Frank: Missing the point on drug education

•March 28, 2007 • 3 Comments

Theoretically, if we speak out we will be heard. I’ve started writing letters (Emails) when I see something wrong. I will publish some here.

On 26 November I sent an email to Frank, a UK Government drugs awareness website. I used the Ask Frank webform that guarantees a reply. Of course I wasn’t asking about drugs but nonetheless was raising a serious point. Here it is:

It’s easy make a cool looking webite that is accessible to all and standards-based. So why did the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health, the Department of Education or even the Home Office make the decision to use ASP and Flash? Your website is broken (In my browser), when if you had hired good web designers, instead of expensive “Cool” web designers it could work perfectly on ANYBODYs machine. Even this email form doesn’t function properly.

Half the people who could benefit from this probably can’t even access it because of poor, uninformed and I have no doubt expensive descisions about the choice of technology.

Government departments have a duty not to exclude people but someone has made a conscious choice to use proprietory technologies when perfectly good standards-based ones exist which would have done the job BETTER.

In a very deep way, the UK Government doesn’t seem to understand technology, neither our elected representatives or the permanent buerocracy in their comfortable sinecures who can always find new and interesting cash-sinks for the public purse.

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Patents don’t do what they are meant to (1)

•March 8, 2007 • 3 Comments

I won’t beat around the bush. All patents are bad. Software patents are very bad. User Interface Patents are extremely ill-advised. I’ll address that in more depth in another post but for now:

The MS Office ribbon is a botch-together of pre-existing concepts. Why anyone would need to license it is beyond me. Except Microsoft who want to set a precident that it IS licensable. It’s basically a stretched, tabbed toolbox, bunged where menus used to live AND THATS ALL IT IS. Not new or innovative or patentable or licensable. Interestingly enough there was a thread at MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) discussing this but it no longer exists. It is archived by Google however. That seemed split between “Oh thank you great and good Microsoft for letting me use this wonderful new innovation” and “WTF? This isn’t new or innovative, why would I want to get a licence to use this concept?. Obviously I’m with the second group.

If you want to see prior art check out the inspector for Apple Pages and Keynote. Stretch it, place it at the top of your window, bingo, it’s a ribbon. For a simpler example, check out the Apple website navigation itself. Yep, it’s the ribbon. Simplified, but essentially the same concept. I use these only as easily accessible examples, not to attribute the concept to Apple.

Speaking of Apple. Steve Jobs, on launching the iPhone stressed that they had patented much of the UI design. This seemed to specifically relate to the multi-touch capabilities. Well, unfortunately for Stevie, there’s prior art for what Apple are claiming as innovative. It may not be patented but it has been publicly available on the great and good internet for some time in the form of open source development and academic experimentation. (too lazy to post links now, will edit later).

Users need consistancy, clarity, predictability, directness and most important simplicity. Improved UI is good for everyone. Implementing those improvements broadly is good for everyone. Attempting to introduce a licencing situation through abuse of the patent system makes this very difficult.

CLEVER Car is a Lemon

•April 25, 2006 • Leave a Comment

What a nonsense the CLEVER Car prototype is. It's undoubtedly cool and fun. I'd like to have a play. Is it the answer to congestion and environmental impact issues? Emphatically not.

It is true that there are endless rows of four seaters and SUVs (Socially Unacceptable Vehicles) with one occupant queued up to and from towns every day. Does that mean we should replace these with lots of tiny one-person vehicles?

While CLEVER Car addresses the obvious: Low weight, high mileage on greener fuel, it ignores the more important issues of social acceptance. It is too small. While it looks like it MIGHT have a rear seat, not many people are going to be comfortable using it and two-up there is NO cargo space.
What is needed for a town runabout / commuter vehicle? A MINIMUM of two sensible seats and space for substantial cargo. Small size (Length and width). If you want it to be "Green" then focus should be on materials, lightness, power source and maintainability / simplicity. Very importantly, for it to be any use, it must be acceptable by a wide range of people and suitable for longer journeys to prevent the purchase of a second vehicle.

I'm also intreagued because I'm very sure that much previous research has shown that a three wheeled vehicle is much more stable with two wheels at the FRONT and several prototypes and small production run vehicles with this layout have shown promise. In this layout there is no need for clever leaning mechanisms. It's a layout that also lends itself much better to a more usable package: Front wheel drive, two people next to each other, cargo space to the rear either side of the back wheel.
If you want to make a good commuter vehicle, update the microvan concept (Suzuki Carry etc.). Microvans come in up to six seat configuration, are short, narrow, light and flexible in use. The one thing they are not is COOL.Well, we can address that:
Take a microvan and make it more fun and appealing, like the SMART. Focus design efforts on ease of maintenance and give it a sustainable power source. Of course the team could have worked on this, but it wouldn't have been half so clever, or fun.
CLEVER Car is a chance for academics to spend substantial funding on a fun toy for them to play with and pat themselves on the back while they are at it. It does nothing to foreward the cause of greener transport.

I'll expand this argument as soon as I have time. I just had to post something.

D R M

•March 8, 2006 • Leave a Comment

The entertainment industry is built upon the idea of restricting, controlling and selling access to something that it never had right to.

“Stars” might sign contracts because they want wealth and fame. Musicians, Artists and Actors will express themselves because they must. Some fine musicians have day jobs.

The internet, and free software have provided artists a means by which they can disseminate their work cheeply, free of the controls which have been imposed on them over the last 60 years or so.

Musicians with day jobs are finding an audience the other side of the world.

DRM as with any attempt at social control will fail.
Any form of art is human expression and you cannot commodetize it.

Umbrella

•March 8, 2006 • Leave a Comment

What are they for? What do they do? Angry frustrated people get in each others way, poke each other’s eyes out, snag hair and clothes. They’re all wearing coats anyway!

Fat girls with huge arses carry tiny umbrellas, parting the waves of rain before them and getting soaked.

Skinny guys with huge umbrellas wear expensive waterproof jackets. Don’t they trust Gore-Tex?

Cast off umberellas strew the streets, flopping around like dying birds.

It’s only water.

Kill Bill (A little poem)

•March 8, 2006 • Leave a Comment

Windows

(XP Pro)

Crashes

(Service Pack II)

Regularly

Dedicated to Bill who killed my previous post which was a much more serious social comment.