Archive for January 2006

Internet Users Aren’t Idiots

Published on January 30, 2006

In these days of modern web design, it shocks me to see professional websites still using design techniques from the 1990s. One notable example is the use of text like “click here” to create a hyperlink. As the title of this post suggests, your site’s users are not complete morons. We all learned about hyperlinks in the 1990s, so the helpful instruction that you are trying to provide your users is simply redundant (we already know where or where not to click).

For example, take this eWeek article on Google’s Big Daddy overhaul. There are two places in the article where the aforementioned error occurs. Both instances, interestingly enough, are the only underlined links in the entire article. This fact points out one area where this “error” as I’ve called it is actually acceptable (although the underlying problem is one that is still frowned upon).

Many websites style their hyperlinks as regular text; that is, the links don’t appear underlined. There are two methods that such sites employ to help users identify these plain text links: either the link is rendered using a different color, or the link is rendered with a bold font weight. Both ways, I would argue, are inaccessible. That argument aside, however, the text “click here” can actually become useful for color blind or low vision users. It provides some sort of clue as to where the user should click to proceed.

I offer you then two suggestions for your own website. First, style your links using something that’s plainly obvious to see (underlines work great). And second, don’t feel the need to use “click here” as the text for a hyperlink. If your links are styled correctly, you shouldn’t need such redundancy.

The Downfall of Google

Published on January 27, 2006

Can Google be losing it? Not only have they signed a deal with the devil (by buying a stake in AOL), but now their folding under pressure to China. What happened to Do No Evil? Apparently that mantra has been thrown out the window.

Agreeing to censor search results is cowardice; there’s no other way to put it. Excuses like “well, it’s the law in China” or “it’s all about the money we’re making” are weak. You aren’t a Chinese company (hence you don’t need to bow to their laws) and there’s plenty of money to be made in all of the other countries of the world.

I once had a great faith in Google. I was certain that they would be the ones to bring down Microsoft. And they still may. But the course they’re on now appears to be leading towards bad things. Now that Google has fallen, who’s left to look up to?

The Center of the Earth

Published on January 23, 2006

Not too long ago, I purchased Rick Wakeman’s phenomenal album Journey to the Centre of the Earth. And it has spurred within me an interest to re-read the masterpiece by Jules Verne. It has been quite some time since I read a novel (I believe the seven Chronicles of Narnia books were the last ones I read), and I feel it’s about time to pick up another one. I’ve always been a fan of Jules Verne works, and A Journey to the Center of the Earth is particularly excellent.

I’m slowly making my way through The Mythical Man Month, and so far it has been most excellent. The points that Dr. Brooks makes throughout the book are incredibly insightful. How sad that practically no one makes use of the suggestions he puts forth!

Does anyone have suggestions for books worth reading? Feel free to let me know what you like.

Adblock Plus 0.6

Published on January 19, 2006

A new, major release of Adblock Plus was made available recently. It appears that development of this extension has changed hands (yet again), and that the extension is undergoing a major rewrite. Version 0.6 is incredibly fast and responsive, and the new user interface is light years better than any previous implementation.

What I dislike is the apparent change of the extension GUID. When I installed 0.6, it did not install on top of my existing version. Instead, it showed up as another extension. However, it conveniently alerted me that an old version of Adblock was installed and, after asking me, automatically removed the old release. Awesome!

Amazon Prime

Published on January 16, 2006

Since its inception, the Amazon Prime service has been quite intriguing to me. My disdain for actual store shopping has only grown in recent years: I dislike standing in line to check out of a store, said establishment never has what I want, and if they do have it, the price is far more than it should be. So online shopping provides me a means of escaping these hassles.

While browsing Amazon recently, I noticed that I had been selected for a free 3-month trial of their Prime service (though I suspect that this “selection” process applies to nearly everyone who visits the Amazon website). So I eagerly signed up and purchased a few items that I had my eye on. Wow! Two-day shipping has never been better. I can get what I want, when I want, and have it shipped to me in two days for no charge (no shipping charge that is … they aren’t giving away merchandise). And I can do it from the comfort of my own home. How great is that?

This convenience has prompted me to do more business with Amazon, fulfilling the company’s precise goal (“give them free, two-day shipping for $79 a year, and they’ll do more business with us”). Amazon often has the lowest prices around, and they stock nearly everything. Finding that rare CD I’ve been wanting is now a pleasure, rather than a burden. Too many times I have been disappointed with Best Buy, Target, et al. in regards to their music and movie selections. I guess my tastes aren’t “mainstream” enough. Oh well … I guess it’s too bad for them. My new shopping outlet is Amazon.com; and I couldn’t be happier.

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Software Updates

Published on January 15, 2006

Due to increasing activity at work, I have only just now updated Thunderbird to the latest release, version 1.5. There’s a laundry list of new items in this release, so be sure to update your copy if you happen to use Thunderbird as your mail client. And if you don’t use it, what are you waiting for?

In other software update news, I understand that version 2.0.1 of WordPress is coming along, as I predicted it might. I’ve put off upgrading this blog to version 2.0 for the simple reason that major version changes usually have a number of uncaught bugs. And that’s something I’d rather not deal with at the moment. I do hope to upgrade before too much longer. The changes offered are quite enticing.

My CoLT extension for Firefox just got accepted over at addons.mozzila.org, so perhaps it will get a little more exposure as a result. I’d like to add a few more features to the tool; perhaps I can do that in the near future.

DreamHost Goes Nuts!

Published on January 11, 2006

My web host, DreamHost, has apparently gone nuts. They recently quadrupled my disk space, and octupled my bandwidth … all free of charge! I now have over 21 GB of disk space available (growing monthly) and over 1061 GB (yes … gigabytes) of bandwidth. Is that totally insane, or what? And this is all in addition to an unlimited number of MySQL databases, 600 email accounts, unlimited domains hosted, and more! All for as little as $7.95 a month.

My one year anniversary with DreamHost passed last month (December 24) and to celebrate, I’m offering a new discount code for folks who’d like to sign up with any DreamHost hosting plan. When you sign up with DreamHost, simply use the discount code borngeektwo to save money. This discount code will save you $65.00 on any plan you choose, excepting the monthly L1, monthly L2, and monthly L3 plans (on which you will save $35, $45, and $55 respectively). I can only say good things about DreamHost (as I mentioned once before). As such, it’s my pleasure to share this discount with you. Just make sure you use the discount code borngeektwo when you sign up!

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eBay Dealings

Published on January 8, 2006

I just recently obtained my 100th feedback rating at eBay, entitling me to the turquoise star! The next star color change won’t happen until my 500th positive feedback rating, and that will likely be a long time from now; especially seeing as I registered in 1999 and have now only hit 100.

Surprisingly, I’ve only recently had my first truly negative experience on eBay. I listed an old hard drive in early December and a person with no feedback won the auction. But I have still not received payment! I plan on placing the drive up for auction again tomorrow night, and will leave the user negative feedback. I’m thinking about adding a requirement that users with less than 10 positive feedback ratings must use PayPal as the payment method. This would prevent situations like I’m in now (where the person wanted to pay via a money order).

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Excellent Article on JavaSchools

Published on January 5, 2006

My dad pointed me to an excellent article entitled The Perils of JavaSchools. Although it’s a little lengthy, the article is an incredibly worthwhile read on why schools that teach Java as the primary programming language are, to some degree, dumbing down the future generation of computer programmers. My alma mater took this route, but I was fortunate enough to be in the class before this change was made. I picked up C++ first: both on my own (by learning Visual C++ and MFC) and in school (my first programming courses were all taught using C++). After learning the intracacies of C++, learning Java was incredibly simple (almost too simple, in fact). I believe I passed my “Java for C Programmers” course with an A+; a feat that required very little effort on my part.

Once one knows about pointers, objects in Java become rediculously easy to discuss. As does the entire programming language itself. Java is a fine programming language (it fixes a lot of the brokenness in C++), but to know C++ is to feel enabled. I can wield the mighty sword of pointers and memory management; something that many Java programmers do not, and quite possible can not, ever do. I’m not saying that Java programmers cannot become successful C++ programmers; I’m simply making the point that there are more Java programmers who cannot pick up C++ than there are C++ programmers who cannot pick up Java.

Again, I highly recommend the article. The author also has an incredibly enticing reading list, which he uses to train managers in his company. There are a number of books there that look really great. I hope to begin reading The Mythical Man Month, the masterpiece written by Fred Brooks. It’s one that I’ve been meaning to read for a long, long time.

Web Developer 1.0

Published on January 3, 2006

One of the greatest Firefox extensions of all time, Web Developer, has recently released version 1.0! We’re talking good times people. Just check out this change log. The number of updates is incredible. A definite must have for any web developer.

Back to the Grind

Published on January 2, 2006

Tomorrow I head back to work after an incredibly pleasant Christmas break. The only programming I did over the entire break was work related, and only a small amount at that. Not writing code allowed me to do all kinds of things I’ve been meaning to do, and it really let my brain take a breather. Now that I’ll be getting back into a more normal routine, perhaps I can make some headway at Born Geek.

New Year’s Fun

Published on January 1, 2006

One of the benefits of living in the country is the ability one has to burn yard waste (doing so in the land of cul-de-sacs not only provokes complaints from the neighbors; it’s against the law in many places). I have always enjoyed having a fire outside, and now that my family lives out in the country, we can do just that. My father and I recently built a pit out in our back yard, using some decorative bricks we brought over from our previous house. And today we got a chance to have our very first fire! We had a significant pile of sticks (and even some giant logs) that had collected in our front yard, and today we got rid of the entire pile. Not to mention the thousands of leaves we cleaned up. Excitingly enough, there’s still a ton of stuff lying around for us to have another fire (or three). But we thoroughly enjoyed our time today, taking part in a simple country pleasure.

In a completely unrelated topic, I completed Chaos Theory this evening. The game is excellent and I plan to play through it again, this time using a little more care in each mission. Upon completing the game, I was instantly shown the credits (no end movie). Thinking this strange, I took a look at some stuff on the web that indicated that and ending movie was indeed supposed to play. It turns out that I accidentally pressed the mouse button the instant the movie started playing, skipping through the movie to the end. Games should be smarter than that. Cut-scenes should have a short delay before the player can skip by them, preventing accidental clicks or key presses from skipping over the content. One or two seconds should suffice. Regardless, I really enjoyed the game and I highly recommend it to any Splinter Cell (or stealth based game) fans.

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