Archive for the 'Rants complaints' Category

Startup Britain!

We live in economically uncertain times. The Keynsian nonsense of the State ensuring crade-to-the-grave social care for its citizens, providing and maintaining an infrastructure so the country can function, and other socialist claptrap is discredited.

The way to economic prosperity is for entrepreneurs – like you! – to start up businesses, make a fortune and trickle down all over everyone else.

Fortunately, for the self-starter – like you! -who can’t be arsed to get up and do some research, there is a new website startupbritain.org to help you on your path. Like the cartoon God in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, David Cameron’s disembodied head gazes down at you from his celestial home, squinting inspiration at you. And as if that were not energising enough, there’s a picture of Richard Branson doing his best double-thumbs-up orgasm face.

This fabulous resource is

Designed to celebrate, inspire and accelerate enterprise in the UK, it has the full backing of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and HM Government. This is a response from the private sector to the Government’s call for an ‘enterprise-led’ recovery. We believe that many of the important functions and services necessary to foster and champion new enterprise can be open-sourced, instead of provided by government directly.

Hopefully you are by now inspired and accelerated?

There are, sadly, defeatists who cling to the old politics of envy and deface such rallying cries:

trickle-down economics? Head in the bloody clouds

Kettle them all. They’ll be moaning about the Royal Wedding next.

Snakeoil, local government, accessibility and HTML5

As we’ve seen from the £585 icon fiasco, in which Reading Room charged the Information Commissioner’s Office a large sum for a 32-by-32 pixel favicon, the public sector is a credulous and top-heavy environment in which to develop websites. (Disclosure: I once had to maintain some code by that agency.)

In the public sector, many websites sit in parts of the organisation that are managed by people who don’t really understand the Web. They may be Marcomms folks, used to traditional media, or IT Directors who are comfortable with Service Level Agreements, purchasing Enterprise-level software. But both breeds of manager are fair game to be frightened witless by the requirements to have accessible web sites.

There is a website monitoring and compliance tool that’s very popular with local government and public sector managers, as it does a battery of automated tests, marks websites as passing or failing. (See Gez Lemon’s old-but-gold Testing Invalid Content with Accessibility Validators to see why this might be more of a box-ticking exercise than a useful approach.)

The monitoring tool is less popular with the web people who actually do the work as the compliance reports and league tables that the vendor produces often require coding for the tool rather than for accessibility or best practices.

A correspondent writes that the tool didn’t properly score her HTML5 pages and had the following email exchange with the tool vendor.

Nice lady:

The issue seems to be because we are using the HTML5 doctype on our site. All of the checks being performed seem to be trying to validate us as HTML4 – which is wrong.

Snakeoil salesman:

HTML 5, as a ratified standard, does not yet exist so there is only the initial draft proposal to work to, so as yet we have not started work on testing HTML 5. (See answer below about timings on using HTML 5.)

Nice lady:

The HTML5 syntax is much more relaxed and allows for a combination of HTML4 and XHTML standards. So errors being produced for things such as wrongly using self-closing tags are false.

Snakeoil salesman:

We do not believe this to be correct, even for HTML 5.

Nice lady:

HTML5 is new – but the doctype is fully supported and recognised by all browsers.

Snakeoil salesman:

This is incorrect. HTML 5 does not yet have a “doctype” (as a method of signifying the document type). No browsers at all implement the HTML 5 document parsing method as far as we are aware.

Nice lady:

Developers are being encouraged to use HTML5 as the best way to ensure your pages will last a ‘long, long time’.

Snakeoil salesman:

We are not aware of anyone that is encouraging people to use it, but if it is true that someone is then they are misguided and mistaken.

Here are advisories from the head of the W3C team working the HTML 5 spec from early October 2010.
W3C: Hold off on deploying HTML5 in websites &helip;

And in terms of ensuring pages last a long time HTML 5 parsers are backwards compatible with HTML 4 in any event, so documents written today in HTML 4 will last at least as long as HTML 5 documents, with the added advantage that they are actually supported by existing browsers.

For these reasons we do not currently support HTML 5 and have no plans to do so in the immediate future.

So if you would like to use any of the new HTML5 elements, canvas or multimedia or ARIA to aid accessibility, just make sure that your boss doesn’t pay money for Snakeoil Monthly report.

CSS 2.1 “not ready for use” says journalist

In a further devastating blow to the Web industry, a man on Twitter said that CSS 2.1 is “still not final”, although some irresponsible developers are already using it.

“CSS 2.1 suffers from severe interoperability problems”, said an excitable person. “If you set the height of a box, older browsers will nevertheless allow that box to grow to the height of its contents. This is disastrous to the credibility of these so-called ‘Stylish sheets’”.

“There is absolutely no way that CSS 2.1 can be used in production,” thundered a woman from behind a FrontPage CD. “There’s not even reliable cross-browser support for list-style-type: armenian!” (Test).

“It’s a scandal!” said a journalist who once saw a mildly pornographic image on a computer. “It shows that social networking, when combined with CSS, causes cancer and moral decline.”

Shares in office furniture manufacturing firms rocketed as IT Directors spontaneously and simultaneously evacuated themselves on learning that CSS 2.1 is still in development and not yet a full standard.

“The CSS 2.1 spec may not be finished until next Thursday, or even later” a bewildered-looking man with spectacles said breathlessly, clutching newly-purchased trousers tightly to his chest.

“We’ll have to go back to tables and spacer GIFs until further notice!” he continued while wheeling a chair out of Ikea and putting on a tinfoil hat.

Rant: HTML5 != CSS 3

Trying out my new Ranting Hat, a present from Japan from Nedjma. Please note that rants are just that, and not necessarily eloquent or factual. (And I know that Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman are not the only two social liberals in the USA; I’ve actually met the other three.)

Oh, and do I have to say that this is a joke, is personal and nothing to do with my lovely employers at Opera? Unfortunately, I probably do.

(I’ll transcribe it when I’m not so tired)
Transcription thanks to the splendid Karen Mardahl, follow her at @stcaccess.

Writing cross-browser, future-proof CSS 3

Here’s a quick tutorial (actually, rant) that came out of an aside I mentioned when doing my talk for Future of Web Design two weeks ago.

It came about when I was using the IE9 preview to test some sites. I noticed that a site that boasts rounded corners didn’t appear to have them in IE9, even though IE9 allegedly has border-radius support.

“Silly IE9″, I thought.

Wrong. Silly developer.

The difference between a pro developer and a wannabe is that the pro developer makes sites that are cross-browser and, as far as possible, future-proof. By contrast, the wannabe assumes that everyone is the same as him and therefore if the site works on the browsers he uses, that’s enough.

Our wannabe developer’s code looked like this


-moz-border-radius: 6px;
-webkit-border-radius: 6px;

By using only vendor prefixes, the wannabe developer ensures that this nice part of the design will only work on those browsers.

A pro, however, cares about his client so doesn’t leave them with a site that will need changing later. A pro cares enough about his site’s users to give the design to their browser and let it do with it as it will.

How?

Simply by adding the non-prefixed cross-browser version of the property, he can add border-radius support for IE9 now, Opera now and any new browser that comes along in the future:


-moz-border-radius: 6px;
-webkit-border-radius: 6px;
border-radius: 6px;

In the above example, border-radius is pretty mature, so IE and Opera jumped straight to using the standard prefix-less property, but other fancy CSS 3 properties are implemented only with vendor prefixes at the moment. Note I said “at the moment”; in two years’ time, a new browser may consider that feature stable enough to implement without a vendor prefix and, because you’re a pro rather than a wannabe, you want to ensure your code works in 2 years time as well as today.

For maximum compatibility, I advise adding all vendor prefixes (I do it in alphabetical order to help me remember) plus the non-prefixed version.

So here’s a version that future-proofs and cross-browserifies™ CSS3 transforms:


-moz-transform: scale(1.6);
-ms-transform: scale(1.6);
-o-transform: scale(1.6);
-webkit-transform: scale(1.6);
transform: scale(1.6);

If, for example, IE adds support for the prefixless version, or uses the -webkit- version, you have one line—27 bytes—of redundancy. So what? And now your code works everywhere that has support, today and tomorrow.

And that’s how it should be.

I feel very strongly that using JavaScript to remove all that extra CSS away is a bad idea. Apart from the absurdity of using “20kb minified js to avoid 5kb ‘untidy’ CSS” (as one person commented about eCSStender), it’s ducking responsibility. If you as a developer choose to use experimental, pre-standardised code on a production site, then you need to live with the consequence of that choice. There’s no getting around it: experimental, pre-standardised code is susceptible to change. If the specification changes, you’ll need to change your CSS (which is easier to do if it isn’t being hidden away by some library).

See -o- vendor prefixed CSS supported in Opera 10.50, also Vendor-prefixed CSS Property Overview which compares vendor prefixes across browsers.

Resources

(Added Nov 2011)

Response to receiving an election leaflet from the British National Party

On Friday (St. George’s Day) I received an election leaflet from the British National Party. Here’s my video reponse, with transcription below.

Check out the YouTube comments. It’s like spEak You’re bRanes.

Happy St George’s Day. Today I received this leaflet from the BNP through my door. It offended me because my next door neighbour is a good friend; she’s a Birmingham-born muslim lady of Pakistani origin. She brings us round nice curries every time Ramadan ends and sends us Xmas cards and we do the same.

I myself am guilty of the grievous sin of miscegenation (marrying someone of a different “race”) as my wife is Asian. We have two appallingly off-white children, one of whom has just got into one of the best schools in England and will no doubt show how she’ll sponge of the state by doing well in her exams, getting a good job and paying lots of tax – abusing British hospitality thereby.

So I wondered what to do with this letter from the BNP. I thought about wiping my bottom with it but frankly it’s a little bit too glossy so all it would do is spread all the shit around, much like the BNP’s leaflet distributors. So follow me into my toilet where we’ll burn it.

Here we have the BNP’s leaflet on fire, and now I’m going to flush it down the pan where it belongs.

This has been a non-party political broadcast, on behalf of all the civilised and decent people in England, regardless of what country their parents came from, whatever religion they have or whatever their colour is.

Happy St George’s Day. Bye!

If you’re British, it’s not “awesome”

If you’re British, it’s not “awesome”. That’s an American word, like “sidewalk”, “gas” for petrol, “critter”, “varmint”, “tarnation” and “gotten” as the third form of the verb. Americans, you’re welcome to use them; they’re your words, but they are not English.

If you want knee-jerk circle-jerk response to mediocre design, the term is “Brendan Dawesome“.

If you want to express actual approbation for something, the English terms are “spiffing”, “top-hole”, “wizard” or “ticketyboo”.

Thank you. Bye.

5 feet 6 inches is the optimal height for a human

So, Mr Andy “Beanpole” Mabbett called me short. What he, and other lanky bastards don’t understand is that 5’6″ is the optimal height for a human being, and that is a fact proved by scientists.

The physics and biology are simple. If you are taller than the optimal height, not enough gravity reaches the top of the brain. This means that the blood tends to collect there, and not enough goes through the lower parts of the brain such as the hippocampus which controls things like spatial navigation. This is why tall people are often gangly and bump into things.

People shorter than 5’6″ have the opposite problem. Their heads are closer to the centre of the earth (where the gravity particles are formed in the base of volcanoes) so the blood tends to collect at the bottom of the brain and not flow so much at the top. This makes them more likely to commit suicide or suffer from an engorged hippocampus (which also controls long-term memory, which is why very short people like Hitler, Napoleon and Stalin never forgot grudges, for example).

However, at 5’6″, the distribution of gravity in the brain is perfect for optimal blood-flow around all areas, leading to high intelligence, superior wit, peak physical ability and extraordinary virility. Scientific fact.

Co-incidentally, I am five feet and six inches tall.

More stupidly hyperbolic advertising

After my first rant about the horrors of the LG TV commercial, I thought I’d continue the theme of stupidly hyperbolic advertising by focussing on an ad I saw on lots of billboards in Indonesia. It was advertising some mobile phone that allowed you to choose from a set of luridly-coloured plastic cases depending on your mood.

Nothing wrong with that. I remember when I was a teenager that there was a watch that had lots of different faces and straps that you could choose one, and it seemed quite fun. If this ad had been headlined “What’s your favourite colour?” or “What’s your mood today?” I wouldn’t object at all.

I think that, given the target consumer for livid-coloured mobile phones is likely to be teenagers, you should use good old fashioned sex to market the phone. (I’ve copyrighted this, so bugger off, ad people.) Using a blue case? It means “I’m up for flirting or snogging but nothing more”. A pink case means “looking for a one-night stand”. A yellow case indicates “I’m looking for romance and commitment”. Basically, a sort of teenie romance version of the gay handkerchief code.

But they don’t. They have the fuckwitted hyperbolic strapline “What colour is your life?”. Instead of asking me what my favourite colour is, what kind of mood I’m in or what level of clinginess I aspire to from a partner tonight, they want me to equate my life experience, ambitions, hopes, dreams, disappointments, aspirations, loves and regrets to a dayglo piece of plastic.

I thought about the day I got married, the birth of my children and decided that my life is green. Then, I thought of the day I was diagnosed with MS, was rejected by the first ever girl I asked out and I realised that my life is blue. But then, when I considered passing my driving test, getting my degree I felt my life was pink.

What colour is your life?

It’s very hard to define your life as a colour, but I believe I have come up with a method which I call Voight-Kampff Chromatography.

Fill in the form below to learn your life colour, while keeping your face within sight of your computer’s webcam. (If you have no webcam, you can take the test but the results will be 7.3% less accurate.)





Whatever the Voight-Kampff Chromatograph decides your life colour is, it’s easy to guess that of the advertising “creatives” and PR tossers who came up with this campaign. The colour of their lives is brown. Like shit.

Death to your stupidly hyperbolic advertising

My anger management has been going well, thank you very much. Even christmas music doesn’t rile me. Only one thing of late has disturbed my legendary seasonal bonhomie and general goodwill-to-all-bastards demeanour.

And that is obviously-hyperbolic advertising. We all understand the tropes of advertising so, of course, tell me that what you’re peddling is better than your competitors’ offerings while it’s actually identical; naturally, I understand that your product is consumed by pants-moisteningly attractive people and that, if I use it too, I will be considered to be attractive. That’s all fair enough.

No, I’m talking about the ludicrously unrelated association of mundane products with high concepts: imagine if toilet paper were marketed as preserving democracy, that kind of thing.

Exhibit one, the televisual rectal cyst that roused me from my semi-pissed slumber last night to begin foaming at the mouth, is the £3m ‘freedom’ ad campaign for LG (watch it if you really need to).

Cue a film of a small baby swimming in water (all very Nevermind); “the day we are born is the last day we are truly free” intones SeriousVoiceoverMan. “Before you know it, we’re boxed in; held back; constrained” he continues over images of cubicle farms, ranks of desks. Tantalisingly he asks “What if we knew we were free to go further?” over sunny visuals of flowers opening, wide open vistas, and a gratuitous pretty women in a bikini being hosed down.

So, that’s the set-up. We can see by this point that whatever it is they want you to buy is inextricably linked with the concept of “freedom”. Never mind that the ad agency’s idea of freedom is being submerged insensible in warm amniotic fluid and strapped immobile to a placenta (all very The Matrix with a dash of Oedipus complex: rather sinister, if you think about it).

In Adland, freedom usually means cars or tampons. Tampons because, as Mrs Pankhurst would have told you, women never feel truly free unless they’re swimming or wearing white trousers while simultaneously menstruating and risking toxic shock syndrome. The way to advertise cars is to remind us of the single USP of the car (you can go where you want whenever you want) that is shared by every motor vehicle, while insinuating that flooring the accelerator of the Audi Mingé is the act of an eco-warrior that does the planet a favour.

Back to the product. Tampon or Motor? Neither. Our advert is for an LG television. Now, I have nothing against televisions. I was recently persuaded by my family to purchase one the size of Luxembourg and I spend many an hour balefully peering at it. During those periods of stupefaction, I have concluded that TV has three primary purposes:

  1. It’s the best way to find out who the government requires us to hate at the moment.
  2. When used in conjunction with a games console, it’s invaluable for stimulating endorphins and adrenaline in your children without them having to go anywhere. This negates the risk of their being touched up by one or all of the 4.9 million rampant paedophiles who are roaming YOUR TOWN right now. It also means they never need move, accumulating body mass until they die aged 50 of diabetes and obesity thereby saving the nation a fortune in medical care.
  3. It’s perfect for married couples to avoid speaking to each other. Instead, they can watch Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks pretending to be in love, just like they thought they were before transient sexual attraction cooled to become festering resentment and then crusted into mutual contempt.

I’m a coward. I wouldn’t have opposed fascism, put a flower down the barrel of a soldier’s gun and certainly wouldn’t have mustered up the courage to stand in front of a Tienanmen tank. But even a happy Epsilon minus like me understands that a big TV does not equate to the concept of liberty.

In fact, the ad is like Orwell for lazy people. Freedom isn’t slavery in this hyperbolic hyperbollocks, but Freedom is passivity. Be free! Be free to absorb more advertising like this! The obsequious marketing media reports (seemingly without irony) some lovely doublethink from George Mead, the LG brand manager who says

the TV, print and online campaign aims to promote LG Electronics as ‘refreshing and sophisticated’ … Mead said LG was trying to ‘dumb down its marketing’ to make it simple and educate consumers.

In other words: advertising people are clever. Consumers are stupid. TV=freedom.

Fuck off.

(Part two: “More stupidly hyperbolic advertising” )