This just doesn’t help

This sort of article, published by SiteMorse, just doesn’t help.  It’s taking the same stance as the DDA itself has taken with respect to accessibility, going for the bullying approach as opposed to advocating standards and encouraging compliance.  Do you really think that the DDA (or the RNIB and RNID for that matter) is actively trying to break standards and become non-compliant?

Accessibility can either be tackled from the perspective of "look at the benefits you can achieve", or one of "if you don’t comply, this is what’s gonna happen" – the carrot vs. stick approach.  The former will be better for everyone, and we should only resort to the latter for sites that blatantly flout standards and ignore subsequent advice.

The only worthwhile part of the article is the reference to conflicting standards.  This is true and has caused frustration, not to mention unnecessary spend, in the past.  My view is that the W3C should lead the way, and that bodies such as the RNIB/D should be responsible for helping people to code to these standards.

Finally, the article seems to criticise user testing, suggesting that automated testing is superior.  Pardon my French, but this is horse-shit.  Just as automated testing can’t fully replace manual testing for standard functionality testing, nor can it be used as a blanket for accessibility testing.  One of the best things that the RNIB brought to the table was the view that standards provide a framework, but the complexity involved in website implementation means that it’s not a case of pass/fail.  Each business problem will present different obstacles, and will be solved in different ways.  Something that passes an automated test may be horrible for the user and vice versa.

The stick won’t work on this occasion.  We have to use the carrot.  After all, carrots are purportedly good for your sight.  (SORRY!!!)

-7°F = -22°C

Whoa, that was cold.

Just played football atop Pier 40 in temperatures of -7°F, or -22°C, including the wind-chill. Without the wind-chill, it’s still only 11°F (-12°C). It was a great game, with a pretty decent turn-out (given the weather) allowing an eight-a-side game. The odd part is that during the game last Thursday, the temperature was into the 60s (Fahrenheit) – at least 16°C – meaning around a 40°F swing in five days. The cold spell is set to stay by all accounts. Word is that the Hudson has frozen over in places (bottled water left on the sidelines was frozen by the end of the game), and looking out of the window (albeit in the dark), I think I can see ice patches.

Condoleezza Rice is hitting the headlines for her insensitive response to questioning about the tsunami. Her first words in response to the tsunami relief effort were "The tsunami was a wonderful opportunity for us [America]". Nice. She’s also getting a grilling, and rightly so, for the US’s lack of an exit strategy for Iraq.

It was great to see that the European answer to Boeing’s dominance in the air is coming to fruition. The scale of the A380 is unreal, and some of the pictures have to be seen to be believed. It’s nice to be in the US when such feats are pulled off (as I was last time).

American Idol is back for a new series today, which should be fun. I wonder if that’s the reason for the two UK runners-up getting their US visas back in London.

Two interesting facts for you.

– The banana is a herb
– There is a place called Embarrass in Wisconsin.

Crosswords

A quite beautiful article that I have avoided for one reason or another, despite the partial picture of a crossword lying by its side.  The British crossword is, without doubt, lacking an equivalent.  It stands alone, both as a stalwart of British society and an example of British eccentricity.

I developed my passion for crosswords (and perhaps an unhealthy allegiance to The Telegraph) through my Dad.  (And I am ever indebted to him for this pleasure.)  There was a time when you could download a free copy of the Telegraph’s cryptic crossword online, but now there’s a subscription fee that is too great a barrier to entry.  I love its daily cryptic crossword, and there is nothing better than sharing this experience with my father, although maybe he would prefer to see an empty grid on coming down the stairs in the morning.  Knowing its code, its subtleties, is akin to being a member of a club, although there are certainly levels of membership, as my Dad is better than I at solving, and Margaret (my Aunt) is in a similar league to her brother.  Rarely am I capable of finishing it alone.

The author is correct, if somewhat disparaging, in his assessment of the French in their attempt to emulate the British crossword.  The American crossword seems similarly trivial.  While some may be pretty difficult, their fact-based nature makes their solution much more of an objective challenge, unlike the subjectivity of their British equivalent – you need to get inside the head of the author to solve these.

Thanks, Dad.

Big day of football

Today saw the first two quarter-finals of the NFL.  First of all in the AFC, the Jets were beaten in overtime 20-17 at the hands of the Steelers.  Then this evening in the NFC, the Falcons routed the Rams 47-17.  The latter game was most notable for Michael Vick’s out of the ordinary behaviour as Quarterback, and for the significance of the special teams, particularly punt and kick-off returns.

Vick is completely different from any other QB that I have seen.  The only person who I can remotely liken him to is Randall Cunningham from the 90s’ Eagles.  He’s so agile, and can make plays where there’s seemingly nothing going.  However, he’s more of a Running Back turned Quarterback rather than vice versa.  Some of his passing was erratic to say the least, and I’m surprised he got out of the game with an 11/15 completion rate.  However, it seems this is more than made up for by his ability to scramble, the third play of the game seeing a 47-yard unplanned Quarterback run.

In the Jets game, Roethlisberger exhibited some uncharacteristic misfires, but the game’s outcome was determined by the dodgy foot of Doug Brien.  (Perhaps they should have recruited Steelers’ Linebacker Larry Foote instead.)  Brien missed a 47-yarder (hit the bar) and a 43-yarder, both in the last two minutes of the game, the latter of which would certainly have secured victory.

It seems my switching of loyalties to the Jets was a little premature (or ill-informed).  Although I’m loathe to switch again, I think I’ll be rooting for my childhood secondaries the Eagles from here on in, or at least until around 5pm EST tomorrow, depending on the outcome of their game against the Vikings.  🙂

Post mortem

Looking back on the last four days’ IT support, I have to say that things are a lot easier than I thought.  (Bear with me, Rob.)  Once I’m pointed in the right direction, doing the stuff is relatively straight-forward.  Also, the internet itself is an invaluable resource (as is Rob) for finding information.  HP even has an interactive support site where you can chat to someone (surprisingly responsive) about the problem that you’re facing.  I was having a few problems locating the hard disk on the machine, and this proved useful in finding things like this out.  The issue would be much more difficult to solve if you had no internet, which must be true for a lot of people who are facing problems.

One thing that makes things more time consuming and arduous is nervousness.  The potential issues that you could face by undertaking a certain action (or that action going pear-shaped) are significant, meaning that each step takes longer than it perhaps should due to necessary thought and evaluating what-if scenarios.  Rob doesn’t seem to suffer the same anxiety, probably partly because it’s not his hardware and partly because he’s done what I was doing a hundred times before and thus knows the impact.  The number of times he used the word numpty in reference to my good self was astonishing, although I’m sure most of the references were valid.  A word of advice for the boy genius though: never do IT support.  I don’t think customers would appreciate lines like "IE is part of windows you numpty" and "Don’t tell me you haven’t got an install disk for these either?" or my favourite of the saga: "I’m going for a dump, this is networking 101, geeze".  Happy Birthday for Friday btw, Rob.

Football last night was a little disappointing, although the post-game drinking and pool was a lot of fun.  30 people turned up, probably due to the ridiculously warm weather last night (it genuinely was like a summer’s eve), meaning we had to divide the pitch and play 7/8-a-side on half a pitch.  Also, it was more competitive than its Tuesday counterpart, which didn’t appeal to me – a lot more aggression and a lot more showmanship.  I may revert back to Tuesdays – we’ll see.

Four days and counting

Well, evenings actually.  I received a text of panic (read anger) from my wife on Monday morning.  She had opened a Word file that I had sent her, and her machine had taken this opportunity to lose the will to live.  Despite being over a mile away, I was naturally the cause of the outage – an RCA would certainly have concurred, although I still have grave doubts.

On Monday evening, I came home to investigate.  It was indeed kaput.  On selecting an OS, it just told me that there was a missing or corrupt dll and told me to replace/repair it in order to get any further.  No DOS prompt, nothing. 

For one reason or another (which I won’t go into now), we didn’t have the administrative password for the broken laptop, without which you can’t repair the OS.  So, the decision was made to try and recover as much data as possible from the dodgy laptop by copying it on to mine, then re-formatting the dodgy laptop’s hard drive and re-installing the OS from scratch.  All of that faffing around blew away Tuesday night.

On the way home on Wednesday, I bought a 2.5" disk case that you can put a laptop disk into and connect through the firewire/USB port as an external hard drive.  So I ripped out the old hard drive, popped it in, and hey presto, there it is in full glory as a drive on my laptop.  Copied all of the necessary stuff across (a filing cabinet full of desktop files, My documents (which weren’t mine, but hey), favourites etc.).  Popped the hard disk back in the laptop and started the re-format.  I say started, because that’s basically as far as it got.  It reached 6% and then stalled on me.  Looks like a corrupt irrecoverable hard drive.

So, a Thursday morning trip out, and my wallet $180 lighter, I have a replacement 40Gb hard drive.  This is now re-formatted, and I’m busy installing the OS.  This is night four of the laptop rebuild project.  It’s gone over budget and has exceeded the original time estimates – no wonder IT projects are renowned for being late.  I have four minutes left of the OS install, and it’s 6.15pm.  Not sure if I’ll make it to football at 8.30pm, but I’m doing my damnedest.

Backwards compatibility => Testing headache

In Joel on Software, there is a paragraph that I felt needs to be referenced, just to highlight the huge challenge that exists in browser and OS testing. The extract is in reference to Microsoft’s upgrade from Windows 3.x to Windows ’95.

"Microsoft, obsessed about [backwards compatibility], spent a big chunk of change testing every old program they could find with Windows 95. Jon Ross, who wrote the original version of SimCity for Windows 3.x told me that he accidentally left a bug in SimCity where he read memory that he had just freed. Yep. It worked fine on Windows 3.x, because the memory never went anywhere. Here’s the amazing part: On beta versions of Windows 95, SimCity wasn’t working in testing. Microsoft tracked down the bug and added specific code to Windows 95 that looks for SimCity. If it finds SimCity running, it runs the memory allocator in a special mode that doesn’t free memory right away."

Let me highlight that again: Microsoft added specific code to Windows 95 that looks for SimCity.

In the context of the article, he highlights this as a positive outlook on Microsoft’s obsession with backwards compatibility. In doing this sort of fixing however, Microsoft is making all application testing hugely costly. There are so many workarounds and application-specific fixes in code – whether it’s bespoke applications designed to run on the OSs or applications that use Microsoft applications as their platform (IE, Word etc.) – that when implementing applications that hook into these – web-based applications being a prime example – you can’t make any assumptions about stuff working.

If you go with a purist view, you risk having wonderfully clean code that doesn’t work in IE6 (because of some workaround that is integrated into IE6 which buggers up your feature). At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have a browser/OS matrix the size of a chess board (you can get to that size without even trying), against which all tests should be run to gain confidence – multiply estimated testing effort by 64 to get the effort required.

On a recent project, a printing bug specific to IE5.5 Service Pack 1 (out of commission at the time) came in at the 11th hour (a little later in fact), one that had to be addressed, as this was the default browser in the client organisation. This was an IE bug (addressed in SP2), but that didn’t matter – the client couldn’t upgrade, so we had to fix it.

This problem is not going to go away; it’s something that we’ve all got to live with (unless you don’t work in software), and one which we need to ensure gets factored into projects in order for them to succeed.

Correction: Broncos out of the playoffs

In correction, to my previous post of 3 January entitled Broncos in the playoffs, this is to confirm that the Broncos are no longer in the playoffs.  They took a drubbing at the hands of the Colts’ first team.  During the match yesterday, the boy Stephenson suggested that there was glue on the Colts’ gloves, such was their ability to catch everything Mr. Manning (Peyton, of course, not his lesser brother Eli) was throwing their way – I suggest an appeal by Shanahan on these grounds.

Ho hum.  Will have to turn to the locals as the target of my enthusiasm from here on in.  The Jets (go Je-ets, go Je-ets) will face the Steelers in what we would call the quarterfinals on Saturday, following their overtime win against the Chargers.

Bumper Christmas

In a similar way to Google with its Zeitgeist page, I thought I’d share with you my usage behaviour.

December was osirra.com’s biggest month to date, with over 11,000 hits.  The aforementioned company, which is now delivering dynamic content to the site, was the site’s single biggest hitter, with over 2,000 hits.  Thereafter, my employer came second (which could account for both UK and US traffic) followed by my home cable provider (me).  83% of my traffic comes from the US, 3% from the UK, 1% from Switzerland (!) and 0.5% from Australia.  I had one hit from France (reminder to self: update firewall rules; no offence, Caro), six from Cyprus, eight from the Seychelles and eleven from Argentina.

I like the ads to the right.  If nothing else, they’re a nice reminder of subject matters that lie further down the page.  In the 46 days since their implementation, they have generated a staggering 19 (nineteen) clicks.  Most of these have been less than lucrative: for instance three clicks on 26 November generated $0.14.  However, five clicks on 20 December for some reason earned me $13.44, a CPM of $790.59, which I’m sure Ben would be fired for if this was an output from one of his clients’ ad campaigns – not that he’d ever be seen advertising on the Interweb of course.  (I’ve never understood why the acronym CPM isn’t CPK, btw.)

I have no doubt whatsoever that I am my own ‘blog’s biggest fan, but that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  In days of yore, diaries were personal reflections on people’s everyday lives, and I see this as a modern equivalent, which happens to be accessible to all (and no doubt sundry).  The above information suggests that the majority of the world shows no interest in its content, but that’s their loss.

Last night, I got the ferry back from Hoboken, as upon arriving from deepest Jersey, it was just about to depart and took me directly home, unlike the PATH from which I’ve got an eight minute walk.  It was cold (and choppy), but it was beautiful.  It was dark, so the Empire State Building was lit up in green and red, the Chrysler in white, the Verrazano Straits Bridge could be seen in the distance with green lights adorning its suspending cables.  Meanwhile, the white office and home lights of Hoboken, Jersey City and Manhattan formed the pavements to the river.

I have a cup of tea (PG Tips) in front of me, and I think half of the enjoyment of a cup of tea is the anticipation of drinking it, as opposed to the drinking itself.  I’ll often be doing something else – updating my ‘blog, reading the news, watching the TV – occasionally thinking about taking a sip, but instead continuing with the main event.  It’s the thought that it’s there that’s comforting, as opposed to the drinking of itself.

Pier 40

So, Tuesday night saw my inaugural game of footie in Manhattan. It was fantastic! Played on the roof of Pier 40, with huge nets to prevent the ball from falling to the Hudson or Westside Highway below, we had a beautiful night-time vista over the river, right round to the Empire State Building, lit up in white and looking majestic. Turned out to be around 10-a-side (co-ed), and the pitch was large enough to accommodate this. Competitive, yes, but not to a silly extent, and there was a healthy balance of skill-sets represented, along with a genuine passion for the game. We were playing an astro-turf pitch on a sandy underlay, which was a great surface – waterproof yet forgiving. This was all followed by a couple of beers at Brothers on Varick.

I will certainly be going back (both to football and Brothers). First timers pay $8; thereafter, it’s $5. Not bad for 90 minutes of fun. Great bunch of folks to boot.

I was involved in an interesting discussion today, that reminded me of the doubted argument behind the naming of the World Series. Someone was claiming that American Football is called Football as the ball is a foot long. Now please! (My argument has always surrounded the lack of contact between the foot and the ball in the game.) This article confirms that a regulation football is between 11 and 11.25 inches long, a range which, I hasten to add, does not encompass 12 (there’s that number again). Meanwhile, Wikipedia’s twopennyworth suggests that the name is a carry-over from its predecessor (rugby, also known as rugby union football).

Buildings in New York emit way more smoke and general (for want of a better word) emissions than do British buildings. Some do it on a seemingly constant basis. Others appear to have systems that emit a big cloud of steam or smoke on an ad-hoc basis. No wonder Bush was never a big fan of the Kyoto agreement.

I’m struggling a little to work out whether the tsunami gives more or less credence to the existence of a god. (I don’t think it receives a capital ‘G’, as I’m talking about it generically.) As a mathematician, I struggle to come up with an argument for belief, and as such, don’t. This article (paginated due to its length) shows that the jury is still out, even among scientists. I particularly like Pascal’s view: the rewards of belief in God are infinite; his/her chances of existence are greater than zero; as such, the expected reward is infinite.

Spam is causing a lot of issues, and a lot of investment at the moment. When I started in my last job, I had over 100 spam emails on first logging on – they had found my email address before I’d even got it! I liked an approach I saw once a while ago, but have not seen since. It basically uses the same approach as the likes of Ticketmaster use to prevent automated ticket purchasing. I sent an email to someone I’d never mailed before. Instead of getting into his inbox, I received an emailed link to an online form with two elements: one of those words that appears blurred or partially covered by a foreground, along with a text box. The form asks you to type the word you see into the text box. For humans, it’s easy; for ‘bots, not so. Once you do this, your email address is authorised for sending emails to the recipient, and your original email, along with all subsequent ones, arrives.

I wish I had a similar feature on my ‘blog comments, as spam has now got its way in. Some poker site seems to have got hold of my site and is bombarding the comments field with rather poorly structured advertising. (On a separate note, why are such adverts so badly constructed?) I’ve had a go at getting rid of some of these, but the CMS user interface is not conducive – I got bored. Please have the patience to hunt out comments you may be interested in – generally, a post with more comments than the ones around it has genuine comments, such is the blanketing approach of the spammer.

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