Consider it Jousting

Constructive criticyzm is a well accepted concept, but add a little sarcasm you have probably crossed the line.

Having a good round of “jousting” with a friend who knows you well enough to make fun of you but loves you enough not to actually break anything can be a fun and stimulating experience. As long as the parties are considerate of each-other, even sarcasm can be fair game.

Now switch mental gears for a minute and consider criticism.

Our society is fairly accepting of the concept of constructive criticism. Done in the right manor, it is possible to make observations about other people that encourage them to change for the better. This is effective only to the point where the parties trust each other.

Now mix the two. (insert explosion here)

My experience says that there needs to be a very distinct separation between these two operations. As long as you can trust a friend to pull you aside and be intentional and loving with real criticism, the jousting can be a blast.

I recently felt the need to make an apology to a relative that I had been jousting with for several days. We had given each other considerable amounts of grief in a humorous sort of way and to a point, I was confident that it was all in the spirit of fun. That “point” came when I said something a little to close to being a real put down.

Although I did not intend it derogatorily, something told me that the comment was inappropriate and so I brought it up the next day and asked forgiveness. Thankfully no inferences had been made, but the mistake got me really thinking about what things are safe topics for jest.

In the pleasant conversation that ensued with this individual, I found out that I was not the only one to have jousted with them and hit the same unsafe topic. Unfortunately the other party had long since crossed the line and was mixing real criticism with the humorous comments. The effect was devastating.

The moral of the story? If you are going to seek this kind of fun, please make the extra effort to ensure that your engaging in considerate jousting. Save any topic even remotely close to real criticism for a real “in love” discussion, and make sure this is well understood in the relationship!


No browser left behind

In the military, and in many other circles, there are policies to the effect of “no man left behind”. When will consumers understand that this does not apply to the world of web browsers?

Warning! This is a geek rant. If you don’t care, save your sanity and skip to the next post.

The more I have learned about developing for the web, the more I have become and advocate of accessibility. The whole point of the World Wide Web has been to get as much information out to as many people as possible in a cost effective manor.

For a website creator, this means a never ending basket of headaches as browsers and standards come and go. One of my favorite banner adds of all time was put out a few years ago by WaSP and goes something like this. “Your boss wants a website. He asks if you know the standards. You do. All 37 of them.”

Somewhere along the line a thought was introduced in the world of the web that accessibility meant that developers should insure that all browsers show their users the same thing. I believe this concept to be patently false. I do not have a perfect definition, but I think a better one would revolve around the concept that any user, no matter what their resources, should have some form of access to your content. “Pixel Perfect Design” is a nice idea, but first make sure people can get the info if they need to.

Their resources may be an old Windows 95 based PC laptop, a cell phone, or the latest Power Book from apple. I do not think the users preference in browser or phobia towards software updates should be considered “resources”.

A user of mine recently provided a case-in-point for this concept. While they had a spiffy new Windows-XP machine capable of running the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox or Opera, their browser of choice was Netscape 6. Point Oh. Point Oh. Even better, a copy of Netscape 4.x was kept around for handy reference. To complete the menagerie, their IE had never been patched or updated.

The result was a machine that almost completely failed to display anything useful when pointed to a site of mine that uses CSS for layout, Dojo for Ajax-ness, and Google’s javascript map API for a good portion of it’s content. The broken version of IE displayed a large what nothing; the Netscape – a few broken boxes and a javascript error. Curiously enough, the oldest browser proved the most useful. Since it completely ignored the style sheets and active components, it was able to display a simply formatted version of the page content including useful pieces of information such as the business phone number. It was unable to use the map, but as the map was more of an accessory to the main focus of getting people to call and make reservations, it was not the end of the world.

In a positive example, I have always been amused by the nVidia driver download page. While the site typically relies on interactive javascript menus, one of the first elements on the page is a text link to UNIX video drivers so that browsers such as lynx (text console based) are able to access drivers. Since this needs to be done on most UNIX systems before you get a graphical environment in which a good browser will run, this was a smart move. I think there are much more elegant ways of formatting “degradable” content, this is still accessibility.

I still go to considerable effort to support some old browsers, This is because in some cases, old browsers are the latest thing available on a platform. The world of Mac OS9 is one example. IE 5.5 mac seems to be the latest and greatest that these people have access too, so I do my best to make content available to it. I whine and gripe and fuss, but I usually do it.

The very first release of IE6 is another story. Since there are so many service packs and patches available for this that everyone SHOULD have anyway, I never spend any time supporting it. The same goes for any version of Netscape. If your phobia against upgrading makes you want to avoid versions 7 and 8, at least get the latest build of 6! It is no accident that vendors release dozens if not hundreds of patches and updates to browsers (and other software) along it’s life span.

The other half to this argument involves the cost-benefit analysis. At some point, some older browsers represent such small market share and large cost of development, that supporting them makes no financial sense. Again, the goal of the WWW is to get as much information out to as many people as you can in a cost effective manor, not to get the information out to everyone at any expense.

If another 5 hours of development time can make your content and the users experience better for 95% of your audience, why spent 5 hours making sure .2% are getting equal share. This is most obvious when you realize that the .2% can probably fix their own problem anyway.

Consider the analogous situation of the minority of users that cannot dial long distance or even 800 numbers from their phones. Instead of all the big companies getting local numbers in every calling zone in the US so they don’t leave anyone behind, it is more cost effective for them to make an 800 number available and put the saved money into advertising to pick up more of the customers that CAN place the call.


Sanity check

Have you ever doubted that you were in your right mind?

I washed dishes this afternoon. While scrubbing away I was going through a mental list of what had to be done by tomorrow. Then I realized that I was taking clean dishes out of the cupboard, ‘drying’ them, and putting them in the dish rack.

Realizing that I needed to stay focused on the task at hand, I reversed directions and then washed another round of dishes. The next thing I know, I’m using the dry rag on dirty dishes.

At what point should I submit myself to phsyciatric evaluation?


Portrait of cuteness

My cousins are cuter than your cousins.

The week before last marked the fourth bi-anual Maclennan Clan reunion. I had a truly wonderful time relaxing with family and hanging out on the northern California coast. We got home just in time to cope with the chaos that is living and working in a tourist town on the fourth of July.

I have not had time to sort through all of the pictures yet, but I did get one set of pictures posted on flickr.


Two week topics

While the past two weeks have been full of adventure and refreshment, they have also served to highlight many areas in my life in which I am too week.

Life is not dull. I am back at my own apparment after spending the two weekends out and about. The thought that I know what I will be doing and when for a few days is more comforting than I would have thought.

To summarize:

  • 2670 miles.
  • 6 beds.
  • 4 states.
  • 3 churches.
  • 1 hot wired bus trasmision.

While I could go into the details, I don’t see the importance unless someone specifically cares about the whos, wheres and whys.

What is important is the things that God has been working in my heart lately. Some of the discussion topics brought in the lime-light recently have been like rays of God’s light shining in on parts of my life that have been dusty and dark.

As far as conviction goes, the most obvious “too weak” that has been shown me lies in the way I live out the verse, “always be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you.” While I am willing enough to be forthcoming about my faith around people of like mind, I am to all to willing to compromise my answers to non-believers and downplay the spritual importance of my actions. It is a terrible habit, but I all to often skirt around the real motivations in my life.

More on this and other issues comming soon.


In pursuit of clear facts and fun fiction

Zeldman does the prophet thing again just as I finish up Frank Peretti and move onto nothing of the dog.

I have been trying to get back into the habit of reading fiction. Back in October I started forcing my self to spend a few less minutes stiring the stew in my brain and a few more minutes filling it with story. I started with an old George MacDonald favorite, plowed through a couple books by CS Lewis, and have just last night completed Prophet by Frank Peretti. I tried starting on to say nothing of the dog last night, but after just two paragraphs gave up in confusion.

The excersise has been worthwhile. Even if all I have is five minutes before I am too tired, it has been a nice way to close the day and force myself to stop woriing about the next days problems.

Along with the evening habit, I have been trying to spend a few minutes in the morning absorbing the word. This is difficult for me as the am hours our not my clearest. I do not try to actually study durring this time as I know I would fail, but I believe this is the right direction to start. Often I will come back later in the day when I am more alert to really dig into whatever I read.

This week scored a number of very good articles online. From the blog of brother of a friend of a friend came a susinct explanation of the sacrements. In technical reading, Zeldmans article entitled the web 3.0 stands as a landmark reminding me of the pitfals waiting to suck up unwary web developers. And to brighten the end of my day and this post, this Dilbert episode made me laugh. How are your analogies?


Who can I blame?

In which I rant about bloated software from microsoft and adobe.

This is for all of my friends who still wonder why I insist on running linux.

One. When I select a preference, it stays that way. My computer does not decide that I made a bad choice and put an old preference back. From my windows land exposure, I do not think I could tell you how many times I have right clicked on the taskbar, gone to the toolbar menu and unchecked the language bar, only to have it come back the next time I logged on. There is a way to permanently remove the language bar but who writes this kind of software anyhow?

Two. When I take an image from my digital camera, open it in the gimp, add a couple of layers and filters, and save as an xcf file, the result is large, but not unbearably so. The same operation in photoshp results in a psd file over ten times as large. Who writes this software?