Saturday, October 31, 2015

Overdue Browser Features: Highlighting and Single Page Archive

When studying or researching a topic, I love being able to highlight. Which makes serious web research tedious. The common work-around is to paste into Word, and highlight there.

I can't believe highlighting hasn't been built into modern browsers. Then the key feature to go with it is the single page archive. You know, like the MHT file IE has had for a decade or so?

The other day I got tired of pasting to Word, and looked for Firefox extensions. Good ones exist for each purpose, and together they give me most of what I want.

But seriously, this should be in the browser.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Need Search Syntax Standards and Libraries

Just as Amazon represents the gold standard in eCommerce ease-of-use (no CVV codes, no Verified by Visa, no captchas), so Google for search ease-of-use.

What I have in mind are not the powerful algorithms that deliver up the results, but rather the more basic but crucial details of software craftspersonship, that help insulate us careless humans from our own limitations. Examples:
  • Ignoring hyphens and their ilk. I.e., Google treats any non-alpha character as a space or wildcard. This seems like a small thing, but there are a lot of hyphens and slashes out there, waiting to mess up search results. 
  • Spellchecking search Terms

  • Ignoring capitalization (this one is fairly widespread in your average search implementation).
  • Allowing the user to override the compensations, with the simple and generally well-known convention of enclosing search terms in quotes. An example of being smart, but not too smart.

eCommerce Ease-of-Use Notes: Amazon Sets the Standard

I buy a ton of stuff on the internet. I say that not so much to mean that I buy a ton of stuff, but that I buy a roughly typical amount of stuff, but a disproportionately large amount of it on the internet. So I see a lot of eCommerce sites.

What I find is that very few match the attention-to-detail and ease-of-use of Amazon. In some cases, no doubt that reflects Amazon's massive advantages of scale, They can afford a lot more user-experience and software development. But then again, some things are pretty basic, and easily copied.

Three things that I hate come to mind:

1. Verified by Visa. As far as I am concerned, it is awful. I have read defenses of it, so maybe there is another side to the story. But if there is--Visa and their partners have done a terrible job of telling that story. If Amazon can get along fine without it, why would a consumer expect or put up with it elsewhere? (And as noted in my post, an unforgivably poor job of implementing the VbV process during checkout. Given the subject of this post, an ironic counter-example of lack of attention to usability).

2. CVV codes. I HATE having to remember this when I check out from a website. Adding to the irritation--if you left out some other required piece of data, it rests the CVV code. Creating both irritating and often confusing behavior. E.g., I enter everything but my phone number, for example. The SUBMIT fails, prompting for my phone number. Fine. I re-submit, but it fails again, now because of missing CVV code. Irritating if I realize, confusing if I think there is some other field still missing.

3. Captchas. Oh how I loathe them. I must be especially captcha-challenged, but I often find it takes 2-3 tries to get it right.

One possibility is that Amazon's scale may somehow give them a critical advantage that smaller sites don't have. Maybe they feel they can take losses that smaller sites aren't willing to take. Or maybe they extract better terms from credit card companies. But from the consumer perspective, it hardly matters--just more factors to making Amazon the path of least resistance.

Does Voice Password Offer Unique Advantages for BIometrics?

Biometrics such as fingerprint recognition, retina recognition, voiceprint seem like appealing alternatives to the time-tested password. But one big drawback--if biometric data is compromised, as Slate says, "You Can't Change Your Fingerprints". 

But is voice different? Because a voiceprint is inherently sort of like a two-factor approach: a thing you know (your passphrase) and a thing you have (your voice). If your voiceprint is compromised, then you can just use your same voice, with a new passphrase, to create a new voiceprint. Like creating a new password.

This website seems to support my reasoning.

(Obviously no security technology is perfect. Speaking out loud has privacy implications that swiping a finger does not. Supposedly impersonation or pre-recording is not a problem, though.)

Donate Anonymously

A couple of years ago, I gave $50 to an issue-oriented charitable cause. It was a one-off donation, given as a show of support when their issue was front-and-center. I had no intention of becoming a regular supporter.

I should have donated anonymously.

Ever since, I receive 2-4 mailings per month, from this and related organizations, soliciting additional donations. Donations which most definitely will not be forthcoming. If we value the cost per mailing at $0.50, easily half of the value of my donation has been consumed, thus far, in soliciting further support.

It's sickening. Besides the junk-mail nuisance and natural resource waste, the sheer inefficiency of the process is appalling. I'm not singling out this organization, I'm pretty sure this is the dark nature of the organizing/fundraising process. Years ago, I read snarky advice, somewhat but not entirely tongue-in-cheek, that if you wanted to inflict harm on a cause you dislike, the thing to do would be to give them a small amount of money. $15, say. Then sit back and watch as they spend several times that amount in the following years, in the hopeless effort to inveigle further contributions.

I wish I had remembered that bit of wisdom.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Best Quote Ever

Jason Stanford, on the right-wing approach to (never) engaging in meaningful, measured discussion, on any policy issue whatsoever:
It's never the thing. It's always another thing that steers the conversation away from the terrifying jagged edges of modernity toward the comfort of repeating each other's confirmation bias back and forth, such that Solyndra and Benghazi are metonyms that make no sense to most people but are hugely powerful talismans of their increasingly lonely faith.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Must Customer Service Agents Constantly Re-Confirm My Email Address?

Can’t they have heuristics, like customer has had same email for 5+ years, only confirm it 1x per year thereafter?

Usubscribe for Spam

Seems like a great way to spam people would be to include an false unsubscribe link. That is the first thing I look for when I get spam.

Opportunistic Acquirers of Orphan Drugs Like Labor Unions?

This is kind of old news now, but the outage over a company that acquires rights to an orphan drug and promptly raises the price from $13 to $750 per pill is an outrage that no ideology of capitalism should attempt to defend. Most pro-capitalists would decry crippling labor strikes. rightly. Just because some damn union gets a stranglehold on a mundane, but crucial corner of the economy (trash collection, public transport, coal mining, whatever) doesn't mean they should be able to use that un-earned leverage to extort above-market wages. Well, what is right for labor is also right for capital.

Life value of defunct companies like Borland

This post on Dropbox and Evernote got me thinking about something I have always wondered about--what is the value of a lifetime investment in a once-highflying company that eventually founders and becomes defunct, through bankruptcy or acquisition? For whatever reason, Borland is the company I usually think of in this regard, but there are many others of course. Do they pay enough dividends along the way to make it still a decent, if not spectacular, investment, if one holds it from, let's say 1 month after going public, until the bitter end? 

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Ann Marie Slaughter Is My Hero

(Heroine? Do we still say that, outside of discussions of pre-20th century literature?)

From Freakonomics Interview: 

SLAUGHTER: The book is about okay, we’re stuck. I mean, it’s Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, and the unfinished business is the unfinished business of the movement for full equality between men and women. And in a nutshell, what I’m arguing is that if we’re going to get to real equality between men and women, we have to focus less on women and more on elevating the value of care and expanding the choices and roles for men. And that’s sort of counterintuitive, right? Because what we’ve been doing is, we measure our progress in the women’s movement by how many women CEOs we have, women leaders of all kinds, women politicians. And I’m all for having more women in high places. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for it. We need it. But that metric and that focus is not going to get us there. Because it’s leaving a huge number of women out — all the women at the bottom — and it’s assuming that you can get to equality between men and women by changing women’s roles but not changing men’s roles.
DUBNER: Right. You also, the phrase you use is that we need to “resocialize men,” which as a man sounds vaguely threatening, but not really. But, but you write about not only adult men who are in the workforce and maybe those CEOs that we’re talking about, but also young men, boys, and how they should think about the future work world and the future family world, as well. So talk to the men for a minute. This program is probably I’m guessing now roughly 70 percent male listeners. So this is a great platform.
SLAUGHTER: Oh, that’s so interesting.
DUBNER: What were some of the kind of basic signposts that we need to rearrange, or get rid of, or maybe the new ones we need to have written?
SLAUGHTER: That’s great. So let me start by saying how I got to this realization that we have to — I think I prefer, “expand choices and roles” to “resocialize,” which does sound vaguely Orwellian. So here’s what I realized: I have two sons, and I looked at my sons and I thought, “You know, if I’d had a daughter we’d be raising her 100 percent differently than the way my mother was raised, and even differently than I was raised,” although my father was very progressive and he raised me to have a career. But if I looked at my sons, I thought, “I’m raising my sons pretty much exactly the way my father was raised.” I mean, we’re raising them to have a more active role as fathers. My father never changed a diaper. Certainly my husband changed plenty. And I expect my sons to. But we’re still saying to men, “Your worth in society is a function of your breadwinning. It’s a function of how much money you can make and how high you can rise in your career.” And that is a very limited set of choices. It’s the flip side of saying to women, when my mother was raised you know, “Your worth in society depends on can you get married and can you have children.” And my point is all of us should have access to both.  As a woman I absolutely want to be able to compete. I want to have a career. That’s been fabulous. But I sure don’t want to do that at the expense of also being a mother and a wife and a sister and a daughter. And so, what I now say to my sons is, “If you believe in equality and you marry a woman or a man, whatever, and you believe that you’re going to support that woman’s career, then it may require you being the lead parent and your spouse to be the lead breadwinner.” And that’s been the situation in our marriage. And they understand that I couldn’t have a big career unless Andy played that role. So that’s the place where I’m really saying to men, if you believe in equality, it can’t be, “Okay, I believe in equality but I’m going to take every promotion I get, and if you get a promotion, I’m not going to move for you.”