June 25, 2007
Concision — and the online dictionary that best defines it
As you may have noticed, from time to time I link to an online dictionary definition of a word or phrase.
Over the years I've come to the conclusion that dictionary.com offers the best combination of presentation; lack of annoying extras like pop-up ads, flashing banners and audible messages; accurate definitions; speed; and overall ease of use, especially the instantly obvious, capacious search box up top.
I figure if I find a site annoying then you will too — and it's my job, not yours, to make sure you're in the best possible spirits at all times when you're here.
To give you a more focused look at the difference in user experience with online dictionaries, I've ranked five of them — Dictionary.com coming first and allwords.com last — using the word "concision."
1. The winner: no pop-ups, nothing moves, silent
2. Runner-up: small flashing ad
3. Flashing ad; confusing
4. Makes you do a lot of work to find the word
5. Pop-up; doesn't even define the word
India rising: 1.3% of bookofjoe's readers — with a bullet
This is the first time India's represented over 1% of my traffic and I'm superstoked about it.
You may recall that just two weeks ago, on June 10, 2007, I looked forward to India + China = 10% as marking a threshold.
I now believe that will occur even sooner than I thought.
Welcome, Indian campers!
Breaux Greer's Breauxhawk: Best Hair in U.S. Track & Field
The rest aren't even pretenders.
On to Osaka.
Liquid Crystal Wine Thermometer*
Marianne Rohrlich, in yesterday's "Registry" feature in the New York Times Sunday Styles section, wrote, "The Carl Mertens Wine Thermometer shows whether the temperature of a bottle is within the ideal range for the type of wine listed on the band. It requires no batteries."
From a website:
- Carl Mertens Wine Thermometer
This unique thermometer clips around a wine bottle and within a minute or so, the temperature of the wine appears on the heat-sensitive band.
If the temperature is within the range for the type of wine indicated on the part of the band, the wine is at its prime temperature and ready to be served.
Material: 18/10 satin steel.
*Bag the wine: this could double as one totally cool cuff bracelet.
Is Dr. Robert E. Grover the World's Best Endodontist?
If there's a better one, I have yet to encounter that individual.
You know you're in the hands of a master when you find yourself falling asleep in the midst of a root canal and you're not sleep-deprived or premedicated.
Happens to me regularly in Dr. Grover's office.
Now, the fact that I'm able to declare myself a regular customer is nothing to crow about, I'll admit.
Chalk it up to many years of faking brushing my teeth back when I was a boy, leading to endless cavities which, over time, became crowned teeth that eventually gave up the circulatory ghost, hence my entrance into the wonderful world of Dr. Grover circa 1999 for the first of a series of three root canals in the years 1999-2000 that left me wondering if I might not be better off having 'em all pulled the way my mother did when she was in her thirties.
But then things quieted down in OralLand until about a month ago, so I chalked it up to an errant venture of my LifeForce into a Root Cavity Field.
Dr. Grover is gentle, fast, and his hands are always busy when you're in his chair.
No pain, very little sensation of pressure, little talking, no music or headphones — just mastery.
I entered the chair at 2:15 p.m. last Monday and exited at 3:25 p.m. and I felt just fine.
Looking forward, in fact, to Part II of the procedure this coming Wednesday, June 27 at 2 p.m.
Yes, I know, this is too Bizarro World even for you.
And no, I don't have Munchausen syndrome, where you fake being sick so you can get medical treatment.
Trust me, when Dr. Grover exposed the pulp of tooth #30 last week, the smell of rot and decay that emerged was enough to make even me — a durian eater-in-waiting — wrinkle my nose in disgust.
As always, the FerrousClad™ bookofjoe guarantee applies should you decide to take my advice ("I'm not using it") and come to Charlottesville for that long-dreaded root canal: If you're not completely satisfied with the result I will cheerfully refund every penny you paid.
The way it should be.
'The Art of Board' — by Rich Moorhead
Rich Moorhead, an avid skateboarder as a kid, grew up but never lost his inner child.
About two years ago he started collecting worn-out skateboard decks and making things from them.
The hobby has turned into what might well become a business, with over 100 pieces created to date and calls starting to come in from around the country for commissioned work.
Laura Urbani interviewed Moorhead for a story which appeared in the April 12, 2007 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and follows.
- Broken boards get new life as art
Rich Moorhead remembers the thrill of riding a skateboard — the freedom of flying down a ramp and the joy of completing a perfect ollie.
Although it has been years since he did tricks on a board, skateboarding is opening a new life for Moorhead. The Hanover, York County, resident recycles old boards and turns them into works of art.
"I was always good in art class as a kid," says Moorhead, who is a sales representative for a furniture manufacturer. "I never studied it seriously. I always created things on the side. This became a really cool way to express myself."
Moorhead's self-expression has been turned into everything from mirrors to tables to wall art. It began two years ago when he noticed the worn-out decks his nephews left scattered about their house. He collected the decks and made a picture frame and a hat rack as presents for his nephews. After he finished, he knew he wanted to make more.
"I really didn't take it too seriously," says Moorhead. "It was just a hobby. It relieves my pain of the day."
The hobby continues to grow. Moorhead sells his artwork in skateboard shops in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York City. From the Ground Up in Greensburg and Pipes Skate Park in his hometown of Murrysville carry his work and collect used decks for him.
So far, skateboarders have responded warmly to Moorhead's art. Like the sport, Moorhead's art exhibits a feeling of freedom and excitement. He cuts the boards into small squares that are used for his mosaic masterpieces.
"I can use deck pieces like a ceramic tile," says Moorhead. "I don't stay with one brand. I like blending them for color and pop. A lot of color."
Color is important, but so are the marks left by the skateboarders. Each scratch is valuable to Moorhead.
"I incorporate the graphics created by the skaters," says Moorhead. "Those scratches become part of the art. The more scrapes the merrier."
Moorhead's greatest masterpiece is a large mosaic called The Art of Board. The artwork uses more than 300 hand-cut pieces from more than 50 types of decks. Skaters scour the mosaic looking for samples of their decks.
"The kids can look at my mosaic or pieces and see a board they used once or their buddy used," says Moorhead.
Tim Krupar, owner of From the Ground Up, was excited to see his shop's logo in the mosaic. In addition to selling the work, Krupar is happy to supply Moorhead with decks.
"Skateboards break pretty regularly," says Krupar. "The better you get and the more tricks you do, the more they break. I like that he's reusing something that would be thrown away."
Moorhead likes that he can help the environment, but his art helps in other ways, too. Moorhead printed posters of The Art of Board mosaic. Portions of the proceeds from those posters are donated to the Tony Hawk Foundation, which helps establish skate parks in low-income communities. Money also was donated to the Reid Menzer Memorial Skate Park in York, which was created by parents of a 14-year-old boy who died after being hit by a car while he rode his homemade street luge.
"I thought it was a good way to give back," Moorhead says. "It's heartwarming to contribute something to a family who lost their son. And I'm doing good things for the environment. It's a win-win situation."
In addition to his own ideas, Moorhead accepts commissioned work. He recently created a large corkboard for Robin Monroe, of Squirrel Hill. Monroe first saw Moorhead's work in a poster at Pipes Skate Park in Murrysville. As soon as she saw the colorful mosaic, she wanted something more personal.
"It's beautiful," she says. "It's so colorful. It's just not a piece of art. It's something I can use as well."
Moorhead finished the corkboard in two weeks, and delivered it during one of his frequent trips to his hometown.
"I come from a family of skateboarders," says Monroe. "It's representative of skate culture."
Moorhead, the father of three kids aged 3-8, encourages children to embrace skateboarding as a sport.
"It's an independent sport," he says. "It's freedom. I admire the kids doing what they're doing now. I never would have tried that. It's insane. It's a true sport, a true talent."
Although Moorhead may not be jumping pipes anymore, he loves that his artwork keeps him connected to his favorite sport. He has created more than 100 pieces from used skateboards. Word is slowly spreading across the country. He recently had several calls from California regarding his artwork.
"People calling me from the West Coast is the ultimate compliment," says Moorhead. "I have so many ideas where this can go. I have a plan, but it's always evolving."
Examples of Moorhead's work can be found on his Web site at www.regrind.org.
That's www.regrind.org in case you fell asleep.
Personal Interface Unit (PIU) — an idea whose time has come?
I first encountered this term in Alan Cane's May 30, 2007 Financial Times column about the growing digital divide between the disabled and those fortunate enough — so far — not to be among them.
Long story short: AbilityNet, a charity specializing in technology useful for those with physical impairments, "... finds consistently that more than 80% 'do not even meet a minimum accessibility threshold."
More: "Another study revealed that of 1,000 public UK websites tested, there more an average of 108 barriers to accessibility on each page."
Here's Cane's piece.
- Perspectives: Focus on disability could enable us all to play better
It is but an ancient memory now, but the 2007 FA Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester United — for non-footballing readers, it ended Chelsea 1, Manchester United 0 after extra time — will not go down as a game to remember.
The brand new, hugely delayed, hugely expensive Wembley Stadium, with its colossal arch visible from across north London, did get the thumbs up, however.
Which is more than the Wembley website did, at least from AbilityNet, a charity specialising in making technology useful for those with physical impairments.
It gives the site only two stars — three are needed to denote the minimum standard that would enable disabled people to use the site effectively. It fell short on many measures that could have made Wembley online an enjoyable experience for the partially sighted and blind, the hard of hearing and those who find using a mouse difficult.
This is by no means unusual. AbilityNet has been monitoring websites for accessibility for years and despite legislation designed to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against in the e-economy, it finds consistently that more than 80 per cent “do not even meet a minimum accessibility threshold”.
Another study revealed that of 1,000 public UK websites tested, there were an average of 108 barriers to accessibility on each page: silly and easily correctable things such as labelling a photograph “photograph” rather than providing the screen reader with a description of its contents.
Tesco stands out as a company that has made huge efforts to make its website accessible and has been rewarded with four stars out of a possible five by AbilityNet.
But giving the Turing Lecture last year, Chris Mairs, the computer specialist who is registered blind and is chief technology officer for Data Connection’s MetaSwitch division, observed: “The inaccessibility of most retail websites is just one example of countless barriers illustrating a substantial divide between the government’s stated objective and corporate/societal behaviour.” (In 2005, the UK government argued that “by 2025, disabled people in Britain should have full opportunities and choices to improve their quality of life and will be included and respected as equal members of society”.)
The “digital divide” that separates rich from poor in terms of access to information technology is well understood and there are programmes in place to attempt to remedy the situation — the “One laptop per child” initiative led by Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab, and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates’ recent promise of low cost software are examples.
But as Mr Mairs’ remarks indicate, an equally problematic divide is developing between those physically able to enjoy the benefits of IT and those to whom IT is a barrier to be overcome.
The problem is international. There are, of course, many examples where IT has been put to good use to overcome a physical handicap. “Jaws”, the text-to-speech reader that enables blind and sight-impaired people to read a computer screen, is a brilliant example.
Mr Mairs point out, however, that a small market inevitably means that such devices are expensive and, more critically, that the access they provide to a lifestyle necessarily lags behind the emergence of that lifestyle.
He goes on to argue: “These technologies — mobile phones, iPods and so on — often create or fuel new cultures and new social grouping.
“If a particular disability group is excluded from access to a technology, then they are also often excluded from that cultural shift or that social grouping.”
The interface is often the problem: it is designed to be both intuitive and appealing. Manufacturers are unwilling to compromise what can be a major, perhaps the major, selling point for the sake of accessibility.
He has an answer: a personal interface unit or PIU, which would be a way of separating the interface from the functionality of a device.
The PIU would be tailored to the individual — an audio PIU for the visually impaired; a visual PIU for the hard-of-hearing. Mr Mairs proposes that the mobile phone could provide a PIU for the visually impaired with speech synthesisers allowing them to join the now universal texting culture.
Retailers have found, however, that given the choice of a fully featured website or a simplified version tailored for accessibility, customers often choose the simpler option. Few people use more than a few per cent of the power of the digital devices available to them.
The truth is that we all struggle to deal with technology at some point and the digital divide can operate in many ways — young versus old, educated versus uneducated, north versus south, east versus west and so on.
In other words, we could all benefit from our own, individual PIUs if we are to keep pace with the development of technology. That is unlikely to be realised.
But if the ergonomists working on the design of the latest, most intuitive, most tactile, most glitzy interfaces were to collaborate in their thinking with specialists in accessibility for the physically impaired, everyone might benefit.
What has Louis Vuitton done to Scarlett Johansson?
Yesterday's New York Times ad finally got me to look into whether or not that actually is Ms. Johansson in the ads every Sunday in the New York Times Styles section.
The reason I wasn't convinced is that while the model (above) looks a lot like the actress, at the same time she somehow doesn't — so I figured maybe they'd found a low-priced look-alike, though why Louis Vuitton would bother pinching sous is beyond me.
Anyway, it turns out that she is Marc Jacobs' muse and indeed the star of the Vuitton ads.
Still, the face in the ads really is different from what I see on the silver screen.