Town Bans Santa

This story sounds like something out of the Onion – the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania is banning Santa on the basis that he is an illegal worker:

The people of Hazleton, PA are proud to announce a citizen-organized public awareness campaign called “No Santa for Hazleton.” The campaign will use Santa Claus’ status as America’s most-loved illegal worker to demonstrate Hazleton’s new “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal aliens.

Hazleton has been at the forefront of the War on Immigration since this past summer, when, in response to a surge in illegal immigration, the city passed its “Illegal Immigrant Relief Act.” The public response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Mayor Lou Barletta’s heroics gained the town national attention, including appearances on 60 Minutes and CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight. Following Hazleton’s example, over 30 other towns across America have passed or are considering similar laws to drive out illegal immigration and labor.

This might be funny if it wasn’t so ignorant. And let’s not forget the Easter Bunny, as well. Lest we forget that laws have their maximum effect when focused on made up characters.

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The Microsoft Fraud

Microsoft’s Yellow Road To Cairo is a must read.

This is a topic that I have talked about for the last ten years, but no one seemed to want to hear it. Most would just breathlessly pant on about how MS was such a great marketing and technology innovator. Ha! What they did establish is a near licensing stranglehold via their bogus announcements meant to shunt the market. Announcements that they likely never intended to deliver on (and, in fact, never did).

Fraud as a Business Plan

The magic of the Internet is helping to point out the tragic fallacy of believing in Microsoft’s promises. Microsoft assures us that it won’t ever slip half a decade between operating systems again, but what about the fact that that’s all it has ever done?

Looking back, while it appears Microsoft has shipped regular products, in reality what it has shipped in the last two decades of Windows has been a series of apologetic stopgaps without ever being ready and able to ship what it actually promised to deliver.

Those placeholder products were far inferior to what competitors were offering. They were actually far inferior in many cases to products that predated them by many years.

In addition, the futuristic Cairo plans Microsoft failed to ship were actually delivered years ahead of schedule by other vendors. Why does Microsoft keep getting airtime? The company is a huge fraud, and has been for decades.

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Which Simplicity Are We Talking About?

I noticed that these comments by Don Norman are generating quite a bit of chatter, particularly this exchange:

Why do we deliberately build things that confuse the people who use them?

Answer: Because the people want the features. Because simplicity is a myth whose time has past, if it ever existed.

Make it simple and people won’t buy. Given a choice, they will take the item that does more. Features win over simplicity, even when people realize that it is accompanied by more complexity. You do it too, I bet. Haven’t you ever compared two products side by side, comparing the features of each, preferring the one that did more? Why shame on you, you are behaving, well, behaving like a normal person.

People are seizing upon the “simplicity is a myth whose time has past” part of the quote. Here is where I feel that ‘simplicity’ is not well defined. Is it ‘simplicity’ in that it something is easy to use? Or is it ‘simplicity’ in that it doesn’t have a huge number of functions and options to fret over? I would argue that most people are looking for the former. Perhaps this reflects the popularity of the iPod?

In a well designed product, regardless of how complex it is, it should be easy to use (and consistent in it’s use for that matter). This reminds me of Guy Kawasaki’s discussion of ‘deep products’ in his book, Rules For Revolutionaries.

I also fully acknowledge the ‘gadget-ism’ aspect of the consumer experience. I also believe that this leads to an ultimately empty (or at least disappointing) product experience if the buyer ever cares to re-evaluate their purchase. Yes, people will go out and spend $2000USD on a digital SLR that they ultimately use as if it were a $200USD point and shoot camera — ‘but it has more pixels and more twirly knobs!’. The same with sports cars, SUVs, coffee makers, high tech clothing and any number of other things. Go ahead, spend $1000USD on a technical jacket that could take you to the top of Mt. Everest, despite the fact that it will see nothing more challenging than walking around the block to Starbucks. What is really needed is a means to stay warm and dry. What is really desired is to align with the latest trends regardless the practicality or cost.

This same effect can be seen in software as well. I know of a large number of people who rushed out and bought the full version of Photoshop at around $600USD and use a handful of features that they could have gotten for free with software like Picasa or Gimp. Ditto for folks who ‘gotta have’ the latest version of Office because of ‘all the new features’ — features that will never be used by a buyer who rarely ventures any further into the product than perhaps using a table to format some text.

In the end, well designed, easy to use products are going to win out — if you define ‘win’ as having a long and useful life. Overly complex, feature rich products will tend to lose favor because of the frustration with all of the choices (or a mere acknowledgment that they were purchased for the wrong reasons). Ask yourself if Don Norman’s comments are focused on consumerism or usability — methinks more of the former and less of the latter.

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Exhibit Data Publishing Framework

The fine minds at SIMILE at MIT have come up with a ‘lightweight structured data publishing framework’ called Exhibit that is in the same vein as their awesome timeline widget.

It’s like Google Maps and Timeline, but for structured data normally published through database-backed web sites. Exhibit essentially removes the need for a database or a server side web application. Its Javascript-based engine makes it easy for everyone who has a little bit of knowledge of HTML and small data sets to share them with the world and let people easily interact with them.

Check out the examples, including US Presidents and Breakfast Cereal Character Guide.

They also provide a complementary tool called Babel to convert from various formats to the Exhibit JSON format.

And, as they say: “Remember: there is no database, no web application behind these examples.”

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New Word: Upgrage

I caught the above typo in an email from one of our software vendors at work. I thought about it for a second and concluded this could be a new sniglet-esque word, similar to ‘road rage’. ‘Upgrage’ could be the anger you feel after upgrading (or having an upgrade slammed on your system by helpful automated tools) which renders the application/system even more borked than it was prior to the upgrade.

Interestingly, this typo appears quite a bit on Google but I have not found anyone who has actually assigned it this meaning. History being made, right here on this post 🙂

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