Monthly Archives: February 2006

Browser vs Website

Am I the only person who uses Alt-D to get to the address bar in Firefox? I suppose I could also use Ctrl-L, or F6, but I’ve settled for Alt-D, probably because it can be easily done with one hand — my left hand — and is close to the bottom of the keyboard, making it easy to find.

Problem is some web sites implement access keys that conflict with this. The default setup for MediaWiki sites uses Alt-D as a shortcut for deleting pages! Thankfully it goes to an Are You Sure confirmation before actually doing it. They seem to have disabled it on Wikipedia, but others still have it.

Likewise, Horde (web mail) uses Alt-B to Blacklist mail senders, conflicting with Firefox’s Bookmarks menu.

Firefox doesn’t appear to have an about:config tweak for turning all such keys off, though altering accessibility.accesskeycausesactivation to False will merely put focus on the link with the access key, not “click” on it.

This article discusses access keys in detail, including listing the requirements for access keys on UK government sites. Alt-5 for FAQ… hmmm.

Binary Output

Last night Owen started experiencing the symptoms of his first cold, which prompts me to talk about communications with babies. Newborn babies have only one output mode: screaming. Communicating with the world is a somewhat limited experience when joy, fear and hunger are all exhibited using the same mode of operation. From observation, crying may mean:

  1. Please feed me.
  2. I need to burp.
  3. I’m cold.
  4. I’m tired, please put me to sleep.
  5. I wish my nappy to be changed.
  6. The { toy | valuable object | fragile object } that I can’t reach – give it to me. Now.
  7. No, not that one, the other one.
  8. I’m bored. Amuse me.
  9. Ow, that really hurts.
  10. Carry me / lift me up.
  11. Holy crap! Don’t let that happen again! Are you listening?

Often, context will allow distiction between these options. It’s like a computer system saying “Something went wrong.” I’ve seen computer systems, particularly embedded ones, behave in a similar way. Often through design. Like, if they give you one red / green LED, then you’ve got green – all is good, red – not so good. You might get away with blinking them, and maybe even combining them to form orange, but there’s only so far you can take that (“Hmm, 600ms blink rate – that must mean that ethernet port two has a receive failure – because a 650ms blink rate would mean RAM failure”). That BIOSes doing their Power On Self Test use the PC speaker to report error codes prior to the video system coming online, I think the maximum number of beeps you’d get out of that was eleven… better pay attention and count them out. And a lot of Common Object Model errors are along the lines of “COM didn’t work because something failed”.

Interestingly, often babies don’t care too much that you understand them. They’ll keep on with the output, secure in the knowledge that you’re doing everything you can to determine what it is that they’re trying to say. And servicing one system fault may merely unmask another – a wet nappy may be followed by the need for a feed.

Screeching may also mean:

  1. This is great fun.
  2. Ha! You found me!
  3. Look at that guy, he’s funny.
  4. Hello, toy. You’re red.

The point being, the obviously inferior nature of binary output means it’s replaced as soon as possible by something else. Talking, outputing to screen, COM+, whatever. Oh, except COM+.

Cathy and I want to increase the output vocabulary of our son by using Baby Sign Language, mainly as a way of avoiding the expected trantrums: apparently, kids can sign much earlier than they can talk – like, children of deaf parents are signing from six weeks of age. Most excellently, I got given a book on the subject for Christmas, and joy-of-joys it was Australian made, so rather than American Sign Language, it was filled with AUSLAN, meaning it will have some use as a language outside on family communication (6500 Aussies – my perceived use rate is higher, because I work on St Kilda Road – home of the Victorian College for the Deaf). I’m seeing some comprehension from him, but I’m yet to see him generate any signs. Having re-read the Wikipedia article on the subject, I’m going to try to sign with Cathy when he can see us. I’ll let you know how this little experiment turns out.

Elevator ‘close’ button

In the building where I’m currently working, I think I’ve found the first “close doors” button on an elevator that actually does something.

I might have come across one other elevator where the close button causes the doors to close. I’ve heard that it’s always put there, but not hooked up to anything – to provide psychological relief while waiting – to give the occupants a sense of control. Is this true, or are the door close alogorithms such that pressing the button normally has no effect?

I am not alone in considering the door close algolrithms. Apparently having a door close button that works is considered a feature by some lift manufacturers.

The User Interface on elevators is highly variable and most questionable.

And another thing: what’s this fascination with refurbishing elevators, with the shiny mirrors, the inlaid wood panelling, halogen downlights and computerised displays featuring today’s weather forecast – but an ongoing inability to tell which floor they’re on, nor operate in a manner that even the occupants of the elevator can tell is an efficient journey-planning mechanism?

Are elevators something that has preoccupied our readers’ attentions? Do they wish to rant?

Maintenance nightmare

Unmaintainable Plumbing - kids, don\'t use silicon sealant to hold plumbing in place
Houses need maintenance, it’s just a fact of life. Things wear out. But programmers are not alone in creating artifacts without thought for the subsequent fixing of the going wrong of things.

Take a look at this tap. This tap is copper, as you can tell by the oxidation. Inside it is a washer that, as a function of how many times it’s been opened and closed, now needs replacing. This is normally a simple matter of turning off the water supply to the house, unscrewing the tap body, popping out the old washer and slipping in a new one. But if the plumber or whomever followed in their footsteps decided to make things more watertight by the liberal application of silicon sealant, you’re in for some fun times digging it all out so as to be able to get a spanner onto the bastard of a thing.

The plumbing all through my spacious bathroom continues in a similar vein.

One of the shower taps can’t be removed with a spanner because it’s too deeply recessed into the wall. So deeply recessed that the tap had to be extended out so that the cover could screw on. But rather than extend the tap out via a pipe extension, the tap was extended out with a thread extension. So, joy of joys, I can’t change the cold water washer.

Part of the house maintenance was to install a Residual Current Device, a saftey switch. This protection extends to the spa bath’s pump, which is how we found out the pump has a leakage problem – switch the pump on, and the whole house is plunged into darkness. Should be a simple matter of locating the pump, determining where the unit has degregated, and replacing it. If, say, it was externally mounted. Which it isn’t. I believe it’s mounted under our bathtub, in the cavity between the tub and the wall. There is no way to access this area, not via a removable panel or anything of the ilk – the whole lot has been tiled in. Which tile should I remove to get to the unit? The left hand side or the right? No one knows. Naturally, there are no spare tiles to replace any that get broken in the search. For all I know, the pump may be under the floorboards, but the bathroom’s just about as far as you can get from the underhouse access trapdoor, and I haven’t gotten up the courage to go looking for it yet. If the pump’s not under there, I hope there is under-floor wiring that will give a hint as to the location of the pump – but I’m not holding my breath.

What home maintenance nightmares have you seen as a function of poor design?

Google vs soft pr0n

Regarding the case of soft pr0n merchant vs Google Images, can someone explain to me why they didn’t just put a robots.txt file in to stop Google picking up their pics, and be done with it?

Or could it be that [gasp] they were after a big payout and/or the publicity?

Does blogging pay?

Charles Wright has made a momentous decision. No, he’s not going to stop writing in plural. He’s closing the Razor blog on The Age/SMH, and asking for subscribers to Bleeding Edge. Some people are taking him up on it. (At least, he’s abandoning Razor. No hint there of him moving on, which seems pretty silly.)

Funnily, Darren Rowse at Problogger has considered this, and from the way he writes about it, has got mixed up by Charles’ writing in plural, and thinks it’s a whole team of people. (“…forms of writing that they could earn money from.“) Some very interesting points made though.

Meanwhile Scoble ponders how to make money off RSS (and blogging in general).

A message from Apple

Apple embeds a poem into MacOS:

Your karma check for today:
There once was a user that whined
his existing OS was so blind
he’d do better to pirate
an OS that ran great
but found his hardware declined.
Please don’t steal Mac OS!
Really, that’s way uncool.
(C) Apple Computer, Inc.

Phones and radiation

Last October the FCC approved a new cordless phone technology in the USA. It’s called DECT… yep, the same DECT those of us in Europe and Australia and elsewhere have been using for about a decade.

As it happens there’s been research floating around that identifies DECT as causing tumours. Is it true? A lot of the information is coming out of the anti-mobile phone tower or anti-powerline movements, which the cynic in me says is just speculation. Likewise, much of the research into radiation from GSM and other mobile phones originates with the phone companies. Vested interests galore.

Even the research from elsewhere seems to be inconclusive, since it’s not an easy thing to detect.

My conclusion is: I don’t know. One could dismiss the risks out of hand, but I always have in mind the stories of my mother as a teenager in the 1960s, getting her foot measured in shoe shops by the use of X-rays. What seems like a useful, safe technology now might seem ludicrously dangerous in decades to come.

So I don’t avoid use of my DECT cordless phone and my GSM mobile phone completely, especially since they’re so damn convenient. But nor do I keep a phone bolted to my head all day. Moderation, as with all things, is the key.

Gosh-darned tabbed browsing

There’s one downside to tabbed browsing: double clicking the Close Tab button (on the right hand side of the tabs) closes two tabs. D’oh!

If you’ve ever fallen into that trap, try undo tab close.

Also, big improvement in Firefox 1.5: dragable tabs.

XP defrag

I’m not overly impressed with the Defrag utility in Windows XP. In my eternal quest to try and speed up my mysteriously slow work machine, I decided to give it a go. Cleaned up a bunch of files first, to give the C: drive 6.5Gb free (out of 29.3Gb). Analyze: said I should defrag. OK, so I left it running over night…

Came in the next morning. The little colour graph showing where files are didn’t look terribly different from how it was left. Still lots and lots of red (fragmented files). It said it couldn’t defrag some files… basically anything over 15Mb.

Defrag

Out of curiousity, I clicked Analyze again. “You should defrag this volume.” What, again? What’s the point?!

I did some more purging and eventually ended up with about 10Gb free. Tried it again. Better, but it still couldn’t/wouldn’t move anything bigger than about 30Mb. Weird.

At least the machine seems to have sped up a tad now.

AUSTRALIA’S FIRST WEB CHICKEN

Walking to the train station from work, saw this big red ad – and I must admit, I think my vision is going – I think it’s degenerated to the point where it’s as good as most people’s. And perhaps I’m slightly dyslexic, but I read the ad as “Australia’s first web chicken”. Perhaps I spent too much time in NZ as a child. In fact, in looking critically at it, and recalling a UI design subject I didn’t do (but damn it, should have, it would have been one of the few subjects I would still be using), humans are crap at reading uppercase letters.
Australia
Ha! So, I’m going to claim it’s not my fault I misread it, and I’m going to do a geekrant about it, because now it’s a geek issue – look, it’s got web on it. And the fun part is, a few months after the ad went up I noticed it, but just as soon as I blog about it they pull it down. So you’re just going to have to take my word for it – the ad was up there. There’s a beer ad now.

What’s with that logo in the bottom-right corner? How does that add to the ad’s message? Why isn’t the VirginBlue in a more prominant location? Why did they change colours midway through the web address, and what’s with that aeroplane tail – are they intentionally making this hard to read? Or perhaps they’re making the name look like a plane – so why haven’t they added wings? And what does “me-time” have to do with the smirking idiot on the left hand side?

If you join the mile-high club after doing a web chicken, is that kinky?