Number One Sign of a Bad Website "Wrong OS"

bad websites A student of mine told me about a website, I thought I’d check it out. I clicked a link and was told that I had the “Wrong OS Version.” Hmmm…. I think my OS version is great actually. I like my Mac OS X. Websites that rely on Windows are a thing of the 90’s. Any site that still requires Microsoft is hopeless, and probably won’t meet your expectations.

politics, technology

Will Yahoo! and the Others Change Their China Policies Now?

Shi landed in trouble three years ago when the Chinese government prohibited journalists to report on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989.

When Shi forwarded the notice to human rights groups, the Chinese government pressured Yahoo to give them the name of the account holder, and they did so. Shi was also sentenced to 10 years in prison.

CNN: Yahoo settles dissidents suit

Yesterday’s announcement that Yahoo! is settling with the families of a men imprisoned and tortured with Yahoo!’s help sends a nice message, but is it enough to change the policies of companies like Yahoo!, Google, News Corp, and Microsoft which aid the Chinese government in suppressing democracy and commit human rights violations? Probably not. But that change is getting closer.

Yahoo! has tried to excuse their reprehensible actions by explaining that non-compliance with Chinese authorities could land their Chinese employees in jail. Clearly, the US needs to apply an equal pressure here. American companies must not be allowed to break national and international laws without consequence. NPR has reported that Congress is taking steps towards making this happen with something called the Global Online Freedom Act, which would make it an explicit crime for US companies to aid China’s effort to suppress and torture its people. The act finds that:

Technology companies in the United States that operate in countries controlled by authoritarian foreign governments have a moral responsibility to comply with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Technology companies in the United States have succumbed to pressure by authoritarian foreign governments to provide such governments with information about Internet users that has led to the arrest and imprisonment of cyber dissidents, in violation of the corporate responsibility of such companies to protect and uphold human rights.

Technology companies in the United States have provided technology and training to authoritarian foreign governments which have been used by such governments in filtering and blocking information that promotes democracy and freedom.

The act also decrees that “A United States business may not locate, within a designated Internet-restricting country, any electronic communication that contains any personally identifiable information.” and that “Any information that may be provided under subsection (a) for legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes may only be provided through established legal channels as determined by the Department of Justice.”

The act basically says that America companies operating in China have conducted themselves in a way befitting of American values and laws. And since these companies are unable or unwilling to act in a lawful and moral manner the US Government will make them. While it would be nice if companies like Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, and News Corp did what was right on their own it is good to see that at least Congress is trying to make sure US companies acting as the henchmen of dictators. That is, if the act ever gets voted on.

design, technology

Running IE 6 and IE 7

Anyone who does web design learns quickly that Microsoft Internet Explorer is a pain in the butt. Why Microsoft has decided to create its own bizarre standards is a question that only Microsoft can answer, but it’s the web designers who have to deal with it. With the emergence of IE 7 a Microsoft created yet another fun problem to deal with. IE 7 is far far better at following the standards set for web browsers, but that doesn’t help for IE 6. But that isn’t the problem, the problem is that IE 7 copies over IE 6. It is very difficult to get the two running side by side without help, which is annoying since web designers need to test sites is both browsers. Microsoft’s solution to this problem was to release versions of Virtual PC that only run IE 6 and expire after a few months. Meaning that designers need to download a +500mb file every few months and dedicate a huge chunk of hard drive and system resources just to test IE 6.

But there is a better way and Tredsoft has found it. They have released an installer that lets you have multiple versions of Internet Explorer on your PC, they call it Multiple IE installer. While the name doesn’t leave much to the imagination the app does exactly what you’d want. It can install IE 5, IE 5.5, IE 6, or any combination thereof.

design, tips

Using <object> in Internet Explorer

As a web designer I hate Internet Explorer. Microsoft often makes their own rules despite there being rules in place already. I will say however that IE is getting better at following standards with each new version of its browser. The Big Problem™ is that sometimes IE interferes with a page remaining valid XHTML. There is a workaround for almost all of IE quirks, but it is often a long treacherous road to get there, and sometimes the fix is worse than the problem.

One way IE makes life hard is when a person needs to embed a webpage inside a webpage. Admittedly this should almost never happen because it is usually a bad idea. However, sometimes it is a good idea. The only time I’ve found it useful is in my web chess program. It is a good use because I require two separate elements to refresh at different intervals. Also, by limiting what refreshes it cuts down on page load and makes it so the main page never has the refresh blink (that second of white before things load in the browser).

Until now I’ve been using the <iframe> element to embed those pages because it seemed to be the only cross-browser solution. Today I discovered that someone took the long treacherous road and found a way to use the <object> element. The key is the classid:


To learn more about using the element and making it work in IE read Brad Wrights discussion of the technique.

update: using the classid above breaks objects in FireFox 3 beta 5

technology, whatnot

Secret Shame: why I don't use Yahoo

The recent talk of Microsoft buying out Yahoo! reminded me that I wanted to write a little about why I try to avoid companies like Yahoo! and why other people should do the same. Corporations are not known for their compassion, but companies like Yahoo! have (for a while now) taken dispassion to a new level.

A little over a year ago news broke about Yahoo! giving the Chinese government information to identify political dissidents. Now a dissident and his wife are suing Yahoo! for getting him arrested and beaten. His crime— distributing articles for democratic reform. An American company is helping stifle democracy, but even worse it is helping commit human rights violations. Why would any company want to do such a thing? What could possibly be so important that a company would willing help a government find someone to torture? Wouldn’t it be nice if the answer wasn’t obvious?

Yahoo! would like people believe it cares (it doesn’t), so its spokesperson reminds us all that

Companies doing business in China must comply with Chinese law or its local employees could be faced with civil and criminal penalties.

Which is of course a cop out, but the world has a way of suspending honest reflection in the present if it is beneficial, only to show remorse for an inability to see the whole picture until a later retrospective moment. Or to put it another way, we turn away from what we can change to focus on what we can not, because it helps us. If the cost of doing business in a country is to have people beaten then the cost is too high. If the cost is to do things that positively retard the possibility of positive change in the country that cost is too far high. Or at least it should be.

And to be fair though Yahoo! isn’t the only one, just one of the worst. Another contender is the new Chinese MySpace. A company owned by Rupert Murdoch, who paradoxically owns Fox News, a channel that claims to be passionate about exporting democracy to countries like Iraq. MySpace China actively censors political conversations and encourages people to report dissidents to the government. On MySpace China you can’t mention Democracy, an independent Taiwan, or the Dali Lama. Nor can you do anything that would harm the unity of the country, so watch out.

Even the folks at Google (the company that claims they “don’t [want to] be evil”) are willing to sell their humanity for prosperity in China, asking shareholders not to vote for a policy that say they won’t engage in “proactive censorship.”

Corporations and The Market are amoral and inhumane, but America doesn’t have to be. Clearly, there needs to be laws created to deal with these things. So long as it is profitable and semi-legal corporations will eagerly participate. Changing the way American companies do business in China can only be positive— ultimately business won’t be lost because the Chinese government wants China to be modern and global. If they can’t dictate how that happens they will still do business, because otherwise they won’t get anywhere as a participant in the global community. People argue that by playing their game we are opening doors, but it is painfully obvious that we aren’t opening doors, we are nailing down the windows.

technology, whatnot

Choose Your Company Wisely: Microsoft, Apple, and DRM

Years ago as the glory ride of Napster was slowly grinding to a halt I read an article that asked which band was for me. The choices were Metallica or The Grateful Dead and the difference was how the bands treated their fans, the consumers. The main difference was that Metallica sued everyone for everything to protect their “interests.” Meanwhile The Grateful Dead allowed anyone to make T-Shirts, bootlegs, and a lot more. One knew that the fans were what was important, the other thought the fans were a means to an end (money), one was Anti-Consumer, the other Pro-Consumer.

I thought back to that article as I read Steve Jobs’ Thoughts on Music. Napster is gone (practically), but the two camps live on fighting an eternal war. This time the battle between the Pro and Anti Consumer groups is happening over DRM.

Most people know that Vista is filled with DRM unfriendliness, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that this isn’t how it has to be. Apple has DRM in iTunes, true, but an important difference is how it uses it and whether it wants to.

It is clear that when making Vista companies bent on controlling consumers had Microsoft’s ear much more than the consumers. Microsoft isn’t interested in the consumer, they only ask that folks pay at the door and ignore the aches and pains the new DRM measures create.

Apple on the other hand said that removing DRM from music “is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat.” Add to that the fact that the Mac OS doesn’t include a gazillion sorts of “content protection” that cripple their operating system which the users that paid them for. Yes, the music has DRM, but Apple is just a middleman and while they are accountable in someways they aren’t the Kingpin in this case. It’s important to remember too that Apple is more than just iTunes, they have all sorts of programs that let you get things done and don’t stop to ask if “content creators” like how you are doing them.

Microsoft has incorporated DRM everywhere it can, defiantly calling it a “new feature” for users, which is an insult to everyone’s intelligence. Peter Gutmann wrote up a cost analysis a while back and Microsoft responded, but the real story is in the comments below their response. Consumers are angry that their computers wont be able to do what they’d expect, and they are angry that Microsoft doesn’t care, and they are angry that DRM is being portrayed as a “feature” they should want. Who can blame them for being upset? I’d be angry too if my exspenisve new computer’s resources were being swallowed by “features” that negatively affect my user experience.

This isn’t to say that Apple is perfect, they do want your money. And to be fair some people correctly point out that not all labels demand DRM on their music. Speculation on logic aside, the point remains that Apple has come out for the consumer in far more ways than Microsoft has come out against the consumer. With Jobs’ Thoughts on Music a bold statement has been made about the relationship between Apple and DRM.

So, which company is for you? Would you rather be in the company of Metallica’s and Microsoft’s lawyers or be allowed to get things done in the company of The Grateful Dead and Apple?


Ride the Apple Wave

Even champions of Microsoft Windows are switching over to the Mac. But that isn’t news anymore, what is interesting about this MIT Technology Review article is what caused Erika Jonietz to leave the PC behind. In her own words:

Ironically, playing around with Vista for more than a month has done what years of experience and exhortations from Mac-loving friends could not: it has converted me into a Mac fan.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again— Vista might be the best thing that ever happened to Apple. Vista’s high cost (in terms of both the OS, the hardware upgrades needed, and the inability to use many older peripherals— like a printer) coupled with increased limitations to counter “piracy” make it unappealing. Add to that the fact that many of the tauted “innovations” in Vista are already built into Mac’s OS X 10.4, which will be soon be replaced by OS X 10.5 (full of new features for Microsoft to add to the next version of their own OS due out sometime between 2015-2050).

People don’t want to monkey around with their computer just to get it to print, or spend hours removing adware, malware, viruses only to have their computer crash— as Erika puts it they “just want things to work, and with [the] Mac, they do.”

[tags]mac os x, microsoft vista, mit, switchers, vista reviewer[/tags]


Why Microsoft is Dumb

Microsoft’s new operating system is called Vista. From what I’ve read it is going to give pirates a heck of a hard time to steal (for a few months at least), but the real bonus is that it’ll frustrate legitimate users— not only that, it will place all sorts of limits on how legitimate users can use Vista just because Microsoft claims that somehow it will save them money.

Yes, piracy is a problem, especially in some places outside the US. The thing is, people who live in some places outside the US can’t afford a $300 operating system. We can say “tough,” but that is pretty ridiculous considering computers are the only way to participate in a global economy. Computers are a necessity not a luxury.

I don’t think piracy will change because of Microsoft’s new piracy measures, but I’m not even sure that was the genuine intention. When Microsoft puts limits on how many times you can transfer the operating system (only once) from an old computer to a new one, or even outright deny any transfer (for computers shipped with Vista) it rings to me more in the key of greed.

What else is new with Vista? Besides only being able to transfer the OS once? You also won’t be able to use the regular version of Vista as a virtual OS— this means folks using mac will have to the more expensive version (currently set to cost $300-$400). And failure to activate Vista within 30 days results in the computer doing nothing but allowing 30 minutes of internet access.

Fair use seems to dictate that some of these things are illegal, but I am no lawyer, and fair use laws have been weakened thanks to things like the DMCA. That is to say, our rights as consumers to use things we’ve purchased however we like has been, and is being, pulled out from under us inch by inch.

It’s time to go with a Mac everyone, Apple won’t pull things like this anytime soon. Right now you can buy the latest Mac OS for about $100, or buy a family pack (good for five computers) for just $160. That’s a far cry from the adware and virus friendly Microsoft line of products. If you don’t like Apple, that is fine too, but sooner or later people are going to have to consider other options, out with the old in the unix based OS’s like SuSE, Fedora, or Ubuntu. No, they aren’t a Windows replacement, but then again that’s part of what makes them good.


He Works Hard for the Money

So, my new job at Wasser Studios seems to be going well after the first week. Of course I have to use Microsoft Word 2003, which is painful. Using Word after spending so much time with products like Adobe InDesign is like having a conversation with Martin Luther King Jr. about passive resistance and then having that same talk with G.W. Bush. In the end you can get it done, but boy-o-boy was it nicer with the smarter of the two. MS Word has the strength of a child body builder, more funny business than the Abbott and Costello Colgate Comedy Hour, and as many bugs as an entomologist. InDesign on the other hand has a learning curve but is more flexible, powerful, and far far less buggy.

Still I like my job and I like the people I am working with. Not only that but there is some weird pleasure in reformatting text, I attribute it to my German heritage, which is funny because wasser is German for water and the client I am working on is a German company.

I am bound to like my job much more at the end of next week, because that will be the first week I get paid (paychecks are always a week off).

Next: Finding an apartment in Seattle that is affordable and not a P.O.S. (G rated version: piece of stink). Or as I like to call it, the fantastic voyage. Or as the French like to call it “voyage fantastique.”