Stupid Facebook

Today, I went to send a message to one of my wife’s friends, with whom I’m not friends on Facebook, and found the following message awaiting me, where footnotes correspond to Facebook’s explanations:

You aren’t connected to on Facebook, so your message would normally get filtered to his Other folder. You can:

  • Send this message to his Inbox for $1.00
  • Just send this message to his Other folder

Read on, intrepid explorer →

Don’t Confuse Your Semantics

I was reading an article on Foreign Policy, and encountered a lovely little design decision that I thought I’d highlight as something not to do. Their visual cuing for links sets a different color for the text (quite normal) and bolds it (not so normal). This latter change, in my view, breaks the user’s expectations on semantics in some really unfortunate ways.

Here’s what I mean: we expect bold text to indicate increased importance, and with a few decades of experience we expect altered color to indicate a link. The problem here is that both are in play. You can occasionally get away with breaking the user’s expectations, but in this case the result is that every time there’s a link I interpreted the text as being emphasized. It wasn’t; it was just bolded because it was a link.

The lesson here is simple: keep your semantics clean and distinct. If you have a reason to override the user’s normal expectations, that’s okay, but you should have a very good reason for it. The rest of the time, don’t use bold when you really mean link. Similarly, you shouldn’t normally use color or underlines for emphasis; those have established semantic meaning on the web; when you use them to other purposes it’s just confusing.

New research continues to emphasize the importance of mind wandering for learning. It turns out that not paying attention is one of the best ways of discovering new ideas. Reading books, whether silently or aloud, remains one of the most efficient means of enabling such errant thinking. As our bodies rest, our minds begin to work a different way. New connections, new pathways, and sharp turns are being made as we meander our way through the book, but also away from it. There is no way to tell if anyone is actually paying attention anymore as I read, including myself. This seems to be one of the great benefits of reading aloud, that you can think of something else while you do it. We may be holding the book together, but our minds are no doubt far apart by now.

—Andrew Piper, “Out of Touch: E-reading isn’t reading,” November 15, 2012, Slate,
excerpted from Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times


"Why do we have to choose between print and digital?" asked Richard Curtis at Digital Book World last week, before tackling the topic of bundling – getting ebooks at reduced cost or even free when buying a physical copy of the book. Drawing an analogy from music purchases that have moved in the same direction, he suggests that publishers ought to be bundling, and then poses the query: When you purchase a print book you should be able to get the e-book for…

  1. the full combined retail prices of print and e-book editions
  2. an additional 50% of the retail price of the print edition
  3. an additional 25% of the retail price of the print edition
  4. $1.00 more than the retail price of the print edition
  5. free

He suggests that this proves to be something of a conundrum for decision-makers in the publishing industry. With respect, and while recognizing that it probably feels like a conundrum to the publishers, I think the answer is really quite simple. Publishers can dramatically increase their profits, and do it in a way that readers will love. (This is the part where you call me crazy. Up next is the part where I show you why I’m not.) Read on, intrepid explorer →

LaTeX & MathJax Demo

I recently discovered MathJax, a JavaScript library that implements LaTeX equation display. It’s brilliant; we’re now using it in our documentation (it’s bundled with Doxygen) and I plan to make heavy use of it in the future wherever it makes sense. Some samples of its capabilities:

Einstein’s famous equation:

Something a little more complicated (one of the equations implemented in the code I’ve been working on for the last few months):

And now, something more complicated yet (defining the elements in the equation above):

I highly recommend MathJax. I’m currently running it via the MathJax-LaTeX WordPress plugin, which allows you to embed it with handy [​latex]...[​/latex] shortcode syntax.