Don’t Settle for Small Print

A recent micro-blog-post by @Gabz reminded me of something I’ve started doing again recently — zooming web pages up to 150% magnification. So much more comfortable reading on my iMac 27″!

I’ve decided that I want my eyeballs to last me out till the end, so I’m not willing to put up with lazy web design that presumes everyone has perfect eyesight. And woe betide you if your site uses a typeface that’s hard to read for body text — I don’t care how fancy it looks to you, if I need to zoom to make it readable then you’re going to get a complaint.

There is a special place in Hell for anyone whose website actively blocks the built-in zoom capability of the browser. Looking at you, single-page apps!

Mac users: Command + and Command -
Windows users: Ctrl + and Ctrl -

Now you have these superpowers too. 🙂 You’re welcome.

How RealNetworks Shot Themselves In The Foot

One of the tech news sites that I still follow is Techdirt, mainly because they do actual tech news reporting and commentary, rather than clickbait and tracking.

At the weekend, they’ll do a look back to what the big stories were in that week five, ten and fifteen years ago. Those usually induce a few eye rolls from me, as I’m reminded both of how far we’ve come and how little has changed in terms of what scares some legacy industry executives and the politicians they’ve bankrolled.

Via a recent look-back article, I found my way to this piece from 2004 concerning RealNetworks, makers of the once-ubiquitous RealPlayer. Wow, that invokes some memories, mostly about how bad that music player got over time.

Their website tries (repeatedly) to make you buy the paid-for version of the software, and even when you think you’re clicking through to the free version, they keep it pretty hidden. Then, once you’ve downloaded the free version, the registration process is incredibly annoying, sneaking in the installation of all sorts of things people didn’t want. On top of that, it throws up pop-up ads, installs unnecessary programs into your startup file and is just generally annoying.

The WIRED article that the old Techdirt article links to is gone, but I found a copy on the Internet Archive. And it makes for fascinating reading from here in 2020. Nowadays, of course, we’re used to installing apps on our phones or tablets to listen to radio shows, but back then those shows were literally tied to either RealNetworks or Microsoft and their respective broadcast technologies. Needless to say, Real were not happy about Microsoft’s Windows Media Player being embedded into Windows, and tried every legal avenue they could to force Microsoft to strip it out. The European Union eventually pushed Microsoft’s hand, resulting in the debacle of ‘Windows M’ which worked about as well as you can imagine.

Incidentally, if you’ve never seen RealPlayer in the wild, this review from 2006 has lots of screenshots. As much as I might gripe about iTunes — and there is plenty to gripe about — at least it wasn’t as gaudy as RealPlayer! Mind you, Microsoft weren’t much better at the time.

(Side note: I know many folks were heavily into customizing their music player apps with new ‘skins’, but to be honest I ended up choosing the least eye-bleeding option and keeping mine hidden for the most part.)

Password Manager Blues

One of the benefits of having a password manager is that you’re occasionally reminded that you created an account with some website ages again, used it once then never went back.

In my case, that’s an awful lot of accounts! Some of those sites don’t exist any more, either they shut up shop (pun intended) or were acquired.

Of the remainder, my experience has been roughly 50/50 whether I can close or delate said account.

More recently, I decided to change password managers, as the one I used to use is OK but I’ve always had problems with their iPad app. Of course, it’s not on the list of automated options for data import, meaning that I had to export my data to a CSV file, then edit said CSV file so that the new password manager will accept it.

Moral of this story? Don’t just shop for password managers based on what platforms they support and what features they offer — also check their support to find out how good that side is, and double-check how you can get your data out again should the need arise.

Also, if you’re not using a password manager currently, you really should. At the very least, make sure you’re letting your browser help you create and remember strong passwords.

(I’m not naming names here, as I don’t wish to imply that the makers of either password manager have done anything wrong. Ideally, there would be some degree of standardization on data portability between all these services, as well as data security.)

Waiting For Godot.woff

While using Inoreader in my browser this morning, I noticed a delay in refreshing the page. It turned out that the culprit was Google Fonts. Sure enough, as soon as I blocked that domain using uBlock Origin, Inoreader sped up dramatically.

This got me to thinking about other sites where I’ve noticed delays in opening pages. Since I use uBlock Origin, most advertising and tracking is already blocked, so perhaps Google Fonts (alongside Adobe Typekit and other web font libraries) are the cause? Inoreader is no less usable for having to fall back to system fonts and defaults, and I suspect the same may be true for other sites that I use regularly.

Of course, this site’s current theme uses Google Fonts, but it’s also fairly lightweight, so the delay isn’t as severe. Theoretically, it would be possible to build a child theme that loads the fonts locally. And given that this is one of WordPress’s own themes (Seedlet), I’m curious as to why they don’t do this anyway, since it wouldn’t add much to web hosting usage and an update could be issued if the fonts are updated. Too much extra effort?

Adiós, Adobe

Last month I pulled the plug on my Creative Cloud subscription. Unfortunately, Adobe insisted on charging me for this month as I’m on an annual plan, so now is the time when I’ve effectively stopped forking over for their services.

I have a long relationship with Adobe software — my first copy of Photoshop was v2.5 for Windows 3.1 back in the early 1990s, and I got into Illustrator with v10. Later on I would go through a couple of versions of Creative Suite, which added Dreamweaver and Fireworks (RIP) to my arsenal.

Continue reading “Adiós, Adobe”

“I just can’t cope with the freaky stuff.”

David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a fever dream that’s tough to shake, and it’s impossible to watch this film from 1983 without mapping it onto today’s internet. How it has colonized our minds, steadily rewiring the real world until every snapshot, thought, and interaction conforms to its logic. Lurking beneath videotaped sleaze and torture porn, a mysterious signal infects James Woods’s brain, warps his body, and transforms him into something ruthless and inhuman. It’s a vivid blend of body horror, sci-fi, and media critique. But now it reads like a heavy-handed metaphor for online radicalization. And like a weird feedback loop, the internet has claimed the mind of the real-life James Woods, transforming him into a pitiful troll who traffics in paranoia and spite.

Would it be possible to update Videodrome for the digital age? Television is unidirectional and, in the end, it’s an object in the room. But how do you make art out of something as omnipresent as air? More and more, it feels like trying to critique the sky.

Source: Drome by James Reeves

I remember watching Videodrome a long time ago, appropriately enough a video recording. It’s a deeply disturbing film on many levels, and there are no winners at the end. I’d forgotten that James Woods was the actor who played the main character, though I am familiar with his more recent infamy on Twitter.

My Inbox, My Rules

Update 17th Oct 2020: Their website is gone, and was never archived by the Wayback Machine. I suspect they gave up on trying to move Google, which was always going to be a tall order.

Today, I came across 98 Voices via Chris Coyier’s Email Is Good.

This amuses me on so many levels. The presumptuousness of these ‘thought leaders’ (good grief, I hate that phrase!) The continuing (un)helpfulness of Gmail. But most of all, the petitioning of Google to allow this app to reverse reality and declare promotional emails not-remotely-promotional-no-siree.

I receive a few promotional emails in my inbox. One of those is from Seth Godin, one of the 98 voices. I do get to see his emails, because a) I use FastMail, b) FastMail doesn’t enforce filtering of my inbox for me, c) I can do my own filtering, so I read it when I want to.

Added irony: the reason I’m subscribed to Seth’s newsletter is because his blog doesn’t have an RSS feed.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear, then, that I get a lot more insightful commentary from my RSS feeds than I do from my email inbox.

My inbox, my rules. If you think that you can dictate to me how I receive your message, you’re probably not going to stay on my radar. Sorry.