Because I forget stuff. Part of

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March 2004

Posts made in March 2004

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics*

Very good piece on the Risks of Quantitative Studies. We get statistics thrown at us all the time, by politicians, the press or the bloke down the pub. I’ve always remembered my statistics lecturer in my 1st year of being an undergraduate trying to instill in us how unrealiable most statistics in the press are (if only I could actually remember most of what he actually taught us). Possibly the most compelling quote from the above piece is the following:

Researchers often perform statistical analysis to determine whether numeric results are “statistically significant” By convention, they deem an outcome significant if there is less than 5% probability that it could have occurred randomly rather than signifying a true phenomenon.
This sounds reasonable, but it implies that one out of twenty “significant” results might be random if researchers rely purely on quantitative methods.

In other words one swallow does not a summer make, or one study does not a result make. The importance of repetition is often lost on the general public (as is the importance of sample size and the myriad of pitfalls the article touches on) and on the press themselves, often leading to scare mongering (just look at the triple vaccine/autism “scandle”). One result could be a complete freak. Be careful with those statistics, >90% of people don’t really understand them.

*Originally Benjamin Disraeli, not Mark Twain who merely made it a popular phrase in the US.

Accessibility-Some Thoughts

Web accessibility is the big subject of the moment. We have to make our sites accessible. Design something nice and the cry goes up-what if the user is blind? what if they have images turned off? Small screen devices? The whole idea that everything we put online should be accessible to everyone has even been enshrined in laws.
Some questions must be asked about this. For a start, everyone is an impossable dream. Nothing is accessible to everyone. That’s not the way the world works. No one makes similar demands of other media. No one expects advertisment posters to be printed with a brail version alongside in case the consumer can’t see. That’s possably not a good example. Lot’s of publications offer large print versions (but not newspapers etc, yet online versions should?). But they don’t offer versions without pictures. They don’t offer versions in case your peering at them through a tiny window.
In some cases, it shouldn’t really be a problem with websites. The idea that user is everything leads to browsers allowing users to change everything. And the power of css allows many different stylesheets to be available. Hopefully the separation of style and content should allow the page to gracefully degrade in devices not supporting those styles. But we can’t do everything. Every trick in the book has problems, from screen readers not acting consistently to image replacement techniques being repleet with problems (see A List Apart’s Accessibility Section). And again why should we be expected to do everything? I don’t know. Yet I agree with it. The user is all. If we can make something accessible we should (and this site could do more, if I had time. No one ever mentions the cost in extra work to do this). However, I think my point is not everything can be accessible. And we shouldn’t be punished for that.

One further point. Almost every website works very hard at accessibility. They make things work for the vast majority of users, those using IE. Write a page using those lovely standards that are supposed to help make things accessible and you break the site for most of the users. Perhaps someone should force MS to make IE follow standards properly, for accessibility’s sake.

Google Whacking

googlewhack screenshot
I just found another googlewhack :) I’ve found one before, so this is the second. Obviously I’m not going to put the words in the text of this blog, as if and when google indexes them that would invalidate my whack. The screen shot shows it though (click to enlarge). For those wondering exactly what a googlewhack is see this explanation of the word game played with the google search engine.

Website Online

The website I’ve been involved with developing for the group I work with is now online. It’s a pitty it’s not very accesable but that was a design decision made before I came on board. At some point, maybe when I have some more time ;), I’ll try to get round to adding an alternate, more accessable stylesheet. Anyway, any problems with it, let me know.

Mozilla 1.7 Beta Released

For those who like there browsers right on the cutting edge, Mozilla 1.7 beta has just been released. Although it’s beta, Mozilla beta’s tend to be pretty stable, so check it out. The what’s new pages tell you, well, what’s new. Yet more improvements!

Creative Commons License

I just added a Creative Commons License to these pages, as indicated by the box in the navigation menu. Basically the license says you can use and distribute (and indeed change) whatever you find on the pages subject to a couple of conditions: You must acknowledge me, you can’t use anything for commercial purposes (without permission) and a similar license must be applied. Read the license for further details.
I made the decision basically so that anything anybody randomly finds useful is automatically shared. As far as I’m concerned this includes the code, wording and images of the pages. If I decide to take anything out of the license, I’ll explictly do so. Enjoy.

Making IE Work

I’m late mentioning this, but Dean Edwards has done some wonderful work in using IE behaviours to make the Windows version of that bug ridden pile of crap act almost like a proper browser. Go check out the list of css stuff he’s got it to support correctly (and indeed, at all) with the promise of more to come!

Hubble, Firefox and Painting

hubble pictureStarry Night

The recent Hubble Space Telescope image shown has been compared by many to Van Gogh’s Starry Night (also shown). Rubbish. Much more like the new Firefox logo, as pointed out by Skip Happens and demonstrated best by Asa. Click the images for larger versions.

logo and image comparison

Further Tweaks

I never really wanted the titles of the boxes on the right to scroll away. I’ve added some markup and hacked a bit of css to scroll only the contents without the title. The solution works in the three browsers I have to hand (with some differences) but I’m not sure about it. It turned out to be a much more difficult affect to achieve than I expected, at least without breaking the fact you can increase the text size to about 300% before my layout starts to break. I think probably I’ll give it some more thought and change it again but it can stay for now.

Search Adjusted

I mentioned that the search box for the blog archives wasn’t very well styled. Well, I’ve played around with it a bit, and now I’m a lot happier with the results. Opera 7.23 Win seems to mess it very slightly until a redraw is forced by changing the browser window size (or just minimising then maximising) but not in a determental way. It works fine in Mozilla 1.6 Win and IE 6 Win (haven’t been anywhere with a copy of IE 5.x running to check what a mess that makes yet). So I’m pretty happy with it.


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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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