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Saturday, September 15

World's Worst Polluted Places 2007

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The Top Ten (in red) of the Dirty Thirty (in purple) as determined by the Blacksmith Institute.


NB: This was easily done from new 'Link to this page' Google Maps option, but the site didn't suggest it.

Why is the UK press ignoring Bebo?

NMA today:

[UK owned] Bebo has overtaken search giant Google as the most viewed web site in the UK, according to new research [ComScore] out today.

The news comes in the same week that Bebo signed a deal with Yahoo! that will see the internet giant sell advertising for the social network, integrate Yahoo! answers within its platform and develop a Bebo-branded browser toolbar.

Here's Bebo Vs MySpace in UK Google Search traffic Vs. UK Press coverage (Google Trends):

The thin blue line at the bottom is Bebo's UK Press coverage.

One can speculate why this is the case but it's so huge that it's rather an indictmentof UK Press coverage of the Web in general.

"Fat and Dumb"

'Former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska won Best of Show at the Presidential Debate in South Carolina in July.'

Hat tip: the Telegraph.

He calls Americans "Fat and Dumb" amongst a whole lot of other 'home truths'. Great fun watching the others continuing to smile.

Gravel got $100k in the last financial sweepstakes deciding who wins 'Most Powerful Individual in World'.

nb: trying the Candidate Calculator ['Answer the questions below to find the 2008 Presidental candidate that best aligns with your beliefs.'] - Gravel has issues.

I'd be a Kucinich fan (Campaign website, the rather sweet, showing the rather enormous differences in political beliefs across the pond between Yurp and the Yanks.

'Choices' on '' include Assault Weapons Ban and Water Boarding of Captives, alongside Universal Health Care.

Usability myths and professionals discussion

More discussion on Alastair Campbell (no, not that one, the other one) of Nomensa's blog about 'Usability myths and professionals'.

Alastair had responded to comments I made about their advice to government web workers (they're at the end of my original long post).

I think Discount Testing is do-able, Alastair has lots of concerns - I think that sums up one disagreement.

We're also disagreeing about the value or otherwise of guidance and 'myths'.

Here's a couple of things I wrote:

[Discount testing]: We are not disagreeing, what I’m saying is that Usability is a movement, a general aim which everyone has to buy-into — that’s the goal. Out of that comes budgets, attitude-changes and far better customer service.

[Usability professionals should prod government]: The UK - for one thing - is doing well in some areas. We do have a lot of good work. But just like Bebo being ignored over MySpace don’t you think our political leaders are rather letting the side down if they aren’t prepared to engage with industry on something as fundamental as the usability of their products? And stop spinning the failures and talk up the real successes?

Dancing Hitler lives!

I love the tone of this headline from Techmeme:

Greg Sandoval /
FIRST PRINCE, NOW VILLAGE PEOPLE TARGET YOUTUBE — Somebody combined the Village People's hit song, "YMCA," with footage of a dancing Adolf Hitler and posted the clip to YouTube. Now the company that owns the rights to the band's music is preparing to sue YouTube.
I met the Village People in Sydney once. Very bored /boring people ...

YouTube is a platform and the U.S. Constitution (free speech and all that) bars the sort of censorship being called for (particularly by daft UK pollies). Lots of sound and fury signifying nothing (except problems for others, like police deprived of their evidence).

Everywhere around the Google empire people are yelling about a lack of customer service - it's the same here, more people needed to 'take-down' quicker, 'why aren't these rich 'don't be evil' people employing them faster?'. Which is bad news for Google and sounds just like what happened to Microsoft.

But I can't help thinking it won't be long before technology exists to pre-screen soundtracks and auto-bar videos with copyright tracks on them.

Which may suck but then someone will come back with a way to get around that.

I'm sorry but I guffawed when I read this about the dancing Hitler:
Each time the video is pulled, someone else uploads another copy
Now you can't kill either the message or the messenger. Satire sure is powerful ...

Blogs By Googlers

acutely obtuse · Alexander Limi · Beyond Satire · Bikin' my Bloggin' · Bladam 2.0 · Bolinfest Changeblog · Catspaw's Guide to the Inevitably Insane · Chris Sacca's What Is Left? · Christian Pezzin · Confessions of a Digital Packrat · Continuations · Donal Mountain's notes · Dr. Razavi's Good-to-Know-Info · Ego Food · Erica's Joys · · Gayle Laakman · Grokster · iBanjo · It Has Come to My Attention · Joe Beda Eighty · Kimbalina · Kraneland · Lorem Ipsum · Marked for Dearth · Massless · Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google and SEO · Nanaze · Otaku · Ovidiu Predescu's Weblog · P@ Log · · Peter Fleischer: Privacy? · Piaw's Blog · Rahrah feminista · Reza Behforooz · Shellen dot com · · · So Many Games · Sowbug · Stevey's Blog Rants · Technical Revenue · The Other Eighty Percent · Vedana · Whistle Dance .net · Xenomachina · Zovirl Industries

Friday, September 14

AdBlock: "not evil"

nicholas carr
The always interesting blogger, author and commentator Nicholas Carr has a thing about AdBlock - that's a little plug-in or add-on which around 1-2% of users have installed - to the point that he just asked the question

If that sounds OTT that's because it is .

As I explained before, there is no way that AdBlock, the effort of one geek in Germany, not the Russian mafia, is ever going to seriously challenge ecommerce.

AdBlock somehow representing armageddon for ecommerce, if not capitalism in general, is what Nicholas and most others on this subject have been carrying on about.

And here's why they all need a bex and a good lie down:

broadway world with ads

This is the faaaabulous Broadway World website trying to flog me Xanadu tickets, finding it's own way around my AdBlock, which is the red circle in the bottom right of the screengrab.

Haaretz and others get some ads round my default AdBlock set-up as well.

xanadu banner
(Xanadu? Is this some sort of off-beam behavioural targetting? I Haaaate Xanadu, brings back bad memories .. :{ )

bex tabletsSeveral industry commentators have written that AdBlock is evil.

Some are arguing that Firefox users be actively blocked, (which just sparks another add-on arms race).

Carr is right on one thing though, that a paid commentator should see the Web the same way as the poor sods who don't use AdBlock. I won't spoil his post by telling you his answer to 'Jesus's' conundrum ...


Postscript: here's Google getting around AdBlock on JackP's blog:

And a comment made me investigate my filters in AdBlock and - ahah! - there is indeed a 'Dr Evil' involved in this conspiracy against capitalism!
[Adblock Plus 0.7.1]

! Filterliste von Dr. Evil & MonztA (mit Hilfe der Foren-Nutzer auf
! Zuletzt geändert: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 19:06:37 +0200 wird alle 4 Tage aktualisiert (expires after 4 days).
! Kommentare (verbleibende Werbung, fälschlicherweise blockierte Inhalte, Danksagungen ;-), ...)

! bitte per Mail an oder auf an uns richten

I come back to The Pickards after clicking 'add filter' a few times and - voila! - Jack's Ads disappear :{ Even when I disable AdBlock on Jack's site :@ It must be learning !? Only when AdBlock's entirely disabled do Jack's Ads reappear :~


Thursday, September 13

Hail to the chimp!


One other good thing about this new template is that I can pop The Chimp-o-Matic back ... I just looove those Bushisms (doesn't everyone).

Bottom of the sidebar.

Office 2007 apparently crap for blind people

office 2007 box
Just emailed a friend a post by the fabulous Leonie Watson on E-Access Blog.

Leonie's blind and is no fan, no way, of Microsoft Office 2007.

Hates it. Dreads it.

Office 2007 - Interface Design Revolution?

Office 2007. Revolution in usability? Innovation in interface design? Hell no, not if you're a screen reader user at least.

I installed Office 2007 at home recently. Fully ready to embrace the next evolution in interface design, I thought I'd take things easy. A little light emailing, perhaps some gentle word processing. I mean, how difficult could it be? I've been through several different versions of Office, surely a few changes to the interface can't be a problem?

Several hours later, an exhausted supply of curse words and a lifetime's supply of patience behind me, I uninstalled it. Never, I vowed, would it darken my desktop again.

From how Leonie relates the issues - auto-actions like menus 'thinking' and hence changing order - they sound so very obvious that I ended up thinking 'either they never tested Office 2007 with screen readers or they ignored the results'?

Now how does a big corp like Microsoft get away with that?

New blog style musings

Designing/the creative impulse -- I've been tweaking around in the right hand column but, after a while, you reach a point (madness?) of no return and so ...

... I picked a new template entirely ('Snapshot') — Big plunge but hey ho ...

Doing it was a slightly naff experience as Blogger gives you 'preview' but in an unresizable window :/

And it does look different in reality.

Why - Apart from boredom, I became aware that the content width was too wide, twenty or more words across is harder to read. For me.

So this is easier to read but then there's the scrolling ... I think this still might be that bit too narrow, so may change that but my first attempt didnae work and my brain hurts. The actual Snapshot template needed changing as it's quite pink (not moi style).

The sidebar location also 'scans' better, it's less the 'lead' (in).

Also, new content column only just about holds default size YouTube videos but not MySpace ones (had to do a fix to get the Chasers one vaguely right) - but then Rupert M*****h's space is rather GLARING and BIG and LACKING in OPTIONS ...

Plus it's taking me a while to figure out how I've lost bolding in body text (in FF). Ideas?

But a quick squizz around the archives, old posts look OK except the odd table but nothing life threatening.

I think!

All good fun :/

Wednesday, September 12

Google loses it and other musings

I've posted before about removing widgets because the servers serving them were too slow - and holding up other content. Well add to this the widget being reprogrammed with no warning and disappearing.

That's what Google just did with Reader. Changed something so one aspect of the service disappeared, in this case my 'what I'm reading' widget - vanished. Fortunately, I spotted it because someone else did and alerted me, I thought to check whether I could redo it and I could.

Crap customer service from Google - adding to the accumulating bad image they have in that regard - as sending me an email alerting me to it changing is dead, dead simple. Automatable, even.

Because I figure it's a one off (hah!) I did a bit more and withered my feeds and put them through the Reader widget.

Availability is very important! Google Maps is a real alternative to expensive alternatives not just because it's free but also because it's available, it's reliable. MS Live Local isn't, it's slow. Haven't experimented with Yahoo Maps yet but I prefer their interface and they're fast, so there is a Google alternative.

I also removed the Technorati 'tag cloud' widget because it wasn't picking up my tagging — Blogger has 'labels' rather than tags, the cause I believe. You clicked 'environment' and it gave no results. I haven't seen an easy to use 'tag cloud' widget yet (I may now go look, they're the best way to organise content :).

I really dislike how Technorati's changed and I haven't seen much development in areas like widgets with them for a long while (Read/Write Web has more about Technorati's woes).

Blogger does seem some way behind WordPress, which appears to be the cogniscienti choice, having used that elsewhere and seen what else it provides I see why. I just find myself defaulting to Google products because it's easier and quicker and the negatives aren't crucial.

Pegah Emambakhsh released

News today that Pegah Emambakhsh - the Iranian lesbian threatened by my government with deportation to torture and possible death - has been released from Yarls Wood Detention Centre.

The Friends of Pegah Campaign in Sheffield said last night:

The Court of Appeal have also agreed to hear her case. It will be listed within the next couple of weeks and will be heard sometime in the next few months, we believe.

There are also other actions that we know are being taken on her behalf, by influential organisations at a high level in the UK.

We really don't think that we would have got this far without the fantastic work you have put in supporting Pegah. She is truly grateful and gives her heartfelt thanks to you all - as do we. It is impossible to overstate the value of your support.

This does not mean that Pegah is out of the woods but she is now in a much more hopeful position.

As you will understand Pegah needs time to recover from the ordeal of the past few weeks. She also needs to get back in touch with the ordinary business of living her life in some peace and tranquility.
It is very sad but true that if the international gay community and refugee supporters in Sheffield hadn't lobbied and embarrassed embassy officials and roped in foreign politicians that woman would be back in a Tehran jail having electrodes applied to her followed by rape followed by the noose. That's what Britain would have done and it's shameful.

It is worth noting that despite a lot of coverage in the gay and Italian and other international media of the case, only The Guardian - with a single story reporting the storm of support for Pegah in Italy - and the Sheffield local paper has reported about Pegah.

Monday, September 10

Postscript: More birth pangs of government 2.0

man wearing eyetracking goggles
In a long post on his blog titled 'Usability myths and professionals' Alastair Campbell (no, not that one, the other one) of Nomensa has responded to comments I made about their advice to government web workers (they're at the end of my original long post).

Says Andrew:

A recent post by a local authority web officer was fairly frustrating for me, as it perpetuates several myths in usability, as well as calling into question my motives.
That's right. I questioned that every help route seemed to end up back at a professional, aka 'pay-me'! Andrew's response only confirmed this for me! More about the 'myths' follows.

Nomensa were contracted in 2006 by the DCLG (Department for Communities + Local Government), which ran the government portal DirectGov and the centralised LocalDirectgov programme Someone in Whitehall had finally realised that there was no usability advice so - for a while - Nomensa provided CDs, online usability guidance and a helpdesk, which was used but not that much.

Andrew notes that eGov critic, the publication Public Sector Forums, had "almost nothing but good words" to say about their work at the time. But he then thinks because I've posted on their forum that I'm a 'member', so he's surprised that I'm "now taking umbrage". Er, I don't represent PSF, neither do the other hundreds of 'members'. I disagree with them quite often, actually.

For the record, I'm not taking umbrage at the advice in total. Having it was useful, but it was late. Looking at it again now I'm sure it would need changes. It did seem extremely targeted - so not always useful, not obviously - but there were good reasons for that. All of which are now irrelevant because it's been moved, relinked to and parked - not added to or promoted. This appears to be it on usability advice/leadership from Whitehall.

Andrew claims authorship of a quote which I used, actually from the guidance FAQ:
No usability guideline is black and white, and the context and users have to be taken into consideration.
This is what I said about that:
Whoever wrote this has a vested interest, pushing their expertise— are they really saying that someone like Jakob Nielsen doesn’t make basic, apply to all, guidance? That ordinary web workers have nothing to learn from Nielsen or any of the others in my links list? That only filtered and packaged government-approved usability guidance is kosher?
Noting that they did have links in their guidance (after prodding to, from my recollection), Andrew:
No, not where people are involved.
Jakob Nielsen has done much to publicize usability, but you do have to take care when things are simplified too much, or assumed to be sacred. For example, he used to say people wouldn’t scroll (mistake 6), but this isn’t the case anymore (e.g. 22% scroll to the bottom in this sample, and most scrolled to some degree).
jakob nielsen"Much" — I can't think of anyone bar maybe Steve Krug who's done more? "Used to" — exactly, he's changed his advice over the years in some respects. Most recently and most famously on providing the actual (negative) results on banner ads. But on scrolling with a very quick Google I find him saying in 1997:
Scrolling Now Allowed
In early studies, I found that only 10% of Web users would scroll a navigation page to see any links that were not visible in the initial display. The vast majority of users would make their selection from those links they could see without scrolling. In retrospect, I believe this was due to people treating a set of Web options like they would treat a dialog box: You always design dialog boxes so that all choices are visible ...
In 2002:
Users hate scrolling left to right. Vertical scrolling seems to be okay, maybe because it's much more common.
It's obvious that scrolling behaviour has changed. Driven, I think, largely by Google. Obviously Jakob's advice has changed as he's observed changing behaviour.

What I think Jakob does especially well, particularly when he's being an evangelist, is remind people that for many if not most users, the Web is hard. Lots and lots of users do fail tasks all the time. i.e. not everybody scrolls. Loudly saying this, reminding web people, makes him a curmudgeon for many (you fellow professionals have your own issues with him I guess).
In any case you are dealing with percentages, statistics, and optimising. Not clear guidelines that work for all, which is what I was trying to suggest.
What about heuristics?! I know from fieldwork that starting from basic heuristic points works with giving people basic rules. 'Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors' is guidance that's always there, or should be.
Any usability finding has to be in the context of who, when and what. It’s actually in the definition of usability (emphasis mine):
the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
Of course, but that's not what Discount Methods are about. They are about a way that you can spot woods from trees in a very particular context.

us census website snapshot red textNielsen just posted about how they'd spent gawd knows how much testing a US Census website. They wanted people to find the US Population number. Despite it staring them in the face on the homepage, simply because it was in red, no one saw it. Literally no one.

Do you not think a quick whizz round the vicinity of the US Census HQ using discount methods might have saved them some money for the same result?

I had a very similar experience recently with a website, actually with an element - a very important element - in that very position. If we hadn't discount tested, we might have missed it.

Discount testing does its straightforward job. A very important job that is transformative in a way that just following guidance can't match. That's all.

Many sites would benefit from quick internal usability testing at various stages of the process, that is only to be encouraged. But you do run the risk of finding out what you want to hear, or using the wrong tool for the job. Again, it depends. If people are asking for general guidelines to use, it’s a good indicator that help is needed with the methodology.
And that's a bad thing? The only way to try to avoid "finding out what you want to hear, or using the wrong tool for the job" is by following some advice on how to do it and to externally test it. If you're after woods/trees and not trying to do much more. You seem to suggest that finding common errors either isn't consistently possible or is bound to be heavily discounted by bad methods. How do you know this?

What I would say is that personality and things like experience of dealing with the public for testers are key areas to nail down in such advice. I'm reluctant to provide scripts but I can see how that would help.

This is an area from my experience that needs work. particularly because there's one huge benefit from discount testing - meeting the general public, the customers. (And another - answering internal forces, such as those who propose unusable web elements.)

In a presentation I gave last year I have a section about when you need a professional (I suggest, for one, at the very beginning of the process. The real aim should be that any final testing confirms and adds minor tweaks. Unfortunately, as you'd know, this is when many people start).

woods/treesFact is, only the biggest, wealthiest websites can afford much use of professionals. So people need to know when they need them, what to prioritise. They need methods to test, not just run against guidance, for all the rest of the time, when there isn't a budget for professionals (or when they've devoted a chunk to accessibility).

Simply spotting woods from trees would do everyone enormous good and - as you agree - should be encouraged. But how? You're not doing it, are you? Who is apart from Jakob? You do appear at least to have a vested interest in not doing this.
Anyone can claim to be a usability expert, just like anyone can set up a web site. But like web development, there is a need for professionals.
I don't claim to be a usability expert, never have. But you come across that your advice is that you always need professionals. That any ideas you - lowly web worker, developer, whatever - might have about usability are ridiculous, naff, prone to error and - well - just forget it. And that's - natch - disempowering, doesn't advance the cause of usability and ultimately doesn't benefit customers.

So. to be positive, why don't you write discount testing advice (there was none in the LocalDirectgov work)? Plus better advice on when you need a professional and what you can do yourself? You are the expert after all.

Sunday, September 9

The Chaser's War On APEC

According to the BBC, Over The Top security such as enormous 'Secure zones' for the APEC conference have left a "bitter taste in Sydney", which I can well believe.

Hence the security's easy breaching by a bunch of Aussie comedians, one dressed as Osama Bin Laden, have made them folk heroes.

Despite a crackdown estimated to have cost as much as A$250 million - more than for the whole Olympics - the team from ABC TV Comedy show Chaser's War On Everything were able to make it within 10m of the InterContinental Hotel where George W Bush was staying.

The skit had been approved by ABC lawyers but was written in the assumption they would be stopped at the checkpoint on the corner of Bent and Macquarie streets (in the centre of Sydney's CBD).

Instead they were waved through the first checkpoint on Macquarie St and then a second which had sniffer dogs. They eventually stopped themselves at Bridge St.

The video, posted on their Myspace page (Male, 88yo, Sydney), shows their fake Canadian motorcade being waved through police checkpoints on the edges of the APEC security zone in central Sydney.

It also shows a police officer taking two polaroid photos of the crew on the scene after they were detained.

Here's Channel Nine's coverage:

The fake motorcade had been staged as part of an APEC-stunt week, which included using fake 'APEC Security' badges and stopping random members of the public and frisking them - everyone complies.

The following day the serial pranksters were at it again, with three members of the team marching a black cardboard motorcade with Canadian flags down Bligh St in the city, just a block away from where police mistakenly waved through their first mock motorcade.

William Gibson: Humanity's curatorial moment

Washington Post interview with William Gibson, inventor of 'cyberspace'. The author's new book, "Spook Country," is set in a shadowy, uncertain 2006 -- a time, he suggests, as strange as the future he created in his bestseller "Neuromancer."

"One of the things I've been doing in the eBay era -- I've become a really keen observer of the rationalization of the world's attic. Every class of human artifact is being sorted and rationalized by this economically driven machine that constantly turns it over and brings it to a higher level of searchability. . . . The tentacles of that operation extend into every flea market and thrift shop and basement and attic in the world. . . .

"Every hair is being numbered -- eBay has every grain of sand. EBay is serving this very, very powerful function which nobody ever intended for it. EBay in the hands of humanity is sorting every last Dick Tracy wrist radio cereal premium sticker that ever existed. It's like some sort of vast unconscious curatorial movement.

"Every toy I had as a child that haunted me, I've been able to see on eBay. The soft squeezy rubber frog with red shorts that made 'eek eek' noise until that part fell out. I found Froggy after some effort on eBay, and I found out that Froggy was made in 1948 and where he was made and what he was made of. I saw his box, which I'd long forgotten. I didn't have to buy Froggy, but I saved the jpegs. So I've got Froggy in my computer.

"This is new. People in really small towns can become world-class connoisseurs of something via eBay and Google. This didn't used to be possible. If you are sufficiently obsessive and diligent, you can be a little kid in some town in the backwoods of Tennessee and the world's premier info-monster about some tiny obscure area of stuff. That used to require a city. It no longer does."

Don Tapscott on Newsnight

: BBC have added the report/interview to Newsnight video highlights.


Unambiguously positive lead in by Paul Mason on Newsnight to an interview with Don Tapscott about Wikinomics. What a great communicator:

We talk to the author of a new book called 'Wikinomics' who says we've barely begun to see how the internet will effect the way we live and work. Social networking is passé and will be replaced by collaboration in which individuals will be given the opportunity to become the professionals - leading to greater innovation and changing the way business and scientific problems can be solved. Is this a cheap way for businesses to carry out research or are we entering a new era in which the power of the consumer is on a more equal footing with big business?

  • Newsnight blog with extract and comment