7 March, 2003: Thank god it's Friday

[ Home page | Web log ]

Ranting must be catching. Since I don't believe in web-based comments systems James has taken the sensible step of posting his responses to yet-another web log. Heh. I love the New Reality(TM).

Naturally he disagrees with me about Starbucks coffee. But that's alright. He lives in London, which makes him a cutting-edge urban sophisticate by comparison with my own fenland unurbaneness. And it's true, there are decent nonStarbucks coffee shops in London. Some of them are even non-smoking.

And I always thought he was such a nice person, not the sort who would indulge in an intemperate rant such as

In the true spirit of BIMBO, I would just like to say that these people are all morons who shouldn't be let near a computer, and that if they don't like what the moderators write, they are perfectly free

I don't, in fact, agree about his Starbucks/cookies comments. HTTP cookies are, broadly, a Good Thing, precisely because they allow you to use nonvarying URLs. What sucks about the Starbucks site is--

  1. It doesn't degrade gracefully: if the client doesn't accept your cookie, Just Work without it until such time as you actually need a cookie to work sensibly, for instance when the customer is about to buy something.

    Don't jump through hoops to annoy the user who doesn't accept cookies.

  2. What is this stuff about Microsoft .NET passport? Another bit of the email which I didn't quote earlier reads:

    Please note that while cookies are required to view Starbucks.com, a Microsoft(r) .NET Passport is not required.

    -- which flatly contradicts their error message. Now, almost nobody writes good error messages, but this is really exploring new depths of awfulness. And if Starbucks are tied into .NET Passport, we should probably wonder why....

There's a wider point here, which probably ties into my whole `philosophy' of web design. Every time some moronic web chimp makes a `design decision', like choosing a physical pixel font size, colour scheme, or intrusive user-tracking `technology', they are saying, essentially, ``I don't care about a certain class of customer: they can just piss off'':

What Who
small fonts short-sighted people
poor colour scheme the colour blind
intrusive user-tracking scheme the privacy concerned, or those behind fascist corporate firewalls
tedious plugins users with slow computers or nonstandard software

Now, none of those individual groups is very large. But can you really imagine a planning meeting where the web chimp says to his client,

``Let's have a great web site which will lock out short-sighted people! It'll be fantastic, and we can have fonts this [gesticulates with suitable bodily part] small!''

...? You wouldn't get away with that if you were designing a building, I can tell you. My guess -- I haven't gone so far as doing any research on this -- is that once you've locked out a significant number of those groups, you'll have diminished your potential audience substantially.

But that probably doesn't matter. In these lean days for the web `industry', my suspicion is that what most web sites are selling is not the products and services of their ostensible operators, but the skills of their designers; and these skills are not being advertised to the customers of, say, Starbucks, but to other potential web chimp clients. Sod the actual customers, they're not going to buy coffee over the web anyway.

On a slight tangent

Now, there are new web standards which, I am reliably informed by a collection of ranting USENET persons, will solve all these problems by allowing the user to choose how they see the page. So I can turn off the colours, use the fonts I like in sizes which I can conveniently read, discard the images which are filler and keep those that show something, and so forth. A panorama of healthsome web-related goodness opens up in front of me, looking a lot like the broad sunlit uplands of a better world.

There's only one problem with this vision.

It's bollocks.

There is no browser which allows me to do this in a convenient way. Yes, I known, I can bugger about in Mozilla's innards for hours on end to install a user style-sheet but this (a) doesn't work very well, and is (b) hardly very convenient. This could be so much better, but nobody developing browsers seems to be interested. Sob.

And, moving on to other, uh, considered comments of mine

As for design patterns (payment required -- so much for the sharing spirit of the internet), well, I'll tell you some more when I've finished the book. James's points are fair, I guess, and since I'm out of the professional software development game I'll let what he says stand without any snide comments from me. Yet.

Proseletysing, one clue at a time

Well, nearly. I wrote a press release, and NTK picked it up. Expect to see a bit more activity from CDR in the near future.

And finally

I seem to have been using wikii (suggested plural...) a lot recently. Nice idea, poor user interface. I want one which can attach schedule data to items, so that I can use it as a diary, notebook and all that jazz.

Taken from an email:

I had cause to look at an Apple iBook (or should that be ``... at Apple iBook''?) yesterday. It looked like a well-made machine and at that time I was vaguely considering at some point in the future buying one. However, it's quite obvious that Apple haven't succeeded in squishing the hopeless bittyboxness of the machines.

We were trying to make the machine play nicely with a wireless network. Doing so caused it to pop up a little dialog box which featured:

  1. a small, brightly-coloured picture depicting a telephone being crushed by a copy of the Yellow Pages;
  2. the message ``An error occurred whilst connecting to the wireless network.''

So, I think, these things are real computers now, right? What's in the system log?

... the answer? Nothing. Clearly Apple have succeeded in combining the worst features of the Macintosh with the worst features of old-style UNIX.

That said, I may buy one anyway. They do look nicely made and presumably one doesn't have to spend too much time pissing about with configuration just to make the thing work. Of course, it does only have one-third as many mouse buttons as it should....

Why does technology suck so much? I hear that the extra-expensive titanium-cased bittyboxes are quite useless, because their wireless LAN cards are... encased in a titanium Faraday cage. Fantastic!

Copyright (c) 2003 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.