be read as “wee-SAYB” (rhymes with “babe”) — and I’m guessing it’s a mash-up between wasabi and “we sabe“, where sabe is the Spanish word for “to know”, and the basis for the English verb “to savvy”.

But that’s just a guess.

Of course, you already know how to spell it, but imagine someone told you about “a new site called /wee-SOB-ay/”… how would you guess it might be spelled? Ideas that come to my mind are: wiisabe, weesabay, weesobbe (possibly with accent on the E in the site’s logo); and “Just tell me how it’s spelled, already!”

Note that Google got its name from the mathematical concept of a googol: 10100, a very large number. But they deliberately changed the spelling, so people would be more able to tell each other about it, and more able to correctly type in what they’d heard.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Let’s organize a 10K footrace. At the end of the footrace — for, say, the last kilometer — we’re going to do whatever we can to encourage the people who are wearing blue jerseys and t-shirts and athletic clothing. There will be people standing by the sidelines to hand out bottles of refreshing sports drinks, and others jumping up and down and shouting slogans like “Dressed in blue! We love you!” whenever they see a blue-garbed contestant.

Why all the commotion over the people in blue? Well, that’s an attempt to offset what we’re going to do to them for the first nine-tenths of the race. You see, they’re going to be dealing with some seriously unfair shit: Instead of cheerleaders, the blue-wearing racers will have to deal with people jeering at them, shouting insults and telling them they don’t belong in this race. Some will be armed with Nerf guns or water balloons, which they’ll be hurling at the racers in blue in an attempt to slow them down or make them drop out of the race altogether.

And it’s not just the spectators; before the race begins, we’ll distribute secret notes to the racers wearing other colors, encouraging them to jostle their blue-garbed peers and even try to trip them up. Of course, many of our runners will abide by a sense of fair play regardless, but there will undoubtedly be those who take advantage of the biased environment we’re creating.

If a huge percentage of the racers in blue drop out before they ever reach the last kilometer… would you say that “not enough people in blue want to win races”?

Obviously, this footrace is a parallel for something else.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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It’s awfully convenient for Google that their famed corporate motto, “Don’t be evil”, doesn’t actually specify or define what counts as “evil”. And without any definition, they’re pretty much free to do anything they want, and just declare it not-evil.

Now, some of the things they’ve done have just been misguided. For example, I really, honestly believe that when they sniffed people’s unencrypted wifi traffic while doing Street View mapping drives, they weren’t being purposefully malicious, just absent-mindedly misguided. (I also have trouble getting too upset about sniffing unencrypted wifi signals — yeah, it’s kind of bad, but if the people who owned those networks really wanted privacy, would it have been that hard to turn on WPA?)

And then there was the bit where they auto-subscribed everyone with a Gmail account to Google Buzz — which, by default, made huge amounts of information public that shouldn’t have been. This was a really massive mistake, but given the way Google backpedaled from it, I still believe that they were just misguided and didn’t think things through at all, rather than actively wanting to cause harm.

But when Google Checkout tried to impose a “no adult content” rule on Dreamwidth? That’s a lot greyer. In essence, what Google did was tell an organization devoted to enabling free speech that it had to muzzle its users.

Google has the right to choose who it wants to do business with, based on whatever criteria it wants. But just because their choice is legal doesn’t make it “non-evil”. It’s not clear just exactly what “adult content” would have included, but there’s a strong likelihood that it would have included things like:

  • safer-sex information, including family planning, contraception, and how to use condoms properly;
  • discussion of rape, including rape survivor groups;
  • promotion of equal rights for sexual minorities

Keeping information like that off the Internet? Is not helping the world. Suppressing that kind of information harms the world, and I’d qualify it as a straight-up evil act.

It’s possible, though, that they only mean “actual pornography” (however you define that). As much as I personally may like both pornography itself, and the right to disseminate and receive it, I have to admit that simply choosing not to do business with a company that helps people publish it is not, in itself, evil.

So what about entering into secret back-room agreements to try to do an end-run around Net Neutrality and everything it stands for? And then promulgating a legislative framework proposal for Internet governance that would turn the principle of Net Neutrality into a defanged, loophole-ridden and corporation-appeasing shadow of its former self — while pretending, on the surface, to support it?

In effect, this means a full-scale attack on the core of a free Internet. This is something that reminds me of when Microsoft was going to try to “de-commoditize [the] protocols” that formed the basis for the Internet and World Wide Web, back in the first Halloween memo.

If there is a way in which this isn’t evil, can someone please explain it to me? Because it sure looks evil to me.

In the meantime, there’s one tiny problem with trying to boycott Google: They make some damned useful products. Still, if you want to start reducing your reliance on Google, here are some pointers that may help.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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I keep hearing about developers who, when interviewing for potential jobs, consider coding tests to be “a waste of time”, “insulting”, or “beneath me”. The logic seems to be: Once you’ve risen to the level of Senior Developer (or some similar title), people should realize that yes, you really do know how to write simple pieces of code. You can write functions that sum all elements in an array, or reverse a string, or whatever.

I’m not bothered by them. I’m far too aware of the great number of coders that, to put it bluntly, simply can’t code. It doesn’t matter to me whether they’ve risen to their level of incompetence, or they’ve been in sky-high architect territory for too long and gotten rusty at function-level coding, or they’re simply lying on their résumé and they were never able to so much as solve a FizzBuzz problem. The fact is, they keep winding up in interviews, and it’s (part of) the interviewer’s job to weed them out. As quickly as possible, to avoid wasting any more time than necessary.

Back when I was in my first tech job, as a Linux sysadmin, I was one of the people interviewing potential candidates. I decided it would be nice to set them at ease by starting off with a few easy, “warmup” questions. So I’d start off with things like, “What is a runlevel in Unix? What are the most commonly-used runlevels, and what do they do?” Or, “What port does HTTP use by default? How about SMTP?”

I was astounded to find that there were applicants who couldn’t answer these questions.

Not in the sense of, “I’m sorry, but I’d have to look that up” (though even that would be a little odd; these are things any Unix sysadmin should have engraved on their consciousness). No, this was in the sense of “A runlevel? Ummm… I think I’ve heard that term, but I don’t know those kinds of details.”

My only real quarrel with FizzBuzz is that, at this point, any developer worth their salt is familiar with it. And tired of it. It’d be nice to have a few slightly new and different tests of completely basic competence… but you know what? Any test that is so basic would have to be just as boring. That’s okay.

These tests are essentially saying, “Prove that you’re not lying on your résumé.” And while I may know perfectly well that I’m not lying, how is a total stranger to know that about me? I’m not bothered by the “trust, but verify” stance of modern interviewers, because there are so many people who do lie on their résumés (and fail at simple, FizzBuzz-style tests) that it would be lunacy to blindly believe applicants any more.

(What that says about our society is a topic for another post… a post on another blog. It’s outside Coyote Tracks‘ scope.)

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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In my ongoing job search, I’m sometimes asked by recruiters: “How many years of experience do you have with [name of some technology or skill]?” It’s a somewhat reasonable question when the item involved is a programming language or technique that I use every day, or at least every week. But there are far too many things that it just doesn’t work for.

For example, I can reasonably well say that I have 5 years of experience with AJAX: I taught myself AJAX in the summer of 2005, and have been using it pretty consistently since then. But how many “years of experience” do I have with SQL?

I started using it around 2002 or 2003, but if I say that I “have 7 years of experience” with it, I give the impression that I’m some kind of SQL expert… which is definitely not true. It’s the sort of thing I use about once every week or two. I’ll set up a database schema, maybe even type out some raw commands in a MySQL command-line client, and then I’ll just let whatever framework I’m using handle all the details for me.

So, what sort of answer should I give to the question? The sense in which I “use” (or “have experience with”) SQL is simply not the same as the sense in which I use things like JavaScript, PHP, or CSS. (The sense in which a DBA uses SQL is probably comparable to the sense in which I use CSS… but I can’t be sure, not being one myself.)

At least the idea of having “a year of experience with” SQL does make a certain sort of sense. What should I say when asked how many “years of experience” I have with XML or JSON? These aren’t really “technologies” so much as data formats. It’s like asking someone how many years of experience they have saving files in .txt or .doc format (as opposed to using Notepad or MS Word).

The only metrics that are worse than “years of experience” are: “When did you start using Technology X?” (which, thankfully, very few people have asked), and the utterly subjective “How would you rate yourself with Technology X, on a scale of 1 to 10?” (I need to write an entire post about that particular metric, when I get a chance.)

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Just under a month ago, an iPhone developer from Australia — one who’s previously defended Apple’s approval process — had his own app suddenly dis-approved by Apple. According to his blog post about the sudden revocation of approval, “I had convinced my company to take a gamble and make some apps for Apple’s Store. Tennis Stats had been a great success and we wanted to get on the iPad train with My Frame. Things were going well, new features were being planned money, real money was being invested. Then Apple pulled the pin”.

I could say all sorts of things about schadenfreude, or how the developer — who goes by the nom de plume “Shifty Jelly” — should have seen this coming. But the guy’s already having a bad enough month, and there are broader issues to examine. Among them the thought raised by commenter Erik K. Veland:

Remember when Apple cracked down on Podcast downloaders? It was because they themselves were introducing this very feature in iTunes.

[I] would surmise [that] Apple is now bringing “widgets” to their dashboard in the near future, and that they are pre-empting any apps conflicting with the “duplicate functionality” clause. [historical links, added by Kai]

Once you’ve considered Apple’s penchant for banning apps that compete with features that are built in to the OS, you’ve got to consider how this compares against other companies’ competitive practices.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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One of the biggest problems with Flash isn’t Flash itself. It’s Flash designers. More particularly, it’s Flash designers’ basic failure to understand why certain UI elements are the way they are. This leads to one of the most common Flash designer diseases: The drive to reinvent basic UI elements. Poorly.

Page Transitions

When a user clicks a link, they’re sending a specific message with a specific intent. That intent is “show me the information I’m interested in”. It’s not “show me a nifty animation effect that takes another 5 seconds out of my busy schedule”.

Users (rightly) consider page transitions to be the space in between what they’re actually interested in. Don’t force them to pay even more attention to them.

Reinventing Scroll Bars

This error is so common, and people screw it up so badly, that I’ve already written an entire post about it. However, I’d be remiss in not listing it here, as well.

Auto-Playing Sound

Speaking of things I’ve written about before… people have been complaining about auto-playing sound since Netscape Navigator first gave us the ability to include such an abomination, way back around 1994. Eleven years later, I listed auto-playing music as a “no-brainer”, in the sense that excluding it from your site should be a no-brainer decision.

Some people will apparently never learn.

Assuming Everyone Has Enormous Bandwidth

Yes, broadband is much more common in the United States now than it used to be. That means that people are less ready to wait a long time for your page to load, not more. And a designer, developer, or other professional who understands how HTML, CSS, and JavaScript work can arrange things so that at least part of the page (or AJAXified web app, or whatever) is usable when only part of the code has arrived at the user’s browser.

If it’s possible to provide the user with something more useful than a “Loading…” indicator before all the code has arrived, then why do Flash developers never actually do so? (This is a real, not rhetorical, questions, and an open invitation for Flash designers and developers to answer it.)

Here’s Why So Many People Disparage Flash “Designers”

For a trifecta of awfulness, check out the site for Alembic, a bar in San Francisco. On my fiber-optic, 6 Mbit connection, it takes nearly 10 seconds just for the site’s intro to load. Then, once the little rocks glass is full of liquor, the page blasts some sound at me — sound that doesn’t even convey any information. (Believe it or not, I already know what a crowded bar sounds like.)

Then there are the slow transitions from sub-page to sub-page. All told, it took me a ridiculous amount of time just to find out what their hours were. But for a true dose of awfulness, try clicking on “Menus”. Then try clicking on one of the other main menu items. The site’s “background” doesn’t even realize that there’s still a “window” open in front of it… even though both the “background” and the “popup” are just visual elements of the same Flash object!

The real kicker comes when you try clicking on one of the menu pages. Rolling over zooms them a bit, but clicking? Launches a PDF document! A separate one for each page! That zoom effect was apparently just a red herring, and trying to get the place’s full menu would require seven separate PDF downloads.

I suppose they could, somehow, have disrespected their users a little more. At least the page doesn’t literally throw a drink in the user’s face. Just figuratively.

Please, if you’re designing your sites in Flash, don’t make them like this. Don’t be the web equivalent of “that guy”.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

Okay, so I’m a little late to the party in posting this. All the professional bloggers have already written about it, while I’ve been busy with my day job. Nonetheless, something that’s been on my mind since the beginning of the week, when it would have been timely:

I think Facebook has now hit its “cap”. People who don’t yet have Facebook accounts now seem to be saying, “I ain’t gettin’ one now!” Others who do have accounts are finally abandoning them. And I’m one of those abandoners.

I have a little bit of interest in the Disapora* Project, but I don’t think it will really take off. On the other hand, in a recent New York Times article about the project, both its staffers and backers have some things to say about just how quickly they managed to raise funding — and all of those things point to a very clear demand for an alternative to Facebook.

Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has lately been saying that privacy is no longer a social norm, but lots of people don’t accept this. In fact, many of us think that Zuckerberg is saying such things in the hope of making them come true, rather than as observations of something that’s already come to pass.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

Think about some of the great Internet memes: (Warning: Most of these links have auto-playing sound.) All Your Base Are Belong to Us. The Viking Kittens, and Longcat (who is looooong). The Badger Badger Badger song. “Don’t tase me, bro!”, “I kiss you!”, and “Leeeeeeeroy… Jenkins!!!” Why do we get “Internet memes”, but not “radio memes” or “printing press memes” or anything else like them?

Let’s try a biological analogy: Imagine you had some microorganism that could only survive in a Petri dish full of agar solution, between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 15 to 25 degrees Celsius). Make it too hot or too cold, and this thing will die. Change its food supply to some other, less plentiful, sugar source, and it can’t continue to reproduce.

Wouldn’t this organism be destined to die out?

In the real world, sure. But it might be able to thrive in a specially engineered, very gentle environment, like a climate-controlled lab.

The Internet is just such an environment, but for data and memes instead of living creatures. It’s an environment designed explicitly to propagate information — with no regard to what kind of information it is.

When we say something is “an Internet meme”, what we really mean is “a meme that’s too unfit to survive anywhere else”. Some memes — like democracy, or the works of Shakespeare, or fashion trends or the latest commercial jingle or catch-phrase — can survive and thrive outside the Internet, but some could never have taken off without the Internet making it easy for them.

They’re like hothouse flowers. Calling something “an Internet meme” is effectively calling it “an idea that could only thrive in the Internet’s no-fail sandbox”. It’s not a compliment to the meme at all.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

Recently, a bunch of the blogs and journals I read (including my friends, not just big, famous sources) have had some bones to pick with Clifford Stoll’s 1995 Newsweek opinion piece, “Why Web Won’t Be Nirvana”. Stoll said: “no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”

A lot of people have been, effectively, pointing and laughing at Stoll’s failed prediction. I’d rather consider it a cautionary tale: The man who was so totally wrong wasn’t just a random pundit who didn’t know what he was talking about. He was Clifford Stoll — author of The Cuckoo’s Egg, a man who had been online for 20 years at a time when most people were just beginning to hear that there was a such thing as the World-Wide Web, and the man who traced German cracker Markus Hess through umpteen layers of insecure computer systems and networks.

In short, the man knew what he was talking about. He wasn’t a Senator Ted Stevens. If he could be so wrong, how much faith can I place in my own predictions about where the Internet’s headed?

But wait, there’s more — how wrong was he?

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

If you’re going to reinvent the wheel, you should at least make sure your new version is somehow better than the previous kind. Reimplementing standard UI and OS widgets is one of the most common ways developers reinvent the wheel these days — it started with Flash developers building their own controls, and has now spread to Adobe AIR and Silverlight.

It might be a welcome trend, if the replacement widgets people were building had more functionality than the OS-native ones that are available for free in any other context. But usually, the widgets I see in these frameworks have less than half the functionality of the things they try to replace. I’m going to pick on scroll bars for now, because I’ve seen them horribly mangled too many times.

To start with one aspect of scroll bars that we often take for granted: Can you guess which of these text boxes contains more text?




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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” This is the same stupid excuse we always hear from people who want to invade everyone’s privacy, and I’m sick of it.

Incidentally, we need a good term for the privacy invaders. Folks like the EFF, EPIC’s Marc Rotenberg, Philip Zimmermann and so on get rightly called “privacy activists”. What should we call the people who make the bogus claim that privacy is a sign of guilt, and is something you should give up to prove your purity?

Funny how those folks never seem to want to give up their own privacy, isn’t it? The “If you’re innocent, then you have nothing to hide” brigade never seem to want their own private lives examined. If only someone could have looked into J. Edgar Hoover’s private life… And Eric Schmidt? When c|net published some public information about his salary, neighborhood, hobbies and political donations — all of which it obtained through Google searches — Schmidt was so incensed, he ordered his entire company to stop speaking to c|net for a year.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

The following is a copy of what I just posted on the Palm Prē forums:

I woke up this morning to find that the webOS 1.2 upgrade had been pushed to my Prē automatically. I was happy, until the reboot finished and I saw:

Signed Out

You are no longer signed in to your Palm Profile on this phone.

If you plan to use this phone again, you can leave the files on your USB drive intact.

If you’re done using this phone, you can erase all your data on the phone and return to its factory default.

[Just Restart]
[Erase All Data]

The [things in brackets] represent buttons.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

A good long while ago, I tried doing an exercise that I was considering making into a standard job interview question: “For each of your ‘languages of choice’, tell me 5 things you like about the language, and 5 things you dislike about it.” My languages of choice at the time were Perl, PHP, and JavaScript, and my answers quickly showed me why this was not the best interview question:

It was far too easy to come up with dislikes, and not so easy to come up with likes. It was a perfect example of the adage that “Every programming language sucks, but some of them suck more.”

That said, the one language that scored more likes than dislikes, for me, was Perl. Here are some of the things I like about Perl:

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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