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August 23, 2002

Tried to run, tried to hide Andrew Northrup, The Poor Man, is back after a break, and as good as ever:
Last night, lame duck “Nightline” discussed the controversial semi-assigning of a book about Islam by UNC. Taking the nebulous anti-UNC/Islam/vast liberal conspiracy position was none other than David Horowitz, who, as even the most casual observer could tell you, is raving. His Nuttiness was in fine fettle, meandering, like a Zacarias Moussaoui of right-wing punditry, into conspiratorial fairy tales about how (and somebody stop me if I’m misrepresenting the storyhere) liberal crypto-Mohammedian college professors are treating Islam like a regular religion, albeit one currently experiencing an high incidence of lunatic interpretations, as opposed to the 1400-year-old gameplan for the destruction of America it so clearly is. Clearly, that is, if you spent your formative years learning sober political analysis at the feet of H. Rap Brown and Abbie Hoffman. Bemused attempts by Ted Koppel to steer the conversation towards, you know, the subject, and away from David’s cosmic gnosis about tenured thought criminals tearing at the fabric of (for lack of a better word) “liberal” democratic values, met with stuttering and defensive platitudes about how he just wants “the other side” to be heard on college campuses. I can only assume that this was a Doors reference. Break on through, David!
Read his site. Send him money. But for God’s sake, get him to use a different Blogger template. Between him, The Rittenhouse Review, and The Road to Surfdom, we’re going blind trying to make out tiny light-grey-on-white type. [12:07 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Tried to run, tried to hide:

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 12:58 AM:

Maybe we could lock Horowitz, Coulter, and Moore all in the same room together, a sound-proof room, and, and, um, imagination fails.


Scott Janssens ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 04:08 AM:

That would be a powerful energy source, but I fear the amount of pollution would make it impractical.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 09:50 AM:

Well, I tried to read his site. You're dead on about the template, so I won't be reading it.

Hint, bloggers everywhere. What are you trying to show off? Your writing, or your ability to drive a color selector box in an HTML editor?

Readability is important. Why did the C=64 use light blue on dark blue? It was the most readable combination when used on a TV -- the most common "monitor" of the day. Why do road signs everywhere use that font face? Readability is important. Why don't I read Wired? Readability is important.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 12:08 PM:

You can set color and font preferences on web browsers, you know. Some web browsers, at least. I do that on IE5, and I have no idea what your preferred background and text colors are.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 12:21 PM:

Simon: Customer service tip #1. Telling your customer that "You can fix it yourself" is *not* going to win you customers. If someone can't be bothered to make a readable stylesheet, why should I have to do so for him?

In fact, I do have a stylesheet, called "effingidiot.css", on my machines to fix webpages that I *have* to extract info from. But if I don't have to extract info, I'm not going to. It behooves those trying to disseminate information to make it as readable as possible.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 01:16 PM:

Jeez, that got the temperature up, didn't it? Several observations.

Erik: Lots of people don't know how different a web page can look on different browsers, operating systems, and hardware. One doesn't have to postulate that they're trying to "show off" anything in order to account for this. They're just making a mistake because they didn't know something.

Second, I seriously question whether a weblog's readers are really "customers," any more than con attendees (at our kind of con) are "paying customers." (This is a reference to a discussion Erik and I are both familiar with from another world.) As you know, Bob, some people do in fact believe that every human transaction can be modeled as a variety of cash-based, ledgerable economic transaction. Those people are known as "crazy."

Simon: I know that, but as Erik says, I'm happy to let most web pages deploy their own styles. My easy solution to pages like The Poor Man, or the Rittenhouse Review, is to read them with the excellent Unix text-only, console-based browser "links", which runs just fine on Mac OS X. "links" even does a good job rendering elaborate table layouts. Still, it seems worth mentioning that, hey, this particular Blogger template is really illegible on a lot of systems. (For that matter, these pages are no more legible on the Win2K machine in our living room, for what that's worth.)

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 01:40 PM:

You can argue whether to call the "customers" or "readers" (or, for those out there who understand Patrick's reference, "members".) Not really germane to the point I'm making, but, hey, if you want to take a shot at the libretarians, I'm willing.

If you want exposure, it is in your own interest to make your site as readable and as accesible as possible. This is why, forex, you yourself told Navigator 4 to go to hell. Not supporting it meant you could use HTML4/CSS1, and, suddenly, your pages look readable in almost every browser out there.

Just because there isn't money involved -- or even any exchange of captial or service -- it doesn't mean that economics doesn't offer lessons. Raising barriers to your product, -- a blog page, a membership in a convention, or a car -- makes it harder for people to see/join/drive your product (used, here, in the sense of "a thing offered",) and some of them will no longer try. The more readable your site, the more people who will be willing to see it.

I'm somewhat surprised that you're not jumping on this, having seen your spendid rant on why good book designers are really important. Or was that Teresa?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 01:55 PM:

Statements I agree with:

"If you want exposure, it is in your own interest to make your site as readable and as accesible as possible."

"Just because there isn't money involved -- or even any exchange of captial or service -- it doesn't mean that economics doesn't offer lessons."

Imputations I don't agree with:

That libertarians tend to believe that all human transactions can be charted as cash exchanges. Indeed, in my experience, libertarians tend to be pretty clear on the fact that this isn't so. I was thinking of some of the more comically extreme varieties of '70s Randists, actually.


I don't remember writing a rant about why good design is important, but I agree that it is. I also think lots of people get online and make bad design decisions, and that this doesn't make them stupid, just mistaken. Yes, it's frustrating to watch newcomers make the same mistakes over and over again. Now we get to understand how the better sort of schoolteachers feel.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 02:05 PM:

It also seems worth noting that Andrew Northrup appears to have significantly improved the legibility of his site. (Internet Exploder users will want to dump their cache before visiting, since MSIE is generally too stupid to reload a revised stylesheet.)

Anyway, how can you resist someone who says of Ms. Paglia that "As usual, Camille has her finger on the pulse of a dead horse."

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 02:09 PM:

Got it, Erik. This is like Gene Wolfe's line about how he's the reader's slave. He meant writing, not graphic design, but the principle's the same.

Patrick's not arguing; just distinguishing between designers like Andrew Northrup, who'll do better as they learn more, and those like the perpetrators of Wired, who know better but do it anyway.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 02:12 PM:

Stereophonic Nielsen Haydens, and not for the first time in the history of the world.

Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 02:34 PM:

Mary Kay-

I know just the comic artist to write/draw that
encounter: Dave Simm. It would be particularly
fine because Simm could skewer the participants by giving them the voices of Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, and Daffy Duck, respectively. It would write itself.

"Pay atten-, I sayuh, pay attention, boah! I got a Patrician Nose! You silly Liberal Media! I keep pitchin' 'em, and you keep missin' em!"

eriko@mvp.net ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 03:06 PM:

Patrick disagrees: That libertarians tend to believe that all human transactions can be charted as cash exchanges. Indeed, in my experience, libertarians tend to be pretty clear on the fact that this isn't so.

You're clearly meeting a different sort than I am. I've had at least three posit just that point to me.

I'll certainly agree that not knowing is a better state than refusing to know.

tim dunlop ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 03:34 PM:

As one of the people implicated in this exchange, can I just say two things. One, on my browser (MIE6) my blog is easy to read so it never occured to me there was a problem. In fact, it looks pretty good. Two, now that I know, even though I know nothing about such things, I'd be happy to hear a way of fixing it if someone can be bothered. I know I could change templates via blogger, but is there another way, some adjustment to the current code I can make so that I can basically keep what I have but improve the readability? Regardless, thanks for the mention, Patrick, cause it really has sent a lot of new hits my way. So now I can show a whole bunch of new people my lack of "ability to drive a color selector box in an HTML editor", which of course was why I started blogging. A what?

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 03:41 PM:

I never saw The Poor Man look illegible. Certainly never saw it in light gray on white. I don't THINK I've done anything special to my browser. It shows up in black on gray, and is pretty much the same as Electrolite.

Maybe I'm just lucky.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 04:03 PM:

Along with "he who has ears, let him hear" there should be a mandate "he who would speak, let him speak." Not that the Web makes it easy for the best intentioned non-technical person to be legible.

Browsers, those wonderful cross-platform packages of software that read your mail, queue your news, and wash your socks, are marvelously inconsistent. I think that whoever coined the term cross-platform must still be laughing up his sleeve at the rest of us. Meantime, every Web designer I know wails about how something that looks beautiful under Browser X looks like crap under Browser Y, and Browser Z won't even read it. Which is why most Web designers have a half dozen browsers or more. Cross-platform, pfui!

The wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many of them.

Me, I can't design my way out of a paper bag, and I know less HTML than your average goat. I do know, though, that if what I look at is illegible, I'm unlikely to bust out another browser and have another go. I'm much more likely to just move on to something else. It's a big Web out there.

Andrew Northrup ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 04:12 PM:


I appreciate the kind words re: the writing, and have taken the step of darkening the text, and painting the background a subtle shade of #666666, so that the style is (hopefully) less annoying. If you (or anyone) has any suggestions how to make the page look nicer, particularly if I can do it without A) knowing anything or B) learning anything, those suggestions would be helpful, too.

Andrea Harris ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 06:25 PM:

Just a note: Blogger _does_ have a template called "boring" or "basic" or something, which pretty much is css-free. No fancy columns or colors though.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 06:27 PM:

Teresa: The perpetrators of Wired have learned better. The first few issues were far worse than the later ones.

Ulrika: You'd have to go back in time about fifteen years to grab a younger, saner Dave Sim. Nowadays he's as bad as Paglia.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 07:59 PM:

Erik Olson's riposte to me might have made sense if I were Andrew Northrup. ("Your customers," Erik? The reader of Mr. Northrup's blog is not my customer.) As I am not Andrew Northrup, and have no control over how he sets his colors, I merely offer my suggestions about how to handle the situation with something I do have control over.

You can bitch, or you can work around the problem, Erik. Or you can do both. Your choice.

What Avram Said about Dave Sim. A sad case: not only a nutcase, but no longer a good writer, even of fiction.

Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 08:10 PM:

Andrea: I haven't read any really old Wired, but I certainly do find current print issues difficult to read. My biggest problem is the color choices for headings, which are frequently a delicate shade of silver or magenta with basically no contrast with the white page background. Illegible except under ideal lighting conditions, with young, wide-awake eyes.

Also, everything is in sans-serif fonts; I can live with this, but my mother has old tired eyes and can't read anything in sans-serif fonts anymore, unless it's also huge. I suppose the Wired designers do not consider my mother their target market.

The online edition, oddly enough, is easier to read than the print edition. At least, it is if you habitually go select "Printer-friendly version" (am I the only person who does that to just about every news website on the planet? Why do they all think it's a good idea to split up the articles into several pages, forcing you to pause in the middle for the next one to load?)

Andrew Northrup ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 08:12 PM:

I would like to verify that Mr. Shoedecker is not, to the best of my knowledge, me.

Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 08:46 PM:

There are sites where the text is too small for me to read and not expandable. If I really want to read them anyway, I look at them in Opera, which lets you make everything bigger. But I agree that it would be really good if more people took more care to try to make their pages more easily readable. Of course, then you have to find some happy medium between all the people who have completely opposed views of what "more readable" is.

Meanwhile...I guess what Horowitz learned from Abbie was to yell "theatre" in a crowded fire.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 09:07 PM:

My definition of more readable is that I don't have to squint, or take my glasses off and press my nose aginst the screen to read it. People who use itty bitty print and then italicize it should all be shot without waiting for dawn. I think we oughta outlaw italics online until screen resolution is much better. But hey what do I know? I'm 50 years old, am very nearsighted, astigmatic, and presbyopic. As a short, fat, middle aged, white chick, I'm invisible and I don't count.

Umm. Hmm. Scuse me, I think I need to run out for some ice cream.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 09:37 PM:

Don't most browsers, these days, have fairly handy shortcuts for making type larger or smaller in a window? I certainly use those features a lot. What I was complaining about had more to do with low contrast than with absolute size.

Mary Kay, I agree that a lot of on-screen italics are awful, but I do have to note that last time I looked, you and Jordin were well-supplied with hunky high-end Mac notebooks that are perfectly capable of running OS X, which does as good a job of rendering anti-aliased type as any OS I've ever seen. With version 10.1.5, plus the freeware "Silk" add-on, it does it inside all OS X apps. Some people dislike anti-aliasing because they think the letters look "fuzzy"; I think fuzziness-plus-proper-letterforms beats sharpness-with-distorted-letterforms every day of the week. My eyes agree with this proposition; I get manifestly less eyestrain and headache working on OS X machines.

Andrea Harris ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 10:22 PM:

Zack, I think you meant to address Avram re: the Wired website. (I agree that they are hard to read, but not as bad as the old days, when the web site *and* the print magazine were not only hard to read, but came in the *fugliest* colors.)

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2002, 10:33 PM:

Okay, I've had that ice cream now (double chocolate with double pecans) and I seem to be in a better mood.

Patrick: Yeah, we both have, um, hunky high-end Mac laptops. As of yet, however, we have not ventured into the realm of OS X. I seem to be horribly conservative about software and OSs. I'll talk to Jordin about it. I'll just note, though, that many letters look fuzzy to my already as I'm not really correctable to 20/20. Oddly enough, I seldom seem to get eyestrain or headaches from computers. Probably because I refuse to look at the icky stuff.

Yes, browsers do have ways to render the font size I prefer, and many webpages have ways around my settings. I can do it by hand, but dammit, why should I, oh, wait. Isn't this what Erik was saying...

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2002, 01:13 AM:

Patrick said: "Don't most browsers, these days, have fairly handy shortcuts for making type larger or smaller in a window?"

IE 5.5, as I use it via Win98, at least, lets you change font sizes via "view," but only if the HTML font size is coded to let it, which I think means not having a plus or minus sign prepending the set font size. Almost all professional sites let you use IE 5.5 to change size. Only a smattering of blog sites do, since they apparently use the plus sign, and thus -- if I have this right, which I quite well may not -- set an unchangeable size via IE 5.5.

Which drives me wacky, but c'est la online life. One can, of course, use IE/Windows "Tools" to check off "ignore" on site font sizes, but that, on an old low-grade system such as mine, takes about two minutes to accomplish, and then means than most pro sites are all screwed up with conflicting font sizes. Pays your money, takes your choices.

I will mutter that having worked in a campus computer store for the past week (and I will continuing to be temping there for another two weeks, give or take), I've learned all sorts of odd stuff, including confirming that one should rarely pay attention to what you're told in a computer store by an employee; horror stories will yet be posted, eventually, I expect, on me own blog. Whatever you feared: it's worse.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2002, 01:16 AM:

I'm working on figuring out why, on my new system, somehow I'm no longer, apparently getting cookies saved to remember my "info" for comments, so I have to re-enter it each time, but never mind. All I wanted to add was that Mac OS X.2 is apparently a significant improvement over X.1*. On the other hand, my info is second-hand, and thus I can't vouch for it.

Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2002, 02:05 AM:

The difference I know about with IE on Windows doesn't have anything to do with plus signs; it's that the browser will not let the user resize text with the UI widget if it's been sized with Cascading Style Sheets using px (which are pixels, more or less), or physical size units such as pt, in, cm, etc. It will let the user resize if it's been set using em, percent, or relative font size keywords.

If you think this is confusing, it ain't the half of it.

Anyway, for various technical reasons, some buried in the mists of time and some still operative, many Web designers use px units to get the effects they want. So it's terribly annoying that IE has this basic accessibility problem with px units, even if one might deem it "correct" to forbid resizing px sizes from a very literal reading of the W3C spec.

(Jeffrey Zeldman famously insists that nothing but px really truly works. Personally, I think he overstates his case; his facts are all correct but I find the problems easier to work around than he does. On the other hand, I don't do elaborate designs for money to tight client specifications and he does. And, anyway, I fully agree with him that IE/Win should support resizing any and all text.)

Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2002, 02:18 AM:

By the way, I wrote an article for MacEdition recently about the various vagaries of anti-aliasing in Mac OS X.

As of a couple of hours ago, this article was probably rendered obsolete by Jaguar. But I wouldn't know, since my copy won't arrive until tomorrow; I did play with it briefly on a flat panel iMac in the local Apple Store today but I couldn't see any differences from the various new anti-aliasing settings at all.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2002, 02:26 AM:

Yeah, I'd forgotten that IE 5.5 handles user font-size choice in that retarded way. As you know, Bob, my recommendation is that you try Mozilla.

I myself have had endless problems getting any browser, on any system, to consistently "remember" my information in MT comment fields. I have to retype it all whenever I comment on my own blog. My various browsers have no problem retaining form information for other sites, so I don't know what's going on. A minor annoyance. I probably spend less time daily on it than I spend waiting for Amygdala to load. Is it just me, or is it the slowest Blogspot-hosted blog in the universe?

Mac OS Ex Ten Point Too Jag-wire is indeed snappy as all get-out, even on my humble little year-old dual-USB G3 iBook running at a mere (mere!) 500 mHz. I don't even have any of that fancy video chippery that unleashes the full raw power of Quartz Extreme (on newer systems, I'm assured, the very pixels lurch off the screen with cries of predatory bloodlust), but everything seems snappier and sharper and all-around more responsive. I mean, I'm writing this in a Mozilla window while four other apps are running and the Developer Tools CD is installing, and everything appears to be working fine. (Knock wood.)

Matt, the big obvious user-level change is that you can select from different levels of anti-aliasing, in the "General" System Preferences panel. I'm using the "flat panel" setting and it seems significantly crisper than before.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2002, 02:55 AM:

I think I'm going to have to be getting Jag-whirr. If I remember correctly, my TiBook came with two or three upgrade coupons of some kind for OSX, none of which I've used so far. Where, oh where...

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2002, 01:15 PM:

Well, I have dim memories of Jordin fooling with OS X and snarling, but I could be hallucinating. Or it could have been a very early release. He was incoherent last night from having gone from Seattle to DC to Hartford to Houston to Seattle in 4 days, but when he recovers consciousness I'll discuss it with him.

Patrick said:

"...(on newer systems, I'm assured, the very pixels lurch off the screen with cries of predatory bloodlust"

I love it when you say stuff like that. Do it again, do it again!


Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2002, 09:58 AM:

Well, my own copy of Jaguar still hasn't arrived... probably tomorrow.

My friend, though, says I should be thankful: "Later is probably better in this case, if your system is currently working." Big, big software updates always have a bunch of weird bugs that only get ironed out in the x.y.1 release, as I know from experience on the production side.

But I want it anyway.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2002, 10:43 AM:

For what it's worth, not only have I not experienced any fatal bugs yet, I haven't even been able to duplicate several that other people have reported.

Mary Kay, I wouldn't be surprised if Jordin hates the idea of OS X. First, early versions were indeed dog-slow. Second, Jordin is an actual working scientist, and actual working scientists tend to be as conservative about their computers as artists are. Third, and this is just a guess, OS X is the point at which the Mac OS loses the last of the wonderful early-1980s design work of Jordin's sister, Susan Kare. (In fact, to my mind, the silliest design decision of "Jaguar" was eliminating the "smiley Mac" that Mac users have seen on bootup since 1984. I'll be surprised if someone doesn't come up with a patch to reinstate it.)

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2002, 10:58 AM:

There is a utility that'll patch MacOS X to give it a different boot screen, but it doesn't kick in as early as the old Smiling Mac phase.

My boot screen (when I bother with OS X, which I haven't done in weeks) says ""MacOS X: Because Windows sucks."

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2002, 10:59 AM:

Looks like the urge to talk about computers is stronger than the urge to talk about politics.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2002, 11:05 AM:

Looks like people are social animals, and conversations drift. I don't have an enormous problem with that.