February 28, 2003

Usability will win the war
Googlefight, the number one research source I never hesitate to miss, says usability will beat Saddam Hussein...Now the whole world will know that usability kicks butt!

Googlefight research also proves that developers defeat usability. That 'research' quantifies just how much developers defeat usability, although it offers no real explanations for the findings or how to turn the tide. Maybe Jared Spool offers a solution to this confused problem with those blankety-blank developers when he recommends usability folks "search for seducible moments." Of course, you can get fired or sued or even better for doing stuff like that, so be careful when implementing that recommendation with developers. Keep in mind that even if they say they want do some 'unit testing' with you later, that doesn't mean you should treat them like 'objects.'

Jakob Nielsen doesn't disagree with Googlefight when he says "numbers are powerful." He adds that "such metrics are great for assessing long-term progress" and suggests that we look at our success rate. Maybe Jakob will grant me "partial credit" for this blog post...
James Lileks on the Saddam Interview
Okay, so I went on a rant about Dan Rather's interview with Saddam. I blasted CBS pretty hard, but I think they deserve it. James Lileks (who has a great blog) is a little softer, but makes basically the same key points - maybe lack of subtlety is why I don't get paid to write for a major newspaper like he does.

Some excerpts from Lileks' Bleat today:
"The tyrants of the 20th century have become iconic, and as such they seem to exist divorced from human nature. Men that evil are so rare it's almost comforting to watch them - oh, we'd know their kind if they came again. But we don't. The lesson is lost. Hitlers and Stalins and Maos and Kim Il Jungs aren't the anomalies, really; there are millions of people like them. They're just the ones who had what it took."

"What made Rather's trip such a waste was the water-kneed obsequiousness of it all. He was more interested in three full hours of bland conversation than 20 minutes of sharp discussion that ended with Saddam leaving the room. What was there to fear? Anyone think Saddam would have him shot? Stand up in the middle of the interview, put a round through Rather's skull and yell at his dead body for five minutes? Since the Iraqis controlled the production facilities, CBS apparently feared they wouldn't get the tape if Rather didn't gargle with Meek Juice before each question. Fine. As long as you realize that Rather would have been tougher on the Pope."

"Not so with the Saddam interview. The deference was pathetic, the questions toothless, the answers predictable. Sometimes history is farce the first time."

Lileks points out that CBS gave Saddam an opportunity to appear like just a normal, nice guy, and that Hitler would have appeared no different given the chance. How many psychopathic murderers have we seen on trial in our own country - people that neighbors and friends would never have suspected of mass murder or gruesome atrocities? Yet, I truly believe there were many people who fell for the 'nice guy' Saddam image CBS presented in all its prime-time glory. Proof: check out news sites and count the number of editorials discounting the interview versus the number of stories reporting Saddam's desire for a debate with Bush or his refusal to disarm. Most media outlets took this interview straight on, hook, line and sinker.
Aw, c'mon, that Butcher in Baghdad, he's really a nice guy
Let me get this straight - CBS' "unbiased and balanced" media whores (including Dan Rather) will bend over backwards for an exclusive 'interview' with a known mass-murdering dictator. They'll then pitch a bunch of softball questions at said murderer - who dons a nice suit and tie (as opposed to his usual military fatigues). This monster, responsible for nearly two million deaths, is then given more than an hour of prime-time network airtime to spout lies and retoric. Yet, a White House spokesman (not a known killer or rapist) isn't good enough (in the judgement of the 'fair news editors' at CBS) to represent the U.S. administration's rebuttal to this circus of an 'interview' aimed at snagging big numbers during ratings sweeps week. CBS would accept no less than a Secretary of State's mug on their network - evidently Ari Fleischer's face is too commonplace these days to draw the requisite viewers and ratings. Talk about selling your soul to the devil.

"White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told Reuters the White House had offered a representative to counter what he said would be propaganda, lies and "irresponsible statements" by Saddam in the rare interview. He said CBS replied it was interested only if President Bush made the response himself -- which he said the White House rejected on the grounds that it could imply a "moral equivalence" between the two leaders. CBS made a new offer on Wednesday. "If the president, the vice president or Secretary of State (Colin) Powell would like to appear on the program tonight we would be happy to have them appear on the program," Genelius said."

A Butcher? In who's opinion?
"According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2001, Iraqis have become the second largest group of refugees in the world. Iraqis also top the table of foreign nationals seeking asylum in the UK. Saddam Hussein has been ruthless in his treatment of any opposition to him since his rise to power in 1979. A cruel and callous disregard for human life and suffering remains the hallmark of his regime.

Torture is systematic in Iraq. The most senior figures in the regime are personally involved. Saddam Hussein runs Iraq with close members of his own family and a few associates, most of whom come from his hometown of Tikrit. These are the only people he feels he can trust. He directly controls the security services and, through them and a huge party network, his influence reaches deep into Iraqi society. All real authority rests with Saddam and his immediate circle. Saddam is head of state, head of government, leader of Iraq’s only political party and head of the armed forces.

Saddam has, through the RCC, issued a series of decrees establishing severe penalties (amputation, branding, cutting off of ears, or other forms of mutilation) for criminal offences. In mid-2000, the RCC approved amputation of the tongue as a new penalty for slander or abusive remarks about the President or his family. These punishments are practised mainly on political dissenters. Iraqi TV has broadcast pictures of these punishments as a warning to others.

According to an Amnesty International report published in August 2001, ‘torture is used systematically against political detainees. The scale and severity of torture in Iraq can only result from the acceptance of its use at the highest level.’ Over the years, Amnesty and other human rights organisations have received thousands of reports of torture and interviewed numerous torture victims.

This report, based on the testimony of Iraqi exiles, evidence gathered by UN rapporteurs and human rights organisations, and intelligence material, describes the human cost of Saddam Hussein’s control of Iraq. It examines in turn Iraq’s record on torture, the treatment of women, prison conditions, arbitrary and summary killings, the persecution of the Kurds and the Shia, the harassment of opposition figures outside Iraq and the occupation of Kuwait."

Saddam Hussein’s Regime’s Methods of Torture
- Eye gouging
- Piercing of hands with electric drill
- Suspension from the ceiling
- Electric shock
- Sexual abuse
- "Falaqa"
- Other physical torture
- Mock executions
- Acid baths
[I'm leaving out the gory details here...]

     - from SADDAM HUSSEIN: crimes and human rights abuses, UK gov't

So what?
No matter what your opinion is on the impending war with Iraq, I think it's very clear that giving a man like this so much airtime to spew his lies and deceit is irresponsible. There were no questions about mustard gas, Kurds or torture. No tough quesions about the facts related to weapons of mass destruction. And through it all, CBS smirking all the way to the bank as they throw away any last remaining shred of journalistic integrity they used to have.

The day a major American TV network sells out to a tyrant and then says a White House spokesman isn't important enough in the interests of editorial balance is the day I quit watching that network. Anyone else have a mind to boycott CBS?

- A biography of Saddam Hussein
- SADDAM HUSSEIN: crimes and human rights abuses A report on the human cost of Saddam’s policies by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the UK government
- Tales of the Tyrant - a fascinating account of Saddam's daily life, a glimpse at the man behind the tyranny.

A Call to Action:
"There must be a law governing humanity and governing relations in humanity, that there should not be an aggressor while others are silent about the aggression. There should not be a killer while those who watch and applaud the killing. There should not be an occupier of the land belonging to others while there are those who keep quiet and never move to remove the occupation"
     - Saddam Hussein in his interview with Dan Rather

Saddam, I agree - and I believe one way or another, whether at the hands of the U.S. and its allies, or at the hands of your own people, you, the agressor, killer, and occupier, will be removed from your occupation of terror in Iraq.

February 27, 2003

Is Microsoft deliberately sabotaging their user experience?
I believe Capitalism works, I don't think Microsoft is evil, and I don't use Opera, but after reading "Opera 'borks' MSN in standards spat" I can't say I'm impressed with the folks at Microsoft and MSN. It sounds like MSN is screwing with Opera users on purpose and it appears to be an attempt to get those users to switch back to IE. What value is there in deliberately "displaying [MSN] pages improperly" for Opera users? Does that help MSN's advertisers? I don't think so. Does it make their content more accessible? I don't think so. Does it make any sense? No.

Consider these points:

  1. MSN can only make less money for Microsoft and advertisers by breaking pages for users.
  2. Opera is pretty darn standards compliant and clearly supports enough standards that the MSN designers could easily send Opera users a page which displays correctly. Don't tell me they've never heard of "graceful degradation." (From the sound of it, nothing would need to "degrade" anyway - MSN just needs to code things correctly.)
  3. Many of MSN's pages don't validate or have bugs, and IE isn't 100% standards compliant either.
  4. Most web users don't give a thought to technical standards, nor should they. Do car drivers care about what "standards" their vehicles are engineered to?
  5. Web users upgrade browsers infrequently and standards evolve. This means not all standards will be supported by all browsers used by MSN's users at any given point in time.

According to Opera:
"In October 2001, Opera users were blocked from the MSN site. The event caused an uproar among Web users and MSN was forced to change their policy. However, MSN continues a policy of singling out its Opera competitor by specifically instructing Opera to hide content from users .... MSN now allows access to users of Opera 7, but is still targeting and sending users of earlier versions a broken page. This treatment is completely unnecessary, as the page would look the same in Opera as in Microsoft's own Internet Explorer if it had been fed the same information."

When Microsoft reopened MSN to Opera users they said, "the experience may be slightly degraded, simply because (those browsers) don't support the standards we support closely, as far as the HTML standard in those browsers" are concerned.

Microsoft's hypocrisy:
They clearly took a swipe at Opera and other browsers as being less standards compliant. Yet earlier that same year, David Massy of Microsoft said that Microsoft's "position is very clear because a standard exists, that does not mean Microsoft will automatically implement it. Microsoft will implement appropriate standards that we believe are useful to our customers." This clearly shows Microsoft's hypocrisy when accusing Opera of not being 100% compliant. You also have to ask what they mean by "useful to our customers." Which customers are they talking about? Or did they mean shareholders? It seems pretty evident that the 'standard' that Microsoft designs for is Internet Explorer - the 'standard' web browser.

Microsoft is getting their just deserts:
Clearly, Microsoft is one of the companies most responsible for making it difficult for designers, coders, and QA people to deliver a simple cross-browser compatible HTML design. Now their MSN design problems (intentional or not) are being used by a small upstart competitor to make the folks at Microsoft look like heavy-handed, arrogant jerks who would rather screw up their user experience than let someone have a pleasant experience with at competing browser.

So where is the user is all this?
Users are left wondering why the web sucks. Wondering why they have to know so much about computers, web browsers, and upgrades; worrying if the next install of IE they try will go okay or if it'll bomb or mess anything up. Many computer users still see their desktop systems as fragile ecosystems that they'd rather not mess with. Because they didn't setup the technology to experience the technology. They hope to USE the technology to experience things: a more efficient business life, entertainment from new sources, critical information that somehow enriches their life. It's not about the damn technology! Technology should be about changing people's life experiences for the better.

I've been a happy IE user for a number of years (I was once a die-hard Netscape user, but they didn't keep up), but since reading about these shenanigans from MS, I've downloaded the latest versions of Opera, Netscape and Mozilla for personal use and have been taking another look at what browser I want to use in my day to day web use. Microsoft made me pause and wonder again why I was using their browser (which I'd been quite happy with). Attitudes matter.

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