Happy New Year

Best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous 2012.

Oh, and hopefully we can silence the world ending this year nonsense once and for all. I am sure there are some who won’t be convinced until January 2013.

Uncluttering The Web

I have been waiting for this trend to catch on for a long, long time. After more than a decade we are only now beginning to shed the vulgarities and visual clutter of the BLINK tag, Flash, animated GIFs, ActiveX, embedded (and auto playing) sound files and Java Applets to start focusing on actually conveying information in a clean and readable way.

The Readable Future

The ability to read uncluttered web pages is going mainstream.

I made the point recently that technical people can avoid, or at least cut down on, ads, sharing buttons, and clutter when reading web pages — they have RSS readers, Instapaper, Readability, Safari’s Reader button, AdBlock, Flipboard, Zite, and so on.

Not all of these technologies were made with the goal of uncluttering web pages, but they have that effect. No app built for reading starts with the premise that the publisher has done an acceptable job.

That premise is, unfortunately, generally correct, and those apps and technologies are becoming more and more popular, particularly with the rise of iPad as a great reading device. (But this isn’t only about iPads, or even mobile.)

Publications shouldn’t ignore this trend.

This trend means that their medley-of-madness designs will increasingly be routed-around, starting with presumably their most-favored readers, the more affluent and technical, but extending to the less-affluent and less-technical until it includes just about everybody.

The future is, one way or another, readable.

Responsive Design and HTML5

Lots of fine work popping up lately regarding responsive design and the growing use of HTML5 to present not only content, but a rich, interactive user experience.

Take for example the new Boston Globe site. To get the full impact of the site, view it on as many different devices and orientations as you can and not how it fluidly adjusts to each of them. A another key aspect of this site is that they took a mobile first stance with the design so things are as lean as possible – a refreshing change from the ‘flash just because we can’ presentation that is all to common today. ReadWriteWeb has a behind the scenes look at the site design.

SlideShare is another site that has moved to HTML5 to provide a richer, cross-platform experience for sharing slide decks, videos and other business documents. Another advantage of moving to HTML5 is that the site renders 30 percent faster than the previous Flash-based version. TechCrunch has more on the changes at SlideShare:

Boutelle says SlideShare continues to see growing engagement, and expects the HTML5 platform to increase usage as well. He explains that HTML5 made sense because the company wanted a lightweight experience for users and wanted documents, fonts, and more to look the same on various browser types. As we mentioned above, this is SlideShare’s first mobile presence and currently the startup doesn’t have any plans to expand to native apps. “We’re doubling down on HTML5 and making this better and bette so it works for everybody,” says Boutelle.

And, yes, even Facebook has been talking recently about how they are looking to HTML5 to avoid having to develop and maintain four different code bases across their desktop and various mobile platforms.

HTML5 is probably the way that we should have done it. This is the way we get to do it now because HTML5 has changed so much under our feet. The initial attempt at building a hybrid application, there were certain things in HTML5 that weren’t ready yet and we said forget it, we are going to keep moving forward. The initial attempt to defer certain things to native rendering and native handling that really could be better handled by something like HTML5 and with in-browser technology – device access, good native frameworks and application and display code.

With all of this movement in the industry, why are corporate developers largely ignoring HTML5? The same changes that exist in the consumer markets are already starting to appear inside the corporate firewall – tablet and mobile interactions with corporate systems. Additionally, customers are going to start expecting, if not demanding, that corporate web sites look and behave in a responsive way regardless of what device they are using to access them. These pressures are going to force a change in development toolkits and approaches for businesses to stay competitive and relevant.

Cosmos TV Series Being Remade

According to this post there is going to be a 13 part update to the original Cosmos TV show that featured Carl Sagan. And, in my opinion, they picked the perfect host: Neil deGrasse Tyson. Mr Tyson is extremely intelligent, articulate and engaging when speaking about science (or most anything, come to think of it). I am sure they will do a much better job with the CGI than what was possible with the tech available in the early days of blue screens and video.

I thoroughly enjoyed the original when I was growing up and snagged the series when it because available on DVD. My daughter is even a bit of a fan.

The only downside to this is having to wait until 2013 to see the new show.

‘Boutique’ Online Shopping – Customer Service Matters!

In my local and online shopping, I prefer to give my hard earned cash to a smaller outfit that offers a good (or in some cases superior) product and many times a much better shopping experience. However, of late, I have had two consumer experiences that lead me to believe that small online retailers don’t understand the importance of customer service (or customer relations).

First up in Inventory Magazine (and their related shop). With only two issues in circulation, Inventory is a fantastic magazine: interesting articles, well presented and sustainably produced. No quarrels there.

I decided to splash out and buy one of their bespoke store brand shirts albeit at a bit of a premium price. A little over a week later the shirt arrives. It looks as if it has been unceremoniously stuffed into a folded up shopping bag and a shipping label applied to the outside. A cursory inspection of the shirt shows that it has several obvious defects in the material and craftsmanship (slubs in the fabric, loose buttons, untrimmed threads). Basically, reminds me of the sort of thing you would see on the rack at as a ‘second’ at TJ Maxx. Clearly the item hadn’t been inspected at all before plunked into the bag and sent of to me, the customer. I am justifiably more than a little disappointed in the item I received so I sent off an email to Inventory. Several days go by with no response. So I send another. Still no response. I direct message them on Twitter (where they are fairly active so I know someone is on the other end of the line). Again nothing. At this point, my thought is ‘what the hell?’ – they have had every opportunity to a) respond b) make the situation right. Instead they have chosen to do nothing. Buyer beware when purchasing from Inventory Magazine’s online shop.

The second example is comical in an ironic (and similar) sort of way. Monocle is another fantastic monthly magazine that has ventured into online sales of a small number of curated items from music to books to rather dearly priced clothing ($400USD espadrilles anyone?). I already subscribe to the magazine so I have an online account with them. My attempt to use that account to purchase several music CDs from them was a very rough ride. After selecting the items and placing them in my shopping basket I attempted to check out. I selected my existing account from a list. But I can move beyond the screen because it keeps telling me I need to input a city name. Reselect info, visually verify there is, in fact, a city listed. Check. Still can’t proceed. Fire off an email to the Monocle sales team. The response: ‘try again later’. What?! Presumably they have invested in self healing technology for their site. So I try again a week later. Same error. Another email. Then another. Then another. Finally get a response to, wait for it, ‘try again later’. When I inquire if the issue has been identified and fixed (it has not) I get the curious response of ‘just send us your order and payment info in an email(!) an we’ll try to process your order. My payment info in an email? Are you mad? At this point nearly two months have gone by and they have not fixed their site. Now I need to renew my subscription. Same issue with that. I am able to work around it by manually re-keying all of my address info into the system. I was so frustrated that I emailed Tyler Brule (Monocle’s head) directly about my poor experience with the Monocle order process. You guessed it, no response at all.

The truly ironic part of this is how much Monocle the magazine bangs on issue after issue about who is doing customer service ‘right’ around the world and authoritatively proclaiming to those who aren’t ‘doing it right’ how they should improve. But apparently when it comes to actually providing customer service themselves, well, that is optional, suboptimal and unapologetic. Thanks for making me work so hard to be a customer, Monocle.

Fortunately, there are a few sites that understand customer service. One shining example is Corazzo, a Portland, Oregon-based provider of scooter/motorcycle riding apparel. From my first order, they have provided both stellar products and service. Questions and issues are dealt with promptly and personally. Subsequent orders are always accompanied by a hand written note of thanks (and many times a little something extra that shows they appreciate the return business). Absolutely fantastic. If they were a local company, I would stop by on a regular basis to congratulate them on their fine service and products and encourage them to continue in the same vein.

I can only hope that Inventory spend a little time with the Corazzo folks and figure out how to elevate their game. I wish Inventory success – if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t engage with them to try to improve. At this point in my experiece, they have a long way to go.

Can Bacteria Make You Smarter?

So maybe the recent crazy for anti-bacterial everything is not necessarily a good thing? From Science Daily:

Exposure to specific bacteria in the environment, already believed to have antidepressant qualities, could increase learning behavior, according to research presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

What next, the discovery of midichlorians and their impact?

Also previously Cut Down On Infections By Cutting Down On Antibiotics

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Why So Much Anger? And Why Now?

A thoughtful and insightful posting on the Tea Tantrum and their ‘anger’. I have always regarded the ‘Take Back America’ rhetoric as coded language that belies a certain masked bigotry. It appears that I am not alone in that thought.

Tea Party supporters repeatedly assert that they are not racists and that their strong dislike of President Obama is not racially motivated. The Tea Party is clearly not a hate group like the Ku Klux Klan or the various militia movements on the fringes that openly advocate hate, hostility or violence toward those they do not like. Their income, education and political influence place the vast majority of Tea Party supporters much closer to the establishment than to any such fringe groups. And in 21st century America you cannot be a well respected member of the establishment and openly advocate racist positions.

But, while not overtly racist, their vision for America does not seem to include people who are not like them as full-fledged members of the same establishment of which they are a part. Tea Party supporters seem to strongly resent the educational, economic and political advances made by women, blacks, Hispanics and other minorities over the past few decades, so concretely symbolized by the election of Barack Obama.

The concluding paragraph pretty much knocks it out of the park:

Groups like the Tea Party will continue to rise, rally against these changes and try to Take America Back, egged on by the demagogues of their day looking to exploit their fears for their own power and riches. But the end is always the same. No one can Take America Back, because what they are really fighting is the fair, inclusive and democratic character of the country, a character that gets reaffirmed and strengthened generation after generation.

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Fingertip Bacteria A New Forensic Clue?

Apparently just the bacteria on your body can be used to uniquely identify you. Interesting forensic technique that I am sure could be abused in for other purposes.

Let’s say you wanted to find who has been using a particular office computer. Here’s how it would work:
“We could swab a keyboard key, for example, pull the bacterial DNA off that swab, and then identify all or nearly all of the bacteria that make up that community,” says Fierer.
So that’s what he did. He and his colleagues swabbed the individual keys from three personal computer keyboards, “and then matched those keys to the bacteria on the fingertips of the owners of the keyboard. And we showed that we could basically identify whose keyboard it was pretty well.”
Fierer then tried a similar experiment with people’s computer mice, and he could match a mouse to its owner. The findings appear in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In one final experiment, Fierer and his colleagues found that they could still perform an analysis of bacterial DNA two weeks after it had been left on a surface.
Fierer says he’s already had some informal discussions with law-enforcement agencies about his bacterial ID techniques, and there’s been interest in this approach. But Fierer’s the first to say it’s not ready for the courtroom. At least not yet.
“There’s a lot of work we need to do to figure out how accurate it is and what are the limitations and so forth, but, yeah, it’s encouraging. It does seem like we can actually take advantage of that uniqueness of our bacterial communities,” he says.

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Airline Uniform Fetish?

Failing airline JAL, in addition to its obvious financial woes is experiencing another that it probably never anticipated: stewardesses uniforms are highly prized by fetishist and are being stolen and resold for enormous sums.

The outfits, early versions of which were designed by Hanae Mori, are incredibly popular among fans with a uniform fetish and can command exorbitant prices on on-line auction sites.

A jacket alone can fetch several hundred pounds, while one site is presently advertising a full set for more than £2,000. JAL’s domestic rival, All Nippon Airways, has a similar problem and an ANA stewardesses’ uniform is also on sale on-line for £3,745. Items that have been worn command higher prices.

“We have very strict rules on our uniforms and when people leave the company they are required to return them,” a spokeswoman for JAL told The Daily Telegraph.

“It’s a question of security, as anyone wearing a JAL uniform at an airport could quite easily access restricted areas, but we also do not want people misrepresenting the company or damaging our image in any way,” she added.

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New Google Phone Name Has Blade Runner Tie?

This kind of attitude from the estate of Phillip K. Dick is a bit theatrical and somewhat stupid.

As many bloggers have noted, the name Nexus One seems to be a reference to the cyborgs in the dystopian movie “Blade Runner,” which in turn was based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by the late Philip K. Dick. Both the film and the book feature a bounty hunter tracking down several rogue Nexus-6 cyborgs, the sixth generation in the line of Nexus robots.

This sort of reminds me of Carl Sagan finding out that the code name for what became the Apple Power Mac 7100 was ‘Sagan’ and threaten legal action even though Apple wasn’t publicly using that name. When contacted about the legal threat, Apple made a somewhat public announcement that they were in fact using the code name ‘butt-head astronomer‘ for the product.

Post created at 32,000 feet in route to LAX using in-flight wifi free trial.

Nokia N97 vs iPhone 3GS

From the Nokia97Forum:

Some of the pluses of N97 over iPhone are:

– Full Qwerty keyboard (iPhone doesn’t have)
– 5MP fully functional digital camera with Carl Zeiss optics and several editing options(iPhone has 3MP basic camera)
– Camera dual LED Flash to take pictures in dark (iPhone useless in dark)
– FM Transmitter (iPhone doesn’t have)
– Stereo bluetooth 2.0 (A2DP) (iPhone doesn’t have A2DP)
– TV out, (iPhone doesn’t have)
– expandable memory with 16gb microSD card (takes total memory to 48GB!) – iPhone has only 16 or 32mb max with no expansion.
– Unlocked so will work on any carrier (locked to AT&T in US and in most countries, where not prohibited by law)
– Widgets so you don’t have to opens most used apps like Calendar, email etc., (no widgets in iPhone)
– Flexibility to self sign a lot of free applications and install (iPhone doesn’t provide this flexibility)
– Resistive touch screen so you can use it with your gloves on or with stylus in winter (you’ll have to use your fingers only with iPhone)
– better screen resolution at 640×360 (iPhone has 480×320)
– Removable battery so you can carry one extra or replace on easily(iPhone does builtin battery)

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