Jan 13, 2017

Hey! Web Designers, WHY DO YOU HATE ME???

Ok, I've had it. You may have noticed that I have not been posting much the last few months. There are several reasons for that... But, one is that it is actually physically painful for me to use Google any more. It isn't just Google... it is also Wells Fargo and just about all other web sites that have gone through a recent redesign.

You see (probably better than I do), I have several vision problems. One is just called old age, everyone gets cataracts. Everyone. Well,  everyone who lives long enough. Mild cataracts make things just a little blurry. I have mild cataracts. My opthamologist says I will need cataract surgery in 15 or 20 years. That is some time my mid '80s.

The trouble is that even now I have trouble seeing the tiny fonts that people use on modern web sites. They are just indistinct blobs. My vision in the one eye that works is 20/10. I can see just fine. But, I can't read the text on many web sites. To try to fix the problem I have a 32 inch monitor, I have set my desk top to scale everything up by 25%, I have Chrome set by default to magnify everything on the web by another 25%. So... by default I have to scale up the web by 56%. But, since Google uses such tiny tiny fonts I have to scale up by 50%. That means that to see the fonts on Google I have to scale every thing up by 86%.

Yeah, look at that again. I have a 32 inch HD screen with everything on it scaled up by 1.25 and then in the web browser everything is scaled up by between 1.25  and 1.5 larger than that.

Just. So. I. Can. See. The. Text.

Now that isn't half the problem. That isn't even the worst part of the problem. Even after all of that I often can not even find the text. What? Why not? The big new thing in web design is to use  soft grey, or soft blue grey text on a bright white background.

The bright white background causes me so much eye pain that I have to have the brightness on my monitor turned down to 20% of normal. Put soft grey or blue grey text on a bright white screen, turn the brightness down to 20% and see if you can find it. I can not.

Google is by far the worst offender that I deal with. Wells Fargo, which up until recently was my bank.... Is the second worst. I say second worst because Wells Fargo actually responds to complaints from old farts. I have had several nice conversations with people at Wells Fargo who have the job of keeping the company from facing huge class action law suits. They were not happy to find out that their new site is in violation of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). They are also facing charges of age discrimination over their new site. They are losing customers over their new site. Wells Fargo cares.

Google does not care. They do NOT reply to complaints. They do not make changes to make their sites more usable. It is hard to believe they have ever heard of the ADA and if they have they do not care about it. I'm really starting to hate Google. They used to be one of my favorite companies. Not any more.

To Google a customer is just a statistical abstraction. They do not have to deal with customers face to face. Wells Fargo does have to deal with individual human beings all day, every day. They have to care about the individual human beings who walk in and scream at them.

I wish I could say this is a problem of just a few bad companies. But, it isn't. Web design follows fads. There is almost 0(zero) innovation in web design. One designer does something slightly new and every one copies it. Right now the fad is sites designed for the 16 year old eye. The designers do not care about accessibility, they are not taught about it in school (if they went to school). It is not talked about in books, if they read books. But worse, the CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CTOs of the companies that hire web designers do not care about accessibility. Expect a LOT of very large class actions law suits to hit the Internet very soon.

Oh, I should mention some good sites. If you want to see a site that is designed to be accessible take a look at Amazon.com, take a look at NewEgg.com. Well designed, highly usable sites. I can spend as long as I want on those sites and I get no eye pain. Sure tells you where I spend my money.

I'll finish up with my favorite memory of talking to the very nice and highly professional lady from Wells Fargo:

Her: Our designers are surprised that people have so much trouble seeing the site. They say none of them have any trouble seeing it.

Me: Ahhh... Designers tend to have exceptional color and detail perception, otherwise they would not be designers. Anyway... if they had trouble with the site they would not have designed it that way.

Her: Oh....

Me: How old are the designers? Are any of them over 30?

Her: I don't know.... I don't think so.

Me: How much focus group testing did you do before you rolled out the new site?

I wound up teaching her about user interface focus group testing. I also sent her a list of ADA documents covering requirements for accessible web site design.

I guess I should not take it personally. The people I have come to hate do not care about me or anyone like me. They will not care until they wind up paying billions to settle the suits that I am sure are coming. This is an area where some smart lawyers can get very very rich in a short time. More power to 'em.


May 19, 2016

George Washington on Religion in the USA

With all the crap going on in the USA right now over "Religion" I thought that a few people might be interested in what George Washington, commonly known as the father of our country, had to say about what religion means in the US.

In the summer of 1790 Washington made a visit to the Jewish congregation of New Port, New Jersey. Later they sent him a letter thanking him for his visit and asking just how safe it would be for Jews to live in the new country. You might understand that they have a reason to be worried about their safety. Every member of every minority religion in the US had and has a reason to worry about their safety. Just like Muslims do now.

Washington gave his reply in a letter that should be taught in every school in the US. I actually did learn about it in school, from a Jewish teacher.

George Washington replied with an eloquent letter stating his position on the subject. I include the full text here, the highlighting is my own.
Gentlemen:
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens. 
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. 
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people. 
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. 
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. 
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity. 
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. 
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy. 
G. Washington
 It is important that when you read this that you understand what "tolerance" meant at the time. It is not what we think of now. In places with a state religion, such as England in the 1700s, all citizens were required to be members of that state religion. No other religions were tolerated. That is, no other religion was allowed. There were criminal penalties for being a member of another religion. Some countries had toleration laws. That means that other religions were allowed, but usually some rights were lost or members of tolerated religions paid a tax to the state religion even though they were not members of that religion. Only in the USA did people have the natural right to believe any damn thing they want and to practice their religion as they see fit so long as it does not infringe on other peoples natural right to do the same thing. A natural right is one you are born with, no one gave it to you, and no one can take it away.

When our political leaders call for religious discrimination, when they call for imposing their religious beliefs on other people, they are saying that George Washington was a liar. They are calling our entire revolution a lie. They are saying that the United States is a lie. They are saying that everyone who has died for our natural rights since long before July 4, 1776 died for a lie. They are saying that they died for nothing.

What I see happening in the USA right now brings me to tears. I am so frustrated by this crap. I really can't think of anything else to say. I guess I'll end by saying that hatred is not supposed to be an American value.

Mar 23, 2016

Crispus Attucks


On March 5, 1770 British troops shot down 5 British subjects at Boston Commons. This incident became known as the Boston Massacre. Many consider that event to be the start of the American Revolution. Crispus Attucks is widely believed to be the first person to die during the Boston Massacre. The first person to die in the American Revolution.

Funny thing, I learned about the Massacre in grade school. I first heard about it when I was younger than that. I didn't learn about Mr. Attucks until I was in my '50s. You would think that such an important person would have been mentioned during one of the many American history classes I have taken. The American Revolution is important to Americans. We tend to make heroes out of people who died at important events in our history.

But, you see, Mr. Attucks was not white. He seems to have been of both Native American and African decent. Two strikes against him right there for the white bigots who scrubbed him out of the text books used in the schools I attended. 

Turns out there is a monument to the men killed at Boston Commons. Mr. Attucks is the man lying on the ground. If you are an American, and even if you just want to understand something about America, read about Mr. Attucks and think about why I didn't even hear of him during the my first 50 years as an American? 

Americans are being gunned down in the streets of America just for being black. Mr. Attucks was killed for being an American, not for being black. Every black man gunned down in the US dies as an American. Even if he is shot for the color of his skin.



Mar 8, 2016

The Self Winding Smart Phone

Today I was asked by one of my many doctors offices for my cell phone number. I explained that my cell phone spends half of its life in my pocket with a dead battery and the other half of its life on a charger at home many miles from where I am. I further explained that I liked my phone better dead in my pocket because I keep a charger in my car so I can make calls whenever I want even though I can't receive calls. They gave up on the idea of getting my cell phone number.

Gee, wouldn't it be nice to have a self winding cell phone?

If you are a old enough you will remember a kind of primitive personal clock that was usually worn on the wrist or sometimes carried in a pocket. These personal clocks had "hands" and made a funny tick, tick, tick noise. These personal clocks were called "watches" (not to be confused with the iWatch). Believe it or not they could not take videos or access the web. Their only use was to keep track of the current time.  These devices are so primitive that their use predates the invention of the steam engine. These primitive time keepers were replaced by the dumb cell phone and forgotten years before the advent of the smart phone.

These ancient personal clocks were, believe it or not, powered by kinetic energy derived from tension in a spring. To keep the watch working properly you had to recharge it daily by taking a few seconds to "wind" the spring using a knob on the side of the device.

People didn't like having to wind a watch any more than we like spending time charging cell phones. (Though I do have to wonder how many friendships and even romances have resulted from people clustering around public charging stations. Winding a watch was never a social occasion and was rarely done in public.)

Some early gear tech genius came up with a method to collect kinetic energy from arm motions and store it in the spring. This feature was called "self winding" and it kept your watch from stopping when it ran out of stored kinetic energy. A good self winding watch could run for years without ever running down!

It turns out that several individuals and groups have developed methods for adapting self winding gear tech for use with modern smart phones. They use the same type of kinetic energy trap and use it to charge a battery rather than adding tension to a spring. These systems have been developed and tested and they work.

So... why the hell can't I buy a self winding cell phone?