Sunday 30 September 2012

There were three prompts

This may be an indication of my short-attention span, but placeholder text used as the label has been bugging me for a while, and it seems to be getting more popular. I use it on the web version of this blog; the Search function in the top right uses a placeholder, though if you’re using Internet Explorer you won’t see anything unless it’s IE10. And if you’re using Firefox then older versions will result in the text clearing on focus, unlike Chrome (and presumably other WebKit browsers) where it only clears on user input.

Imagine however that all browsers implement HTML in a consistent manner and that there’s some placeholder text identifying the input that’s been designed to disappear on the text box receiving focus. Or imagine I’d used jQuery. For a single input field it’s a fair solution but for more than one it doesn’t work; I’ve found it niggling for something as simple as the usual three prompts (email, name and website) before adding a comment.

Proponents will point out the snapshot is unfair. In real life I’d be entering this information together; I’d know what I’d just clicked on. This might be true for some, it depends on the point at which your focus moves to the next field; is it before or after you click? For me it’s ‘after’, or would be if I used the mouse (or similar) to navigate the input. However, I use the keyboard and, I suspect like most who do, my focus doesn’t move until I tab away; hence my attention would only move to the next input field after it had already received focus, and lost its identifying label. Therefore if there is placeholder text it shouldn't clear until the input has content, though I'd question whether user content is an adequate identifier.

Friday 21 September 2012

Materialistic wobbles

On Tuesday I caved. In the week in which the world updates their iPhone, I upgraded my Nokia... to another Nokia. This is my first smartphone and I chose not to follow the herd, or even the Android herd that copies follows it; at least that’s what I tell myself. From a distance I genuinely prefer Windows Phone to those two big hitters; so what if Microsoft supposedly makes more money from wielding its mighty patent sword at Android than it does from its own operating system - it has originality to commend it. But comparisons are unwise since the closest I’ve come to a Jesus phone is a three year old iPod Touch, though I did once hold a Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Could this be a case of blissful ignorance? It matters not, as the main reason for my conversion was a £7.50/month tariff, cheaper than what I had been paying; this isn’t a materialistic wobble after all. It’s not an iPhone or top-of-the-range anything; it's more a bottom-of-the-range something that still manages to drag me into the modern world. I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing. I suspect bad. I suspect I'll forgive myself. And reading of the misfortunes riddled in Apple Maps I confess to a certain schadenfreude since the pre-installed Nokia Maps on my Lumia knows exactly where I am - in my bedroom - useful that.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

It’s broken because we designed it that way

Scott Hanselman’s recent post, on a week of annoyances caused by troublesome software, was entertaining because we’ve all been there. Thankfully it managed not to indulge (or at least I could stomach) the allusions to a lack of “passion” and “craft” and the comments were mostly sane, albeit I didn’t necessarily agree. I must confess to occasional astonishment at how much does work, not only in the world of IT but the world in general; yet we can do better, and if we didn’t think so then what’s the point?

xkcd: Good Code
It doesn’t have quite the same impact, but many of his gripes would be more accurately described as “less than perfect” rather than “broken” and it strikes me - in development, now more than ever - that “less than perfect” is not only allowed, it’s actively encouraged - I’m thinking of “release early, release often”. For example, I like Agile - since customer requirements will evolve it’s helpful to have an adaptive method that anticipates this - but it comes with an understanding that what’s initially released isn’t the finished article. Ironically the separation of concerns afforded by such patterns as MVC and MVVM not only enable this, but necessarily come with additional code you’d expect with any abstraction.

One can argue the difference between internal and external releases, and there is a balance, but if we don’t release early then any perceived advantage from user feedback becomes moot. The point here is that “less than perfect” is something we accept, as quicker and better is expected in the long term. The business challenge is to ensure as much effort is extended to the updates as the early release - which in turn requires challenging (or should that be refining?) an “if it ain’t broke” mentality.

A further confession: I’m not particularly understanding when “less than perfect” hits me; though yesterday’s example was a bug. In creating an online account to manage my Barclays mobile phone insurance I discovered the password format validation was different to that on logging in; the latter was strictly alphanumeric, the former allowed for what would have been more secure. Thus the telephone call I’d hoped to avoid by creating said account became inevitable; not that I could explain the problem to the person on the other end.

Friday 14 September 2012

London in 2012, not London 2012

Harry Potter studio tour The British Museum The Shard
The Millennium Bridge The London Eye feet The Houses of Parliament
The London Eye Big BenDowning Street
Think of this as a bump... with pictures.