Archive for March, 2005


Michigan Preparing To Let Doctors Refuse To Treat Gays

Yes, that’s right. Via New Patriot, Michigan is preparing legislation to allow doctors to refuse to treat gays.

WTF?! When I read a story like this, I am dumbstruck. Livid. Pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control, and state laws being passed to allow that. And now this. Gay marriage is nothing compared to this.

Update: Paul Krugman’s essay in today’s New York Times addresses the effect of religious extremism on medical care.


Representing Data in Wireframes

Garrick writes about using fake data to see if anyone’s paying attention.

When putting together a prototype for usability testing, it’s best to use realistic data. If you’re evaluating the readability of a search results screen, put in the actual results. If you’re evaluating a check-out process, make all the information throughout the entire process real.

Then, after tweak the data just slightly. Make it humorous, make it unrealistic, throw in a knock-knock joke.

I go back and forth on this. When using real data I’ve certainly had my share of “but that’s not Jane’s phone number!” moments, and it is fun when someone barks with laughter in the middle of a meeting because they just got a joke in the mockup. (Although y’know, no one has yet asked why Takeshi Kaneshiro and Yuen Biao are rooming together at Alexandria Technical College … maybe I should have picked a school that has campus housing. :) Not surprisingly, I’ve found that the type of data I use really depends on what I’m doing.

Dan Brown has put together a fantastic (and large!) poster about Representing Data in Wireframes (PDF) that touches on the nuances involved in choosing what kind of data to use, the risks of using each type, and how to apply each technique. This one’s a keeper. (Via UXCentric.)

Oh. When I say large poster, I mean large: three by six feet. Not quite a Unicode chart, but whew!


Charles Darwin Has a Posse

Charles Darwin has a posse Via The Panda’s Thumb, I see that Colin Purrington has something new, Charles Darwin bookmarks and stickers.

Purrington, you may recall, is the man who brought us the textbook disclaimer stickers. You know, I’ve had those on my wall at work and not one person has commented. But I know they’ve been read.

In similar news, some Imax theaters are refusing to show movies that mention evolution for fear of offending the religious right. Unbelievable.


Bla-Bla List

Bla-Bla List, Ta-da List implemented in Java to prove a point: that Java apps don’t need to be bloated monstrosities, and along the way to offer a much-needed antidote to the current Ruby on Rails rage. Geert Bevin explains what was done. He used RIFE, a platform for rapid Java web app development, and Laszlo for the rich internet app work. And a pleasant REST API. Pretty cool.


Overheard: podcasting

The Minneapolis StarTribune ran an article on podcasting yesterday. I know this because I overheard an elderly couple discussing it over morning bagels:

“It’s like a radio show that anyone, anyone can broadcast. On the internet.”


(consults newspaper) “It’s called, um, podcasting. And all you need is a computer and an iPod portable MP3 player.”


“People talk about all kinds of things, whatever they want.”

I am glad that I managed to restrain myself from stepping in to talk with them, because at this point the conversation descended (yes, it’s possible) into decrying the presence of iPods in the public schools and how it will lead to the decline of western civilization. I doubt my presence would have been welcome at that point.


sxsw video coverage

Video coverage of this year’s SXSW is here. Damn, I thought I might actually get something done this week, but they’ve seen to that, haven’t they?

I had lunch with Matt today. He and I hatched this crazy plan to go to SXSW next year. It just might happen…


π Day

One of the many reasons I do so appreciate knowing Matt Schlukebier is little reminders like this: it’s π Day.


The Panda’s Thumb

Another web site I’ve been following for the last few months is The Panda’s Thumb. It’s a good way to keep on top of the antievolution “intelligent design” movement: what they’re doing, the arguments they raise, and how those arguments trounced by good, solid science. And hey, I learn a lot about biology while I’m there.

A recent post by Mike Dunford almost moved me to tears: The importance of education, on just why it’s worth making a fuss about attacks on our science curriculum:

Children matter. The students that we educate today are going to be the teachers and scientists of the future. They deserve nothing less from us than the best education that we can give them – and that means that we should encourage their curiosity, and provide honest answers to their questions. What they do not deserve is to have their education used as some sort of tool to gain leverage in a perceived “culture war”.

Children matter.


Reclaiming Christianity

I’ve taken to reading Bruce Prescott’s Mainstream Baptist weblog because it is so refreshing to encounter moderate and liberal Christian voices. I’m surrounded by them but it’s hard to keep that in mind when the news is dominated by (often radically) conservative religious views. So it is with delight that I follow his recent link to Bess Hinson’s wonderful essay, Reclaiming Christianity From the Christian Right.

Prescott has been podcasting episodes of his radio show, “Religious Talk.” A recent fave is his interview with Rob Boston, author of several books including Why the Religious Right is Wrong: About Separation of Church and State (part one and part two of the interview). Boston points out that Pat Robertson and evangelical Christians like him complain that they’re some persecuted minority while in fact they hold tremendous political power. And people believe it! My father certainly does. This is one of the reasons the whole debate about evolution in education is so important to me, along with other attacks against the separation of church and state: it is so obviously not a question of science or even an anti-religious attitude: it’s conservative Christians who cannot accept that theirs is not the only voice. Even so, they manage to control the debate and to project a hateful image of their religion. This is why Hinson’s essay is such a breath of fresh air.

Oh dear. I just discovered that Mainstream Baptist plays background music. Aargh. You’ve been warned.


Security by obscurity fails again!

Harvard has rejected the applications of 119 students whom they accuse of “hacking” a web application to determine their application status. Apparently accessing a URL that wasn’t linked to yet but that was still available counts as hacking. Whatever. ApplyYourself, the company that Harvard uses to manage the admissions process, failed to prevent early access to a page called ApplicantDecision.asp. By accessing that page with their own ID before the announced admit date, applicants could tell whether they had been admitted to Harvard.

To my mind this hardly counts as hacking, but it is unethical. Harvard’s decision to reject those applicants is harsh; on the other hand, I can understand an unwillingness to churn out MBAs who engage in behavior that does not reflect the ethics Harvard expects of its students and graduates.

More interesting to me is ApplyYourself’s blunder: access to that page should be more tightly controlled. You cannot rely on security by obscurity. Or as brian d foy puts it, not linking is not security. I do hope that Harvard deals with the company as harshly as their applicants. I wonder, though, whether this was even identified as a security requirement. I’ve commented before that I have never worked on a project with clearly documented security requirements. That’s changing, but I hold little doubt that it’s still unusual for security to be considered early in many software projects. Unless the developers knew to restrict access to that page, why would their code do so? Of course, if there’s code that does not display a link to the page until a certain date, that should indicate the presence of a requirement. So despite my willingness to give them the benefit of the doubt, they’re not quite off the hook. I’m just not ready to write them off as dumbfucks.

Philip Greenspun has a few pithy comments on the matter. “As progressively dumber programmers build progressively more complex systems we will see more of this kind of attempt to paper over coding mistakes with lawyers, sanctions, policies, and laws.”

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