Jakob Nielson rides again

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.

IE6 denial message for Momentile.com


You can see sketches and a bit of the process on my website.

There have been many requests to use this image on other websites, so I’ve decided to release it under a Creative Commons license. You are free to reuse the image on your own website as long as credit is given and linked back to RobotJohnny.com.

For prints, contact me directly.”>

IE6 denial message for Momentile.com
Uploaded to Flickr by John Martz.

Go home, IE6!

What am I editing code with?

Keri Henare, an acquaintance of mine from a couple years ago asked the NZ PHP Users Group today:

Just curious as to what your IDE of choice is for PHP development and why?

You’ll see that I replied with the following.

Being nearly Mac-exclusive, I do most of my coding in TextMate, and any text manip in TextWrangler (it has superb grep/regex capabilities).

I don’t use an IDE, but if I was to use one, it’d be something like Coda or Espresso.

If I wanted to use a cross-platform, free IDE that isn’t half bad, but is based on Eclipse, I’d use Aptana for HTML+CSS+JS+PHP support. It’s nice because it has built in support for Firefox and Safari, (and IE when you’re on Windows).

iPhone App Store: My Application Picks

After having an iPhone 3G for about as long as it is possible for someone to have one, here’s my must-have list of apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I’m going to cover just applications now, and go over games in a future post.

Apps (no internet required)


An excellent to-do manager that syncs up over WiFi with a program of the same name on the Mac.  Really good if you’re a GTD fan.

DataCase or AirSharing

These apps let you use the left over space on your iPhone or iPod Touch to store your own files. When connected to a WiFi network, you can use your computer to upload files to and from your iPhone using Explorer.

DataCase is best on Mac as it appears in Finder really quickly thanks to DataCase’s Bonjour AFS support, but also works on Windows with FTP, or you can download files from your device using a web-browser. AirSharing is also really good, but its supposed Bonjour support doesn’t perform to the same standard as Datacase, and is only accessible over WebDAV. While AirSharing isn’t as intuitive to connect to as DataCase, it does have better in-app documentation to help with connecting when you forget.


A note manager much better than the built-in Notes program. If you have an iPhone or 2nd Gen iPod Touch, Evernote will also support creating photo and audio notes too. The best part about Evernote is that it does sync with the Evernote website, which will perform optical character recognition on your photos (it can READ photos) and makes that text within the photo searchable.


If you’re always looking for a free ride, WifiTrak will tell you what wireless networks are around you, and even tell you if you can get to the real internet through them without logging in.


A reasonably new app on the scene, Ocarina turns your iPhone into the world’s first social-network-enabled musical instrument. Sorry iPod Touch users, this one needs a microphone. Seriously check this one out, even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a musician — it’s extremely easy to learn, and you don’t have to be able to read sheet music either!

RjDj album

Combined with a microphone, this one listens to your surroundings and gives aural feedback to you to enhance and alter your perception of the world around you. I ran this app commuting to work one day: trip. py. Try the free lite version, RjDj single, first if you don’t believe me!

Apps (internet required)


Hold your microphone up to the music for twelve seconds and Shazam will check online and come back with the name of the song and its artist, the album, the album cover, and links to iTunes for you to buy your own copy. Surprisingly, this works almost anywhere, off the car radio, or even off a PA system in a noisy bowling alley.


Wikipedia has replaced all the encyclopedias of yesteryear as the first place to go when you are curious about something. Why not carry a portal to that resource in your pocket? While there are tons of free and not-so-free apps that all do the same thing, I like Wikipanion‘s interface the best.

Bible (YouVersion) or Mantis Bible Study

YouVersion.com’s bible app appropriately named Bible has many translations available to you, including ESV, NIV, NASB, NCV, The Message, KJV, and many others, even in languages other than English. The cool thing about YouVersion Bible is that it also lets you download copies of some translations for use offline, so you can still access the word of God, even if the 3G broadband doesn’t perform well on Sunday morning. Mantis looks really powerful, but unfortunately you have to pay a lot to download extra translations, commentaries and other resources, most of which are free over the internet via YouVersion Bible.

Google Mobile and Google Earth

Google provides so many services that it’s nice to have one button that lets me do searches quickly and also lets me get to my Reader and alternate Gmail accounts easily. Google Earth is just amazing: once you’re hovering over a location, raise the device upwards like you would a photograph and the map becomes 3D – WOW!

Mobile Fotos

A on-the-go tool for accessing your Flickr account. Upload photos with geocodes generated from the GPS, or access your other photos.

Twinkle and Facebook

If I had to go with only one social network, I’d pick Twitter. Twinkle is a stunning interface to one of the world’s most useful social networks. The Facebook app is good too, but going through Safari works just as well.

That’s all for now. I’ll talk about my pick of iPhone and iPod Touch games in the next couple of days; stay tuned!

Save Icon Confusion is reverting?

What shall we do with the drunken save button?

So floppy disks are totally redundant. Very few new computers are coming with floppy drives. Ask a five-year-old kid what each of these things is:

floppy diskcompact diskSD Card

In my totally unscientific research, I asked a mother of a six-year-old if her little boy would know what these three things were:

CDs: Yes.
Memory Card: Yes.
Floppy Disk: Probably not.

So what did software developers do? Look for a new replacement.

The past

Microsoft Office X for Mac (2001) has used a ZIP disk:
Excel save icon

NeoOffice 2.x for Mac took me a while to figure out… Something akin to the Windows and OSX icon for Removable Drive?

NeoOffice save icon

Why did they have to confuse me?

The Steam Train Comparison

My reaction to this confusion was ‘why change it?’

In New Zealand, and as it turns out, Italy and Sweden, our road signs that say ‘railway level crossing’ look like this:

Railway Crossing sign for New Zealand

(courtesy ltsa.govt.nz)

But hold on, that’s a STEAM train! These trains are not around any more except for in museums and… children’s books. Of course, we all know that this sign is a train. Digging further, it turns out here in New Zealand we have a sign for ‘light rail level crossing’:

Light Rail level crossing

(courtesy ltsa.govt.nz)

What the hang is that… I guess it kinda looks like a train, but it’s electric, but it could be a tram.. huh… *SMACK!* Your car just got hit by an oncoming TRAIN. Talk about confusing and potentially fatal. Luckily, I’ve only got my learner driver’s licence, and I haven’t ever seen this sign in use.

My point is why change something that works?  Luckily, developers have caught on that the floppy disk is an international symbol:

The Present

OpenOffice 3.0 Beta has a floppy disk:

OpenOffice 3.0 Save Icon

And thankfully, Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac has switched back to a floppy disk:

Excel 2008 save icon

Here’s the cincher: Google Docs, a web application that doesn’t even have access to your local computer still uses the floppy disk for its save button:

Google Docs save icon

Curious and Curiouser

Looking for further examples, I dug around. It turns out many applications don’t even have save buttons any more. Apple’s iWork doesn’t have a save button in any of their applications tool bars; you can’t even customise the tool bar to put one there either! I guess these applications are expecting you to memorise the more universal shortcut of Command+S or Ctrl+S


I think that we should stick with the floppy disk. It’s recognisable by all us old timers, but I think that young ones who haven’t seen a floppy disk will still know that it means ‘Save’.

But then again, isn’t just using the keyboard a lot quicker?