Christian Heilmann

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Archive for February, 2009

Introducing BOSS at the Open Hack Day in Bangalore, India

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

I just came back from stage at the Open Hack Day in Bangalore, India where introduced BOSS as an idea to innovate and turning a search engine into a find engine:

[slideshare id=1026635&doc=bossopenhackbangalore2009-1234581590455453-3]

Now I am enjoying the magic of YQL presentations before talking to people about YUI.

To hell with IE6? More like to hell with “good enough”

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Lately a lot of bloggers have started venting their frustration on IE6 - Robert Nyman got the ball rollling, Roger Johannson enforced the argument and now Ara Pehlivanian chimes in. The general consensus is that people should stop making things work pixel-perfect for IE6 at the cost of delaying projects or adding cruft to the code. This brings on fond memories of Jeffrey Zeldman’s To Hell With Bad Browsers and WaSP’s browser upgrade campaign which was great (although I always considered the javelin thrower a bit creepy) but like then it makes you wonder who we are talking to with these campaigns.

As I pointed out in my comment on Ara’s post I thoroughly support the sentiment but consider it misguided:

As much as I would love to see IE6 being taken out into the garden and beaten by kids with sticks before being set on fire, I’d say there is a lot of fallacy in the argument that we as web developers have much say in the matter. Of course users have the choice to use any other browser, but the sad fact is that IE6 prevails in environments where users don’t have the option to upgrade their browser as IT defines what software is on the computer. These are the same companies that block Facebook and Flickr as it distracts people from “doing real work”.

The “good enough” syndrome

Actually this to me is a symptom of a bigger cause, one that I call the “good enough” syndrome. That’s the thing that keeps us from improving a lot of working environments: people are happy to use a half-baked solution that doesn’t require any additional work instead of keeping their setup up-to-date.

Not everybody is as enthusiastic about IT as we are and in most cases computers are a tool to reach a goal. That is the same for us but in a lot of cases the users simply don’t want to be bored with details. Instead they just want to use the damn thing.

It doesn’t matter how convoluted and braindead a process to get where they need to get is – once learned, this is the way to go and it is easy to repeat this every time it has to be done. Learning an easier way or trying out a different technology is extra work and seems superfluous – the time for the braindead task is already allocated and there is no point in shifting the interaction with that computer thing around.

Paper trail conditioning

You get the same happenings in companies and when it comes to paperwork. A lot of steps in internal processes or in ordering forms are completely redundant – ludicrous even. But as they are the way that things have to be done and questioning them means more work and “rocking the boat” we stick to them. There must be a reason for them, after all, right? We don’t work with idiots, there must be some good reason for all these redundant steps. We could ask for those reasons but that is too much work – after all we need this time to follow all these steps that have to be done, right?

Keeping the saw blunt – computers don’t evolve, right?

As computers are magical and too hard to understand there is also not much sense in questioning the status quo: whatever they use at work must be the best thing there is as we work with professionals. As geeks we like to push the boundaries of our toys and use them for all kind of cool things. Most of all we like to tinker with the toy itself which gets us far too close to the subject matter. A lot of of other users out there however see it as a tool to either get work done or to be entertained.

My favourite example is my brother: he wanted a computer to do some graphical work, to write reports for his job and to play games. Having these three tasks of course he needed a Windows machine as all his colleagues had one and can lend him games to try out. He also spends most of his time trying out new virus scanning tools and firewalls as all his colleagues tell him about all the evil viruses out there. Last time I checked his machine there were 3 virus scanners and 2 firewalls running and he wondered why the computer is so slow and why he needed yet another video card to run a new game. I bought him a Wii and introduced him to Macs and Linux, but that’s not on as the latter two don’t run games and there is no Word for it.

All in all the setup is “good enough” as he is not a professional and it allows him to do what he wants to do. That there are easier and better ways out there is neither here nor there, it took long enough to get the hang of it and other things will be harder to learn, after all everybody uses this setup and is protected by Virus scanners – it has to be the right one. That many people cannot be wrong.

The good enough syndrome manifests itself in a milder form of Stockholm Syndrome where people start defending the terrible solutions and complex processes with claws and teeth instead of keeping an open mind and trying out something new. Want an example in our world? Table layouts vs. CSS layouts :)

Don’t click this – a clickjacking experiment currently hammering twitter

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Reverse psychology is an interesting thing. Currently Twitter is being hammered by thousands of people twittering about a page that has a button that tells them not to click it. Why do they do it? Because they are told not to. How come they are twittering about it? A small thing called clickjacking.

Scott Schiller shows in a screenshot how the trick works:

The page with the don’t click button actually has an iframe over the button that loads your page with the predefined tweet about going to the site. The iframe also positions your update button to cover the “don’t click this” button and has an opacity of 0 so you do submit your tweet without knowing it.

The scam works. If you currently check twitter search for “don’t click” then you’ll have an amazing amount of fresh tweets every few seconds. There’s also a French version in the wild

So if you get the tweet, don’t follow the page. If you see a button to click, be very wary of what is going on there!

Web Development is moving on – are you?

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Last week Think Vitamin released an article by me about the changes in web development. I wrote this article over Christmas to publish at another web magazine but it was not to be as they stopped publishing for the moment.

I consider this article and what it talks about very important at the moment. I’ve covered some of the topics in my presentation at the head conference 7 reasons why web development is running in circles already and I stick to my guns: if we want to prevent web development to decline into a “make it work now and cheap” state we need to make sure that we use what is out there already rather than trying to build everything from scratch.

The web these days reminds me of that chest of drawers in my grandparents’ flat: always stocked with sweets and easy to access. With APIs, SDKs and even filtering and caching mechanisms like YQL, Pipes or Gnip it is amazingly easy to build working systems on top of the internet as it is rather than trying to scrape data together. Using JavaScript and CSS frameworks it is pretty easy to build interfaces that are working across browsers without having to deep-dive into the pain that is cross-browser support and knowing all the hacks for each of the browsers.

I really like that after a long time hacking and making the web barely work for all the users out there we have a chance to concentrate on building good apps that solve problems of users rather than spending 90% of our time fixing the outcome to work for browsers.

Maybe it is also time to stop complaining about CSS not being a “real programming language” and lamenting the “dark art of building a three column layout” and concentrate on what we are passionate about and leaving these jobs to the people who are passionate about fighting that battle.

TTMMHTM: Thankful Koala, vouchers, font reporting, CSS3 and HTML5 support and blog monetization

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Things that made me happy this morning:

Koala drinking from water bottle of firefighter