Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

Jakob Nielson rides again

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Just had this one come through the wire:

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, June 23, 2009: Stop Password Masking

Usability suffers when users type in passwords and the only feedback they get is a row of bullets. Typically, masking passwords doesn’t even increase security, but it does cost you business due to login failures.

This sounds like Nielson kicking up publicity. This is shorter than his normal articles and he hasn’t backed this one up by mentioning his latest rounds of usability tests. He’s often got really good points, but this is one that I have issue with.

Nielson has forgotten that the reason password masking exists is if you type it out but don’t submit the form right away, then it won’t be on the screen for a long length of time for passers-by to ‘shoulder-surf’. The form could be really really long and/or you might be a really slow typist.

Padlocks and deadbolts keep honest people honest. The same goes for password masking.

Not to mention that password masking is visual shorthand reminder for the personal habits of “you should remember what you right in this box, cos even you won’t see it” and “no-one else should see this but you”. If we removed this ‘tell’, what would become of the culture of ‘protect your password’?

Think of where, other than web sites, that password masks get used. ATMs, EFTPOS machines, computer software, the Operating System uses it. Western culture is conditioned to this design pattern, and I speculate that the only people who have trouble remembering passwords are the ones who were born before 1980.

I guess a compromise would be to have the field in plain text when it has focus, switching to a password mask on blur…? Not a difficult solution.

Quicksilver is dead. Long live Spotlight!

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Recently because of a permissions issue with my public folder on GlutBlack, my black MacBook, I created a new administrator user with the intention of porting all the important data from my old user to the new user. I’ve had a few hassles doing so, but I’ve learned a fair bit. Like how much I don’t really miss Quicksilver.

I was previously using Quicksilver, but I never bothered to set it up on my new user, and instead decided to try out Leopard’s new Spotlight – to great effect!

The one thing I detested about Spotlight in Tiger was the fact that the default choice was “Show All”, but now in Leopard it’s the Top Hit, which is usually what I’d want. The other thing was Quicksilver had a calculator function, but the new Spotlight has a calculator feature, which is live, unlike Quicksilver!

And because I managed to score the MacHeist this year, I received a copy of CoverSutra which totally surprised me with its awesomeness; like a sneaky ninja springing out from the ceiling, katana unsheathed, cleaving my mind, but in a totally awesome way, as ninjas are prone to do.

The Age of Expertise

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

After reading Andy Oram’s post on O’Reilly Radar What comes after the information age, I was struck by the fact that because I’m a tutor, I might be in the right industry!

Andy makes a case that because we have ubiquitous free documentation, in the form of text-files, wikis, videos, how-to websites, screencasts and readily available specialist books (from O’Reilly no doubt), information is no longer the problem any more. Expertise is the new scarcity. Mentors and tutors and guides and people who know how to do things is the problem now.

I have a lot of industry contact in my tertiary level tutor role at Natcoll, and I keep an eye out on the jobs available in the web development industry in Wellington that my students can go into. That’s all well and good, but we’ve had organisations like mine are having a hard time finding highly skilled staff to relieve classes and even take on full time roles, and I understand it is the same at our different campuses around New Zealand — there are just not enough people who want to get into upskilling people up. There’s no shortage of people wanting to learn the ins and outs of design and development though, with no sign of slowing.

Teach NZ is always advertising on TV and on the Wellington buses for graduates who might want to take up Secondary School teaching (high school age for you non-kiwis). Now teaching in a secondary school is not for the faint-hearted, guaranteed. But what about universities? You’d probably need to have a Masters before you could get a good job teaching at a university.

There are other ways we learn other than attending institutes too: one-on-one mentoring, attending short courses, night classes, special interest groups (SIGs) including software user groups. And then there’s the communities on line too!

So why is teaching not a popular choice?

Why aren’t many people taking up the challenge of teaching? Do the people who think they want to be a teacher end up going to teacher’s college and having the life force sucked out of them? One friend of mine has a science degree and went to a teacher’s training college here in Wellington to become a teacher, went into a high school to teach physics and science and then after doing that for a year or so, switched careers! The challenges of high school teaching aside, he said he didn’t like it. Why? I don’t know, but I’ve got some ideas.

Teaching is a selfless job. You’re there as a servant. You serve the students concepts and information, challenging their pre-conceptions and assumptions, with the goal of them ‘getting it’; seeing the cogs in their heads suddenly mesh, and switch into gear and take off!

At least, that’s why I do it. And I’m not even formally trained as a teacher. All I have is a few years industry experience and a passion for being the best I can be at what I do. And I teach so that I can change the world I live in.

The internet is sometimes called the largest and most successful collaboration between individuals and organisations in the history of the human race. The internet was created so people could communicate over long distances. So they could share ideas and discuss the implications of what they were working on or what they themselves had discovered.

Specifically, I teach web development so that it can make the internet a better place. If that previous paragraph doesn’t sound like something to spend time understanding and improving, then let me know why you think so.

I could get a career as a web developer out in the industry tomorrow; there are plenty of jobs for the people who can do things out there.

But there aren’t enough people shaping those ‘do’ers.

There aren’t enough ‘teach’ers.

There aren’t enough specialised teachers. Well at least in the web industry there’s not. Not enough people teaching the hard stuff that requires masses of prerequisite knowledge. Even though the Web is just under 15 years old, the amount you need to know to make a successful website, or even a successful online community is tantamount to experience.

If you want to create a website these days, you have to know HTML, CSS, Javascript, a server side language such as PHP, Ruby, Perl or *shudder* ASP or similar. You need to understand the design and implementation of databases and how to use SQL. You need to have an eye for design, usability. You need to have a mind for communication and writing. You need to understand the human-computer interface and it’s strengths and weaknesses and how to wield these things.

Being a web guy is hard work. Still, web developers, even ones who are good at what they do, don’t get the industry recognition they deserve: a web developer or web designer (but not a ‘web decorator‘) will get paid less than a traditional ‘software developer’ who is making applications for Windows or services for the back office. But a web developer or web designer might have to a lot more than a traditional ‘programmer’.

And that prerequisite knowledge stack is only getting larger by the day! The most published thing online (other than cat pictures and pornography) is in my opinion information about the internet itself. There are tons of sites out there detailing the technologies I allude to above.

There’s lots of information online about what we web developers do. Freely available, just waiting for you to read it, if you so desired. But I believe there’s not enough people who are making it their life’s mission to mentoring and teaching and guiding individuals through this jungle of things out there waiting to be discovered.

You can go to Te Papa by yourself and see the Britten motorcycle. But that doesn’t mean you can go to Te Papa by yourself and learn about the fascinating story behind it.

But if you have a guide, they might be able to point you in the right direction.

Talking at a seminar on New Media

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Hello to all those who saw me talk at CID’s seminar today. Here’s the slides and my notes for the talk I made:

“The New Internet: Communicating on Today’s Web” Slides

I had a great time sharing about the exciting new ways to get your audience involved, and the feedback I got from you all was really great — feel free to ask questions in the comments here — cheers!

People, you don’t need to play to Big Media’s rules anymore — the rules are changing, and if your audience is discerning, they’ll follow you as long as you’ve got the goods.  But with great power comes great responsibility: use the tools wisely :)

Firebug goes 1.0 and out of beta!

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Congratulations to Joe Hewitt, developer of Firebug, the best of breed “console / inspector / debugger / monitor for HTTP / JavaScript / DOM / CSS / AJAX“.

The extension for Firefox just went 1.0 final (heh, a Web 2.0 tool coming out of beta), and that’s a big deal. Joe has been working on Firebug for just over a year, and it has become a tool more indispensible than even Chris Pederick’s Web Developer extension!

What? You don’t have either of these?! You call yourself a web developer? Let me guess, you still think IE is the only browser worth developing for, and heck, you probably believe that developing to Web Standards is just elitist acadamia… get with the program. Why leave the interpretation of your code to tag-souped chance?

… Eh-erm. Sorry about that monkey I had to get off my back. I heard a rumor yesterday and my anger has found its vent.

But seriously, all those IE die-hards that are still out there today should be amazed at what tools our industry-standard (as opposed to the de-facto-standard) web browser we call Firefox makes available, let alone makes possible.

Since Mozilla 0.7, I’ve found it’s more time-efficient to develop in a Gecko-based browser, then bug-fix for everything else — because it’s much harder and stressy to start in IE and bugfix to Gecko. I’ve found this true for all the technologies: CSS, JavaScript, XSL, AJAX, and now SVG

Viva la revolución! Viva la web standards!