December 2008 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

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Family Xmas (27th December 2008)

We’ve mostly been watching TV and eating home-cooked meals together. Zoe and I have played some Gran Turismo 4. I’ve had some Bacardi and Coke-cola, which is a tasty way to get lightly festive.

Zoe lent me Batman Begins, which I’ve now watched. It more than does justice to the franchise! Much like Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles has done for that franchise.

Presents Received

My stack of presents:

More Gift Ideas

There’s only 20kB left on my Playstation 2 memory card due to all the GT3 and GT4 stuff on it. A new memory card would let me have one card for each game, spreading the replays and setting files.

There’s only 29kB on my old Playstation card but I don’t play Gran Turismo and GT2 any more.

Both my hi-fi and TV have lost one channel in their stereo output. They’ve been like it for a long time and I got used to them. But having proper stereo to enjoy my new albums and while playing GT4 at night would definitely enhance the experience.

Firefox 2, Still (20th December 2008)

My main machine uses Firefox 2. After upgrading to and then, the Mozilla website says this is the last planned updates to Firefox 2. Yet I have no intention of using Firefox 3.x.

With the Winestripe theme, Fx2 is actually a much better fit for Windows XP than Fx3. Despite the Fx3 hype making a big song and dance about “OS integration”.

Parental Testing

I heard and read many good things about Firefox 3, especially the user experience stuff. So I put it on my parents’ PC and let them try migrating from Internet Explorer to Firefox with minimal help from me.

Sadly, it didn’t go well. Importing all IE settings wasn’t even something they considered needing to go into the menus for. They think eBay just “knows who I am” and have no concept of cookies, session storage, password management and so on. So I had to do this part for them.

But the sites they use didn’t know them. Or the sites knew them on the entry page but not when they went to do something in a different area. So I try the Log In link but, of course, my parents don’t know their passwords. So we use the websites to Reset Password, wait for the e-mail, they try using that. And it works.

Until a few days later.

Now, I’m sure some portion of blame goes to the fact that most websites are coded so terribly that it’s genuinely surprising they work at all. However, they work fine in IE. So, after a week of trying, I switched that PC back to using IE7 as the default browser. I uninstalled Firefox from it.

That was an unhappy day. At least it didn’t crash, though.

Common Experience

Casual users and expert users alike are reporting disappointment with Firefox 3. Frequent crashes are just about the worst thing a new release can be typified by. Always crashing on normal exiting? That’s a dire step backwards from the relative stability Firefox 2 enjoys.

From fans of GTA to fans of web standards, a trickle of users are returning to Firefox 2.

Firefox 3 is working fine for some people, sure. Perhaps some portion of it is due to faulty add-ons.

But I have 16 extensions installed in Firefox 2, one of which is over 2MB to download. The worst that happens is scrolling becomes very sluggish on sites with absurdly large and intricate Flash adverts running at silly framerates. Which is probably due to Flash being stupid, rather than the browser.

The last crash for me in Firefox 2 was months ago, iirc.

Good Times

While writing this message, I realised why this is so sad. It’s because the step from 0.x to 1.0 was good. The step from 1.0 to 1.5 was noticeably faster and more stable. The step from 1.5 to 2.0 was that much more again. So there were plenty of people at Mozilla who knew what to do. I can only assume they aren’t the ones calling the shots any more?

Fever! (18th December 2008)

Late this evening I started feeling ill. My temperature was rising yet I was shivering and sweating. My nose was bunged up, my head was groggy and I felt pressure behind my sinouses.

Seems to be a flu of some sort. Lost my appetite and, more alarmingingly, lost my labido.

So I’ve been resting as much as possible. I don’t feel at all compelled to work on my Acessify Forum Demos while feeling this poorly. Despite being over the moon with their progress.

Getting Better? (20th December 2008)

The fever seems to come and go. Nose is fairly clear. Throat is a bit sore. Maybe it’s just waxing and waning but I’m feeling somewhat better. For now.

Victory in Ben Day! (21st December 2008)

All clear. Back to my usual self.

Long as you’ve got your ’ealth, that’s the main thing!

Mark Steele

Dentistry in the UK! (15th December 2008)

My first ever appointment with a dental hygienist took place today. More of a precaution than anything. Prevention is better than cure, especially since teeth don’t grow back. c{8¬B

There’s a miniature pneumatic drill type thing she was using right on the gumline behind my teeth. Really painful! Made my eyes water but I could feel it was breaking off itty bits of hardened plaque.

I had booked a quick checkup with my dentist in the slot before the hygienist but I arrived late. Still, my dentist came up and took a quick look. He thinks the slightly wobbliness I’d reported with a lower tooth was due to my retainer detaching from 2 of them.

So he booked me in for the next day to get it re-attached. During his lunch break, no less.

Dentist Appointment (16th December 2008)

We arrived on time but had quite a long wait. To be expected, since there was another emergency lunch appointment before me.

He trimmed the retainer and fixed it back in place, the ground away the excess cement.

The tooth has stopped wobbling now. Since teeth aren’t mounted directly into bone, they can move a bit from time to time. As I’m only 23, my skeleton is still finishing off its shape in a few places. Such as my jaw, it seems.

My upper left wisdom tooth is coming through. It’s not causing pain so neither the hygienist nor the dentist told me to do anything about it.

High Street Shopping (12th December 2008)

After the experience of buying online yesterday, Zoe and I went to Fleet high street today.

We met up with mum and went for a KFC at the end. Strode back to the car and drove home. Very rare I have KFC but it’s always good.

All in all, a fuss-free and pleasent way to buy gifts and cards for Xmas! I recommend getting yours done sooner rather than later. Even if you’re an Internut, try shopping in meatspace. You may be surprised how nice it is compared to e-commerce websites.

SHOUTING (12th December 2008)

I shouted at a loved one today.

Didn’t enjoy it. In fact, it was the most unpleasant thing I’ve had to do this year.

But it was necessary.

(Don’t) Buy Online (11th December 2008)

Today I bought a gift for someone online. Obviously I can’t give specifics because if they see this it will spoil the surprise.

What I will say is that online shopping remains a terribly confusing, frustrating and keyboard-intensive way to do things. Even with a skilled guide, such as my sister.


As the name implies, using this site requires you hack through dense foliage. Rather than obliterating a picturesque and essential gearwheel in the machinery of life, you’ll be losing your faith in the web as a platform for doing business.

Fight through a dense forest of textboxes. Unintuitive labelling text attacks your senses and conceals your path. Designs are arranged in ways that make me think “the squint test” was never popularised.

Sneaky but important messages camoflage themselves with over-styled text. You must conquer your banner blindness!

Finally, like reaching the source of the Amazon river, you realise your dreams. But the story continues! There’s a curious, ancient message to decipher. After consulting the greatest crypologists of our time, you may discover its meaning: your item won’t be delivered in time.

Thus ends your fruitless expedition. (Flashback to the irritation of the first “choose your own story” book you read.)

As an epilogue, I scouted around their Customer Services area to cose the account we had created along the way. Apparently you have to write an e-mail to them requesting this. I can see how a button to do this could be counter-productive when your target audience is international, ordinary users. It’s still a bit laborious for those of us who know what we are doing and are fed up with how laborious Amazon was making it.


Somewhat in contrast, Tesco’s site is clearly presented. You must still enter lots of details.

In particular, the postcode lookup provides a dropdown list of street addresses. But far too many are listed. When I entered my complete address, all the houses on my road were listed. That’s more than 40 properties and each has its own postcode!

After selecting the items I wanted, I went to the shopping basket. Which uses a different, seemingly older design. Having worked at Tesco for 2 years, it’s very reminiscent of going from the clean and spacious shop floor to the crowded and utilitarian warehouse out back.

Each product has a link to explain what the availability actually means. These are described in simple terms, although I’m not entirely clear if “dispatched” means “will arrive at your house at this date”. When I’d actually have my grubby mitts on it is what I wanted to know. Obviously.

The lower prices and fairly clear design means this is where my money went.

Windows Live Hotmail

We used my sister’s card to pay for the goods. This meant supplying her e-mail address.

Beautiful and clear design, for sure. But where are the buttons to Save, Send and so forth? Oh. They are links, not buttons. And they are above what you're working on. And they are separated from it by a thin grey line. I found this impossible to spot, until Zoe pointed it out to me.

While we were there, we wanted to correct an address Zoe had entered incorrectly. But you can’t just click the address in the To field and correct it. Oh no. You have to click Contacts, which is in the bottom-left of the screen.

Like, just about the furthest place it could be from the To field.

Once there, the details aren’t presented as editable boxes. You have to press an Edit link from above this border. Then click a Save link from above the border.

To its credit, there is a good old <textarea> where you can Send a quick message. Since most e-mails from Hotmail are probably “a quick message”, this makes a lot of sense. In fact, maybe quick messages are what it’s UI should be optimised for?

Standardista Silo

My daily browsing involves a small number of technical websites made by specialists. It’s a small number due to survival of the fittest and has been ruthlessly pruned over the years. It’s a comforting cacoon of simplicity and care.

Stepping outside of this into the real web is one thing when I’m studying how authors use markup. But trying to use mainstream websites? It’s a wonder e-commerce is profitable. More companies need to subcontract sdesign1 to make their website!

The next day…

We had a much better experience with High Street Shopping.