Faux Physical Surfaces Suck

<rant>

Here’s a screenshot of the iPad calendar, courtesy of GigaOM.

It’s a small nitpicky thing of mine, but Apple’s UI decisions here annoy the heck out of me. Note how they’re using the brown to give off the appearance of an actual calendar, something physical that people can grab and manipulate.

Hogwash I say.

First, it’s half-assed. Apple prides itself on delivering a complete UI experience, but seriously, this UI here?  It clashes with the rest of the iPad UI, unless real calendars have black floaty selection boxes hovering over them. Or have buttons and search boxes built into them. It looks like they thought of a more traditional computer UI first, with all the buttons and what not, and then slapped on this layer of velvety brown physicalness. That’s half-assed.

Second, it’s pointless. The velvety brown look isn’t more intuitive. It’s the exact same UI you would use on a computer, except it looks more physical. I guess that invites me to touch it, but really, do I really need a cue to touch the iPad?

Third, it’s ugly. Seriously, Apple has this steel, chrome, elegant look down. iPads are supposed to be shiny. The last thing it needs is brown.

</rant>

Get rid of credit card numbers

Short Version

Credit card companies should switch to a PayPal-like system for online payments, and use “blank” cards (no number visible to the human eye) for offline payments.

Long Version

As Sony restores service to its network after the possible theft of millions of credit card numbers, I wish people would start asking one simple question: Why do we need credit cards numbers?

By this, I don’t mean, why do we need lines of credit? That’s a question for the economists. I’m simply asking why we need some 16-digit number (plus an expiration date and 3-digit “security code”) that people can use to magically make you owe money. It’s an inherently insecure system.

I tried to split a bill once by asking my friends to let me swipe their cards using Square. For those who don’t know, Square is a little credit card reader that you can use with most modern smartphones. My friends were nervous about the security implications of me initiating a transaction with their credit cards on my phone. My response: If I really wanted to steal their credit card info, I would just memorize the number while it’s sitting on the table in front of me. Second response: Everyone seems quite OK with handing their card over to the underpaid high school student waiter.

The problem is that a credit card number is supposed to be a “secret”, but it’s one we frequently share with all sorts of random strangers. So what’s the alternative? Use a different “number” for every transaction, like PayPal does.
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A Long AT&T Rant

Courtesy of XKCD

Licensed by Randall Munroe under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Noncommercial License

I’m pretty sure a monkey must have designed AT&T’s sales and tech support system. That’s not to say that the actual staff are monkeys — they’re perfectly nice people trying their best, but at the end of the day, they can only do whatever their sales / tech support computer software lets them do. Basically, I’m saying the engineers who designed this entire system were monkeys.

Or at the very least, their managers were.

But first, the beginning of this story: Back in April or May or so, I decided to switch from Comcast to AT&T for Internet service — mostly because I was pissed off about how they were raising my bill by $1 each month. The bills, of course, provided no helpful hints about why the amount kept going up. Yes, I could’ve just called Comcast and contested it, but I wasn’t keen to get into a pissing match with Comcast over $1. So I decided to dump the bastards altogether and switch to the only other game in town — AT&T.

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Harvard and The Social Network

I have a longish list of coincidences between my life and Mark Zuckerberg’s. It extends beyond going to Harvard and founding a startup but does not include success. So watching The Social Network was unsettling, to say the least.

That’s not what this post is about. This post is about how accurately the film portrays Harvard. Note that there may be spoilers below, so read at your own risk.

Anyhow, it’s easy to point out what the film gets wrong. Life at the Harvard I knew was not driven by final clubs and rigid social hierarchies. The notion that Zuckerberg screwed Eduardo Saverin because Zuckerberg was jealous about Saverin getting into the Phoenix is just slightly more plausible than Barack Obama being born in Kenya. That opening scene where’s there some musical prodigy playing violin outside in the courtyard? The only person I knew playing violin outside at night was homeless. And he sucked.

I think this misses the point. What The Social Network gets right is the mythology of Harvard. Yes, the mythology doesn’t accurately reflect what Harvard actually was (or is), but Harvard students were intimately aware of it. To the extent that the film portrays how out of place that mythology is within the real world, it captures the zeitgeist of the Harvard. Continue reading

Re. Shirley Sherrod

<rant>Let me get this straight.

USDA official Shirley Sherrod basically says, “Because this farmer was white, I didn’t do all I could to help him. But then I realized that was racist, and that all racism is bad, so I helped him save his farm.”

White farmer says, “Yup, she saved our farm. She rocks.”

Andrew Breitbart edits that down to just this: “Because this farmer was white, I didn’t do all I could to help him.” He calls her a racist. White House (or Tom Vilsack) fires her.

WTF?!?!

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California – Yes on Prop 14, No on Prop 16

As most people who read my stuff have probably already voted, I should have posted this earlier if I wanted to actually persuade anyone. Still, I feel it’s good practice for me to justify my own votes.

Yes on Prop 14

Prop 14 creates a non-partisan primary system. Rather than party-specific primaries, there’s just one big election where everyone from any party runs. The top two vote-getters (assuming neither candidate gets more than 50%) then move on to a run-off vote.

Personally, I think instant-runoff voting is the way to go, but a jungle primary would be an improvement too. That said, you’re not automatically getting less polarizing candidates as advertised. In most jungle primaries, the two who make it to the runoff round are probably going to be the same two who would have won the Democratic and Republican primaries anyway. The benefit is really in those edge cases where there’s a candidate with significant cross-over appeal. For example, let’s say I’m really invested in the outcome of a close Democratic primary for Governor but I also really like one of the more moderate Republican candidate for Treasurer. Under the old system, they’re on different ballots, so I’d have to choose which one I care about more. Under the new one, it’s all unified onto a single ballot, so I can make those moderating votes for both candidates. Continue reading

Buy Tort Bunnies Schwag

There are now not one but two places where you can buy Tort Bunnies stuff.

T-Shirt: I shock your conscience. I shock it hard.

Zazzle has been around for a while. Selection is pretty good and given that I wanted to make posters and not deal with CafePress’s premium shop nonsense, that didn’t leave very many alternatives. The value t-shirt option is very cheap, but apart from that, things get very expensive, very quick IMHO. You’re welcome to pay more if you want though — I am charging a percentage-based royalty after all.

MySoti is a newer print-on-demand site. The prices for their American Apparel branded shirts are cheaper than the same at Zazzle’s. Also, word on the Internet is that their print quality is better than Zazzle’s, but they have a rather long turn-around time. Their FAQ says not to call them until after 28 days. The selection is a bit more limited too, hence, why I currently only have three shirt designs up here.

Anyhow, I’m going to wait for feedback and some sample merchandise before passing further judgment. For now, you’re welcome to try your luck buying from either supplier.

Tort Bunnies is Now Accessible to the Blind

Tort Bunnies is now accessible to the visually impaired and anyone else using a screen reader, or at very least, a little less annoying to navigate than before. For those not in the know, the blind can use software that reads web-content aloud to navigate the web. Naturally, this breaks down with certain graphical elements, like web-comic images. I’ve had transcripts of all the comics hidden on the site for a while now for search engines to index, but they weren’t all that inviting to people using screen readers. Some issues that I’ve fixed:

  • The transcript used to include things like “—–” to separate panels of the comic. Screen-readers, however, read this as “dash dash dash dash dash,” which I imagine gets really annoying over time. That’s been replaced with the phrase “next panel.”
  • The transcripts were not clearly marked, and in order to get there, a screen reader would have to jump past the image, notes, and all sorts of markup before getting to the transcript. There is a now a hidden link near the beginning of the page that allows screen-readers to jump straight to the transcript.
  • The alt text and title text were mixed up. They’re separated now.

There are still minor things here and there that might annoy people using screen-readers of course. For example, I use the « and » symbols in a few places as “arrows” pointing left and right. Some screen readers will not read them as arrows however, but as “left double angle bracket” and “right double angle bracket.” I know that might be annoying, but I’m fan of how they look and given that they’re frequently used (see, e.g., Gmail), I think the burden here should actually be on the makers of screen-readers to come up a better textual description of that symbol.
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