Trashing and other blog sports

The "safety" icons are scary, but the fact that a federal site is not accessible is even more scary.

Take a look at this page featuring lovely chemical warfare infographics. If you try to click on the "next >" choice, nothing happens. A closer look reveals that the link is a javascript link to nowhere. This is a usability and accessibility gaffe.

Just turn the text off. How hard is that?

Update: The javascript link is gone from the "next >" on the last page, but that still begs the question: why even show the "next >" option on the last page? And why is "next" lowercase?

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Friday, February 28, 2003 (Link)

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America's Army: Video Game Propaganda

Critics have often said the (First?) Gulf War was a video game war. Perhaps the notoriously literal-minded military did not realize that was not meant as a compliment. At any rate, America's Army is an officially endorsed video game from the Army. It's a first person shooter with online multiplayer, involving teamwork, more camouflage than you can shake a stick at, and being yelled at by drill sergeants.

Pages of tiny, unresizable text about teamwork, reminiscent of horribly bland, Pollyanna-ish corporate mission statements, greet you as you enter basic training:

"[Basic Training's] purpose is to transform young American volunteers into disciplined, motivated, physically fit Soldiers who believe in teamwork and espouse the Army's seven core values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage."

Here is an non-exhaustive list of issues:

  1. The download is well over 300 Megs. It took 3 tries to get all of it. The first two tries stopped 70KB short of the end. I have a cable modem, but it still annoyed.
  2. Not even counting the 300 Meg download, the install, to put it politely, blew. Why did it install the .NET FrameWork? Why did the reboot of said .NET framework screw up the main install, which I had to re-start? Why did I have to make my own shortcut?
  3. The online registration sucks. Not only is the server slow, I never received my email with the passwords in them, even with two tries. I finally was able to get a forgot password email sent. (Do I really need to say that registration is required? About the Army?)
  4. Why did the game forget that I had completed the marksmanship course—twice? You have to pass basic training to play in the online games.
  5. Speaking of online games, why doesn't the server list exclude servers I don't have a high enough level for?
  6. The game freezes and crashes occasionally.
  7. Most annoying is an obstacle course designed to teach you how to move, in which one a wall/rope climb kept stopping me, and the help did not explain why (it said keep right, I kept right and it still made me start over again.)

I did find a few pluses:

  1. During boot camp, if you shoot the drill sergeant, the weapons handing out guy, or the dude in the tower keeping an eye on the shooting range, you get sent to a nicely stereotypic jail cell, complete with a harmonica echoing in the background.
  2. The aiming features realistic breathing effects, especially noticeable with the scope.
  3. The ability to say, oh, the latest piece of government propaganda? I played it.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Sunday, February 23, 2003 (Link)

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Sandia Mountains and other pictures

All pictures have had only contrast adjusted.

Please click on See entry on its own if you're not seeing pictures.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Monday, February 17, 2003 (Link)

O'keefian cactus and mountain

itty bitty person: big mountain

long and not winding road


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Competence: Overestimating Happens

People, especially Americans, tend to overestimate their own competence, according to social psychologists. (Via Human Nature Daily, whose name overestimates their own publishing frequency.) Ironically, the worse someone actually does, the more likely they are to overestimate their performance.

While we're on the whole subject of incompetence, women tend not to buy excuses for poor performance from men (or women, but the article focuses more on the male-female side, presumably to add war-of-the-sexes drama.)

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Wednesday, February 12, 2003 (Link)

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Usability: Neccesary but not Sufficient

So does usability matter? (Via WebWord)

Commenter Albert D. Kallal makes a good point about Quicken being a useful product that broke new ground. Quicken did something useful: allowing regular people to do accounting without accounting arcana.

However, usability is not the same as effectiveness. A product that is easy to use but does nothing useful is not enough. Nor is usability (or effectiveness) alone enough to make a product successful. Other things must be there: the right price, support, marketing.

Usability types are prone to over-emphasizing the importance of usability: I am no exception. But good usability is hard to notice, and bad usability smacks you between the eyes, so it's not surprising that usability still has a ways to go. I stress usability because it still needs to be stressed: in an ideal world, it would always be an integral part of the process.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Friday, February 7, 2003 (Link)

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Phoenix 0.5: Ready for prime time?

Esoteric disclaimer: This may not make sense if you're not a web geek. It may not even make sense then, depending on how hyper-specialized you are.

Top ten reasons to switch to Phoenix 0.5 as your web browser.

1. Font sizes can be easily changed to be huge enough to read without my contacts, or way down to itty bitty sizes if you're into font masochism. Better than the Accessibility workaround for Internet Explorer.
2. Pop-up ad killer built in to the browser. (This is true of Netscape 6 and Mozilla 1, but watch out for Netscape 7!)
3. Interface reasons. Phoenix has a Google search box. I rarely use the advanced features of the Google toolbar. Also, unlike Mozilla, it has a real home button, not a shriveled one as with Mozilla and a history button on the default toolbar.
4. It runs on Windows and Linux.
5. You can customize like nobody's business. My favorite is turning Flash off. No more eyeblasters. Once in a blue moon, I actually want to run Flash, and so I cut and paste the Address into Internet Explorer. All you have to edit one file:

"This file sets the display rules for web content and is located in the sub-folder called chrome in your profile folder. [...] there is an example file that exists by default, called userContent-example.css. Basically, you can just rename that file by removing the -example part." (Thanks to Phoenix Help for the explanation). Run a search for that file, and once you rename it, add this bit to it:

embed[type="application/x-shockwave-flash"] {
display: none !important;
visibility: hidden !important;

and restart Phoenix.

And you will be surfing much happier. I can use my old Yahoo email in peace, and not get mugged by eyeblasters. Nice payoff for a little work.
6. Shows pages faster than IE.
7. Has Java that works.
8. Faster and less bloated than Mozilla. Not a big issue on my newer computer, but a life-saver before I upgraded.
9. Surprisingly stable on my Windows 2000 computer for a program that's not a 1.0 release. Being based on Mozilla helps.
10. You love lizards, and the Phoenix icon makes you all kinds of happy.

Reasons NOT to switch.

1. The stable downloads are harder to find than the nightly builds on the Phoenix site. This is some iffy usability by the Phoenix folks.
2. The history bar (located on the main bar like it should be) doesn't remember that you want things to be sorted by last visited. A minor annoyance, but one I encounter fairly often.
3. Every once in a blue moon, I get a weird error about XUL on launching Phoenix. It always works the second time.
4. You can't turn the Bookmarks bar below the address bar off. Not a biggie for me, but some people are annoyed by that. I'd be annoyed if it were a third toolbar.
5. There is no install program. You'll need to unzip the files into a directory you make and create your own shortcut. Not a big deal for me, but it may annoy you.
6. You hate lizards, so the Phoenix icon gives you the willies.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Monday, February 3, 2003 (Link)

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