Archive for the 'Rants complaints' Category

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” )

IE 6 mobile standards compliance tests

So, I was challenged on my assertion that the new Internet Explorer for mobile that is going to be unleashed in China next year is based on the web developer’s mortal enemy and the virus-writer’s best friend, IE 6 for desktop.

I was wrong, people said: IE 6 mobile isn’t IE 6 desktop back from the dead and dripping goo and pus like a George Romero zombie; it’s an accident, a coincidence of the numbering system. Microsoft are good guys now, they said, committed to web standards.

After all, look at the claims for it:

Internet Explorer Mobile 6 [is] a full-featured browser for Windows Mobile devices that brings the same high-quality browsing experience to the user as desktop browsers. Internet Explorer Mobile 6 supports desktop-quality rendering and has the best compliance support of all versions of Internet Explorer on a Windows Mobile device to date.

So I downloaded the emulator and ran a few tests.

Conditional comments and * html

Firstly, I tested a simple page to see if it picked up Conditional Comments targetted at IE 6, and whether it picked up CSS rules aimed at the valid, but nonsensical * html elements.

The test page is

p {color:red}
* html p {color:blue;}
<!--[if lte IE 6]>
<h1>Conditional comments think I'm IE6!</h1>
<![endif]-->
<p>Red for non-IE6, blue for IE 6</p>

So, IE 6 (or below) will show a heading, and a paragraph in blue. A modern browser will have no heading and the text will be red. The screenshot shows that IE 6 mobile believes it to be the same as IE 6 desktop on both counts.

screenshot showing heading and blue text

IE 6 mobile and the Acid tests

29% of all internet users in China only ever use a mobile phone to acess the Web. But Microsoft’s “new” mobile browser doesn’t quite have the standards-compliance that Chinese people deserve.

The Acid 2 test:

a very bad attempt at rendering acid 2

and the Acid 3 test:

a very bad attempt at rendering acid 2

IE 6 mobile and CSS support

A big problem for web developers was IE 6 lamentable support for CSS, so I ran the CSS selectors test. The results say “from the 43 selectors, 10 have passed. 1 are buggy and 32 are unsupported”.

selectors test result

Even IE 7 passes 13 of the 43 selectors (“4 are buggy and 26 are unsupported”).

So what IS IE 6 mobile?

Well, it appears that the heart of it is chucklesome old IE 6 desktop, with a few extra bits grafted on from IE 7 and IE 8’s JavaScript engine. So it’s cross between a zombie and a Frankenbrowser.

To verify, I opened up the back of my mobile and hiding behind the battery, clinging onto the SIM, I found the true face of IE 6 mobile, its lips mouthing “Ni hao” in anticipation of its imminent Beijing exhumation.

zombie

Joking aside, this is a terrible situation. 20% of the world’s population are being offered an ancient, discredited browser. Who knows whether we’ll imminently see China’s phones paralysed by viruses—after all, the U.S. government’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team advised

there are a number of significant vulnerabilities in technologies relating to the IE domain. It is possible to reduce exposure to these vulnerabilities by using a different web browser.

We need web standards. And China deserves them, too.

Dear KLM

As sent to their customer service people. Bet I don’t get a reply.

Dear KLM, I travel regularly around Europe for work and our corporate travel agency books me flights with KLM. For leisure I usually fly to Asia, and go by Emirates.

I was sent to work for 2 weeks in Jakarta and was given the choice between KLM and Emirates. I chose KLM. The flight KL810 is the worst flight I’ve taken in a long time (it reminded me of Aeroflot in the 90s).

Firstly, at my seat (39G) the light wouldn’t operate–preventing me from either reading or using my laptop to do some work. I could not watch the in-flight entertainment, as the sound was stuck at maximum volume and was therefore unintelligble and painful to listen to.

I asked the stewardess for another aisle seat (I have a medical condition which means I must get up and walk regularly) but there were none left. I asked to move to business class, but was told that was impossible.

A stewardess apologised, saying that it was an old plane and some things don’t work properly. Travelling at 500 miles per hour, 4 miles above the Bay of Bengal, this was not very reassuring.

So the only thing to for the flight was have some drinks and sleep. Unfortunately, no-one ever responded to my armrest call button (my colleague in a nearby row had the same problem) so I had to get up and search for water in the dark by myself.

Therefore, instead of a relaxing flight that allowed me to do a couple of hours work and then rest, I had 12 hours of extreme boredom, unable to read, work or watch TV and must now work when I get home to catch up with the work I hoped to do on the plane.

My future trips to Jakarta, Bangkok and the like will be by Emirates.

YouTube web developer tutorials

When my daughter is doing her homework using Google, I always impress upon her that the Web is not an information medium, it’s a communication medium. Just as in the real world, the web is full of misinformed idiots with big gobs. Unfortunately, you can’t see their staring eyes and crazed grins on the web.

I was checking out an excellent YouTube video by a screenreader user called Importance of HTML Headings for Accessibility that shows how screenreaders navigate the heading tags, and investigated some of the “related” videos. Oh dear.

There’s an XHTML tutorial called “Changing colors and adding paragraphs” that sets bgcolor on the body tag, and only ever previews the page in IE. “Formatting paragraphs” uses align atttributes. The “using tables for layout” tutorials made me wish I still smoke, and then (more productively) wonder how to do screen grabs and make my own tutorials.

So I left a comment

I’m sorry, but this video seriously misinforms the audience. The bgcolor attribute is old-fashioned because it mixes style with the content.

The way to do this is with CSS: body {background-color:red; color:white;} or whatever color you want.

If you’re looking to learn web design, please use books recommended by the web standards project http://www.webstandards.org/learn/reference/books/ or use Opera’s free Web Standards Curriculum (www.opera.com/wsc). (Disclaimer: Opera is my employer.)

Seriously, for all those who think the standards war is won, check out the You Tube tutorials.

Dear Vista: it’s my computer, not yours

I love my work making and writing about websites and standards. You could almost say I’m married to it. But, as Princess Di said, there are three people in this marriage. The interloper is Windows Vista.

Dear Vista, don’t be jealous of Dreamweaver. If I want to open a file with it, and I even have Dreamweaver already open elsewhere, don’t ask to confirm my action. I know you don’t like Dreamweaver, but I do. And it’s my computer, not yours.

Dear Vista, if I decide to save a file as newreq.pem or newreq.txt or even analsluts.jpg in the root directory, please let me. Don’t tell me that you’ve saved it, but then deny all knowledge when I browse from another app, try to find it through Windows or even tearfully execute a desktop search. You might not like the name I gave the file, or the location I chose, but—dear Vista—it’s my computer, not yours.

Dear Vista, if Millsy sends me a zip of some html and some images, please don’t pretend it’s empty just because he made it on a Mac. I know you get insecure (you’ve always been insecure) but I need those files. And please remember that I’ve got a printer connected. It can get a tiny bit annoying when you lose track of it so I have to uninstall it and reinstall, just to print an email.

Dear Vista, when we first met we set up this machine up together, so you know that there is only one account on it, and it is mine. So if I want to move a file, please don’t haughtily tell me that I do not have permission to do it. I do have permission, because I’m the administrator—which means it’s my computer, not yours.

Life insurance, multiple sclerosis and discrimination

With my last job I had life insurance, but when I decided to move to Opera I had to get my own insurance so that my mortgage would be paid off if I shuffle off this mortal coil, reducing the burden on my wife.

So I rang the big brokers, moneysupermarket.com in March this year. A few questions about age, life-style etc and the guy on the phone told me that for a 41 year old non-smoker it should cost me about £50 a month. Then he asked the question “do you have any neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis?”. On my affirmative reply, it was practically as if klaxons started sounding in the call centre.

So in May, a special nurse who does no nursing came to my door to extract some blood from me in order that Legal and General might learn just how risky I am. “You’ll hear from us soon”, said the lady who does nothing but take lepers’ blood.

But I didn’t. On chasing up money supermarket at the end of June (four months after my application), I was told to write a letter to Legal and General telling them where I will travel to for work and pleasure. No-one actually bothered to contact me to ask me for such a letter; presumably most people with MS develop compensatory telepathic powers, so it looks like I’ve missed out there as well.

Today they called to tell me good news: they will insure my life. Bad news: there is 100% loading on the premium even though MS is very unlikely to kill me before my mortgage is paid off.

As well as paying double, they will not give me critical illnes cover (that’s where you get the money on diagnosis of a terminal illness rather than when your toes curl up, so you can have a massive piss-up before you croak). So if I get cancer (which is of course nothing to do with MS), I don’t get a pay out. If you don’t have MS, but are diagnosed with liver cancer/ brain tumour, you do get a payout. This doesn’t seem fair to me; I don’t see a link between MS and cancer, AIDS and other terminal illnesses.

Am I an isolated case? Have you had any discriminatory treatment by the insurance industry because of a disability? (You can write to me privately at “bruce” this domain name if you prefer).

Reality check: it’s just a fucking phone

I haven’t done it in a long time. I’ve held it in. I’ve got a gold star on the chart on my anger management therapist’s wall. But it’s time for a rant! GrrrrrRRRRRRRRRAGGHGH!

I’d quite like an iPhone. I think it’s a nice piece of kit, although the beauty is in the user interface rather than the features. I mean, 2 meg camera with no video? Only 16 Gig of music? Can’t take the battery out? No bluetooth headphones as standard? Lock-in to one carrier? How much?!?!

But what really gets on my moobs is the way that otherwise sensible people get all moist around the gusset about it, standing in line for hours to buy one, and then racing home to fetishise it. Independently-minded people, whose opinion I respect about any other subject, switch off their bullshit-filters and make twitter even more banal than usual with their excited Beatlemaniac squeals and prepubescent worship-squeaks to the monopolists in black polo-necks.

It’s beautifully designed. It’s brilliantly marketed: you are being manipulated and you know you are and you’re still pathetically grateful for it. But it will not give your mouth sex appeal; it will not make you look five pounds thinner. Because it’s just a fucking phone.

This is tongue in cheek. I’m not insulting you personally. This is not my employer talking.

Why oh why won’t it just WORK?!?!

Why does Windows Vista hide everything? Where the hell did it put Ubuntu when I installed it as a service running within Windows?

Why the hell does it take about 900 key strokes to install anything because of stupid security access messages?

Why did my screen go blank and I had to reboot? Why are trackpads so shit?

Why are all mail servers different with their incomprehensible authentication options and their SSL messages that would baffle Stephen Hawking?

Why can’t I get all my emails from Eudora on my old machine, import them into a mail client on Vista, that allows me to sending emails from multiple personalities (so emails *to* this domain go out from this domain, while emails to my gmail account go out as that)? Does such a thing exist? Why can’t I find it?

Why have I spent a day doing nothing except wrestle with a new laptop that was supposed to save me time?

Why does Windows Vista Home Premium (hah!!) randomly forget that my HP C5180 printer is installed on the network, whereas the creaky five year old Windows XP machine doesn’t? Like I really want to reinstall the fucking printer drivers every time I print an email.

Why won’t things JUST FUCKING WORK??????

ARRRARAHTTGAGHGGAGDYSADHGSHGDHASDHGGDGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Thanks. I wish I could say I feel better for that.

HTML 5, microformats and testing accessibility

It’s unsurprising, I suppose, that if a group of like-minded individuals go into conclave to write a specification, they will be angered and annoyed when that spec is criticised and questioned by outsiders. This is what has happened when the microformats spec and HTML 5 specs came under scrutiny.

Testing shows the gulf between theory and practice

Most microformats adherents seem to agree with an article that James Craig and I wrote, hAccessibility, that pointed out that the current spec’s use of the abbr element is inaccessible to some users. In theory, “Austin, TX” is an abbreviation of “30.300474;-97.747247″. In practice, it doesn’t work (mp3).

It shocks me that when this flawed idea was originally mooted, a trivial test with a forty-minute demo version of JAWS would have shown it was inaccessible, yet no-one thought to do it. As they say, in theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not..

Creators of new techniques and specs need accessibility at the heart of their specs, and that means testing.

Goodbye headers, hello again <kbd> and <samp>

A similar problem is happening with the HTML 5 group. Like many people, I haven’t paid much attention to the WHATWG until now, because it was “a loose, unofficial, and open collaboration of Web browser manufacturers and interested parties” with an “invite-only steering committee”. It all seemed highly pie-in-the-sky, and there were other, more immediate tasks at hand, like evangelising accesibility in existing technologies like HTML, or emerging technologies like microformats.

Now that the WHATWG spec is to be the basis of HTML5, a lot more scrutiny is directed at the spec.

The HTML5 spec ruled nothing in and nothing out. The criteria for retaining an element or attribute is that of usefulness. I personally question whether the computer-science kbd, var and samp elements should go in there (really, when was the last time you used these on a client’s business site?), but that’s not the reason for my rant.

As Roger Johansson recently noted, the HTML5 spec drops two useful attributes from data tables – the headers and summary attributes that WCAG recommends.

Lachlan Hunt, who’s heavily involved in HTML5, wrote,

They haven’t been removed. They just have not been added yet due to lack of evidence to support them.

The headers attribute: I’m aware that this one currently has better support in ATs than the scope attribute does, but for most cases it’s redundant.

If the problem is just associating cells with their headers, we should investigate alternatives that would make it easier, such as defining an algorithm for more accurate implicit association.

That would be better because it increases accessibility, while reducing the requirements on authors. However, that needs research and evidence to determine if it can cover sufficient use cases reliably, which will allow us to figure out if headers is still required.

Now, in my opinion, one of the reasons that screenreaders are the Netscape 4 of the assistive technology world is precisely because they try to use heuristics to figure things out, rather than use the specified standards. If, for example, everyone had used the (now-deprecated) menu element for navigation, assistive technologies wouldn’t need to try to guess where content starts, and authors wouldn’t need to code the dreaded “skip links”. But that’s another side issue.

The burden of proof

Testing is vital, particularly at the border of accessibility theory and practice. I wonder, for example, if tabindex and accesskey would have made it to the HTML4 spec if there had been full testing with assistive technology users?

What I really want to know from the HTML5 people is who they think is going to do this research that will provide the evidence that their gang requires before useful attributes are restored to the specification.

The WHATWG spec is funded by big business, all of whom have millions in the bank. Maybe now the spec is “official”, they will be funding user research with disabled people using assistive technologies. Perhaps they will invite representatives from the manufacturers of the big screenreaders to work with them. They could even fund those representatives, given that assistive technology vendors aren’t anything like as rich as Apple, Opera, Mozilla and Google.

After all, it’s impossible to imagine that they would make arbitrary decisions to remove or retain certain elements, all with unknown accessibility side-effects, and put the burden to prove the usefulness of removed attributes on a small group of volunteers, isn’t it?


Also see Gez Lemon’s more sober article, The HTML Scope/Headers Debate.

The DTI to the rescue!

The Prime Minister has responded to the petition over UK government sites’ accessibility, which came about because of the fuss Dan Champion and I made over the Department of Trade and Industry’s disastrous redesign:

“The Government is committed to ensuring that all government websites are accessible and easy to use for people with disabilities.

Action 7 of the Prime Minister’s Digital Strategy is to ‘improve accessibility to technology for the digitally excluded and ease of use for the disabled’.

This strategy is to be implemented by DTI with support from OGC and eGU (now the Cabinet Office Delivery and Transformation Group). A cross-government review of the Digital Strategy is currently under way under the supervision of the DTI).”

Joined-up government? My arse.