Monthly Archives: January 2010

There is a special place in hell for web designers who put white text on a black background

Bad designer! No biscuit!

It makes my eyes hurt just thinking about it. I get so frustrated I want to grab a knife…and spread cream cheese on bagels and then taunt them with it: “No bagels with cream cheese for you, bad web designers!”

Fortunately there is a quick and easy solution, on my Mac at least. Command-Control-Option-8 reverses the screen colors, turning white on black into black on white. All other colors reverse as well, but it’s a small price to pay.

And seriously, if you’re a web designer and you get the urge to put white text on a black background, don’t. Just don’t. If this keeps up I’ll have to sneak into your house at night and wipe vaseline on your eyeglasses every night for a month. And neither of us wants that.

You can get smarter — and by telling you this, I’m helping you do it

An old link, but still valuable: the American Psychological Association writes about a study that shows that people who believe that intelligence is changeable instead of fixed perform better in school. Granted, that’s not a standardized measure of intelligence, but the results are valuable still. Also interesting is that in one of the studies cited the students involved received only three hours of a presentation on the subject. So if you simply read this post over and over for three hours, you too can be a genius.

Checklists: Make money as well as save lives

It’s been about a year since I posted about how checklists can save lives, so it must be time for another entry, right?

There’s an article in the Financial Times on ‘Airline pilot’ protocols in finance. that talks about checklists. It cites a study performed in the late 90s on venture capitalists. It identified several different types of VC based on how they evaluated potential startups. Some came to snap judgments, others based their decision on the technology, ignoring the people, etc. One type — the so-called “airline pilots” — used checklists to help them decide. The study’s conclusion was that this type of VC was far less likely to have to fire the founders down the road: 10%, rather than the 50% average of the rest of the VCs.

The article above is an excerpt from this book (affiliate link warning): The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

Checklists are a way of making mistakes only once. In a very few fields that might not apply; I can’t imagine a painter running down a checklist that says:

  • Use at least 10% red.
  • Paint the subject in 3/4 pose if it is a woman, face-on if it is a man.
  • The subject should cover 60% of the field of view
  • etc.

But of course a painter might have a checklist for how to promote art: how to get it in galleries, how to encourage reviewers, how to reach customers.

In many circumstances people tend to have strong resistance to using a checklist, but in others most people have no problem with it. You probably don’t have a checklist for going to work, even though that likely has more than five steps (the number to put in a central venous catheter), and you’ve probably forgotten your gloves/keys/umbrella/paperwork more than once. But you’ve almost certainly followed a checklist when making dinner. What’s the difference between the two? For starters, you may have followed a checklist/recipe, but have you ever written one down?

In the end I think it comes down to convenience and ease of use. I’m going to look at the alternatives for the iPhone and see if any of them are up to the task.

Women need to BS more

Yesterday I read NYU’s Clay Shirky’s piece A Rant About Women, where he says men are far more likely to shade the truth, or just plain lie, in order to get access to opportunities, especially if they think they can back up their BS, while women are far more likely to simply state the truth, even if it limits them. He doesn’t so much argue the right and wrong of it as simply state it as a fact, with consequences regarding the relative success of men and women in getting ahead.

Today I read the perfect example of this: Personalized Porn by Hugh Mac Leod, cartoonist and author, about a friend of his who, when no one would give him a break in the movie/TV business, used the equipment he had purchased to make a living by filming personal, professional videos of people having sex. He did all the editing work on site so people could be assured that their, ahem, passion would never play on the internet.

Leaving spoiler space…

Continue reading

Yet another iTablet article (okay, not really)

Under the headline

CES 2010: Apple Gets Trumped By Amazing Lenovo Table [sic]

Jim Louderback touts the new Lenovo Table(t) announced (but not released) at CES. He claims that it’s what Apple wishes it was announcing. Not to get all fanboy-ish, but I have to wonder what he was on when he made that statement.

Like everyone else, I have no idea what Apple is going to say in a few weeks, but I feel confident saying this:

  • If it has a touchscreen, that touchscreen will respond accurately to input, unlike the device Louderback was holding, where the various screens lagged behind his fingers the way the ground shifts under the feet of cartoon characters as they walk.
  • If it has no keyboard, it won’t dock into a laptop-looking thing, making it not a tablet, but a laptop with a detachable screen.
  • And most importantly, it won’t run two entirely different operating systems. That’s right: the Lenovo runs Linux as a tablet, but Windows as a laptop.

That last one — I can only assume that they wanted a scaled-down operating system for when the device is used as a tablet. But every operating system has its headaches. Pile on two operating systems: twice the headaches.

And does that mean that documents you work on when the device is a laptop might not be editable, or even viewable, in tablet mode? That has to be the stupidest design decision since Microsoft decided “There are specific tasks that you can perform on a Microsoft Surface unit only when a keyboard, mouse, and monitor are connected to the unit.”

Apparently I write like a girl

Remember that old insult, “you [hit/run/throw/etc.] like a girl? Well apparently I write like a girl. I don’t mean that to be a criticism of female writers, it’s objectively true: there’s a site called The Gender Genie that analyzes your writing and identifies you as either male or female. I put in each of my pieces of fiction posted on this site, and all but one of them came back female, some decidedly so.

The female/male scores:

So the only piece of fiction that was judged to be written by a man was the piece where I was trying to emulate Edgar Allan Poe. The analysis seems to be based on vocabulary, which is interesting.

The words are weighted, so around, what, more, are, and as are significantly masculine, while with, if, and not are significantly feminine, while was and to are roughly neutral.

I’ll follow up with an analysis of my non-fiction writing to see if the pattern holds.