’s usability sin

There are few things that universally qualify as web design FAILs. The esteemed Jakob Nielsen has a list of Top-10 Web Design Mistakes from 1999 which, in web years, is a long time. Long enough that you think people would have learned.

Arguably, most of the ten mistakes he lists are not so hard and dry. For instance, it is not too hard to imagine situations in which opening a new browser window (mistake #2) is not a clear cut screw-up. And some of the mistakes are less serious than the others, e.g. #8, “jumping at the latest internet buzzword.”

But there is one holiest of holies that you just don’t mess with: breaking the “back” button. The back button is the second most used browser action, right after clicking a link to follow it. Breaking the back button is a clear signal that you haven’t thought, or don’t care, about your users.

So why does’s Phones & Accessories store think they’re above this? It’s aesthetically pleasing, but trying to compare phones on their website was easily the most frustrating web browsing experience I’ve had in a long time. While I usually think it’s not very helpful or informative to be so flippant, in this case I call: user experience FAIL.

Reason 3 not to vote for the Conservatives: who cuts literacy funding?

We could be doing worse, but research does show that Canada has a literacy problem.

So, if that’s the case, why would the Conservatives cut $17.7 million CDN from adult and family literacy programs? This is old news, but it made no sense then, and it still doesn’t. Adult literacy has a very direct and measure impact on the economy. From ABC Canada:

A rise of one per cent in literacy scores relative to the international average is associated with an eventual 2.5-per-cent relative rise in labour productivity and a 1.5-per-cent rise in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person, according to Statistics Canada.

So as Canada is possibly heading into recession, might it not make sense to restore some of this funding to its previous level, if not increase it? Unfortunately, the Conservatives have been fairly consistent in their disregard for evidence-informed policy and common sense.

Reason 2 not to elect the Conservatives: stupid and destructive climate change policy

After they were done pointing the finger at Paul Martin’s LIberals for dropping the ball on Kyoto (which, though a reasonable accusation, is ridiculous coming from Stephen Harper or John Baird) and had finally caved to public pressure on addressing environmental issues and human-caused global warming, the Conservatives have come out with a set of policies and proposals to address climate change that can only be described as stupid, myopic and dangerous.

As the Sierra Club of Canada’s recently published Voter’s Guide to the Climate Crisis Election makes plain, the Conservatives are flying in the face of science. Ignoring the IPCC recommendation that “developed countries reduce their emissions 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020”, the Conservatives instead aim to achieve 3% below 1990 levels by 2020.

Don’t bother looking for the science behind these numbers — there isn’t any. The Conservatives are wilfully ignoring the consensus of the world’s most qualified experts and playing fast and loose with the future of Canada and the planet at large. And, I have to ask, since when is it a strategy of a right-wing party to advocate for more regulation? I thought Government was supposed to let the markets sort things out for themselves, as would be more the case in, say, a carbon tax like that proposed by the Liberals and Greens.

McDonough and Braumgart write in Cradle to Cradle, “negligence starts tomorrow.” Well, for the federal Conservatives and Canada at large, negligence has already begun, and will continue on October 14th if we vote them in again.

Reason 1 not to elect the Conservatives: trashy campaigning

As this Reuters article notes, Stephen Harper today found himself apologizing for a Conservative attack-ad website ( – I’m not going to give it my link juice) on Liberal leader St├ęphane Dion in which a Puffin flies behind Dion and poops on his shoulder (in the revised version, the puffin just flies behind Dion).

Way to raise the professionalism bar, guys.

Seriously though, does the Conservative campaign against Dion not remind anyone else of the Republicans’ “flip-flop” attack campaign against John Kerry that (successfully) distracted the stupefied public from real issues? I can’t be the only one who’s worried by the Americanization of Canadian politics that is leaching in through the Conservative party.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way We Make Things

Without exaggerating, I can say that this is probably the most important book I’ve read in a long time. And that’s not for lack of “important” books on my bookshelf. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things is important because it introduces the reader to an entirely novel way of thinking about design, the relationship between the economy and the environment, and industrial production.

the book underwater and doing fine
Made from "plastic resins and inorganic fillers," the book itself is durable and, as the picture from a recent Algonquin camping trip shows, waterproof

Rather than a general overview of the book or William McDonough‘s architecture firm or the amazing work it has done with everyone from Ford to the Chinese government, I’d rather talk about some of the conceptual distinctions that authors McDonough and Michael Braungart introduce.

Continue reading “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way We Make Things”

End of an empire

Consider that the 20th century saw the emergence of something like an American Empire. What we are seeing in the 21st century is the slow death of this empire. Many people have predicted its impending collapse, but I’m not talking here about the balooning deficit, its proclivity to entering into unwinnable, unpopular and costly foreign wars, its useless war on drugs, its ludicrous adult population imprisonment rate, its poor public school performance, or its broken healthcare system.

The greatest sign that the US is a nation in decline is its apparently increasing desire for joke politicians. I’m not talking about this (though seeing Joe Biden like this makes me worry a bit less about the potential for some video of me in a compromising situation to leak onto the web):


I’m talking about this:

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin with a gun
apparently she's a better shot than Cheney

I’m talking about a gun-toting potential vice-president who thinks climate change isn’t human-caused, and thinks we should teach about the “debate” bewteen creation science and evolution in public school. (I also believe in teaching the controversy.)

I’m talking about GW Bush, the Governator, Dan Quayle, Jesse Ventura, and Ronald Reagan.

For some reason, the US is the only country in the world where, in the race to become the nation’s leader, it’s a serious advantage to not seem too smart.

The good news from Palin’s selection is that the Republicans won’t be able to whine about Obama’s purported “lack of experience” any more. Not that experience is any guarantee of anything: was Bush more experienced than Obama? Perhaps, by most definitions of “experienced.” But that didn’t stop him from making stupid decision after stupid decision.