I recently read a great article by Tristan Harris on how technology hijacks people’s minds. He discusses how companies design their websites and applications to leverage psychological effects that lead us in to bad decisions, either through persuading us to buy from them or simply wasting our time with them. And it got me thinking…
There are some website behaviors I see often that are immediate red flags to me. So bad are these behaviors or “features” that I will close down the website immediately. What’s more, when this happens the sites get placed on a kind of mental blacklist and I will never return to that site again. So if you’re looking to attract me, here’s a list of nine things you probably want to avoid.
- Scrolling or timed subscribe pop-ups.
I’m sure everyone is familiar with this one. You open a page to read an article, news feature, or blogpost. After reading for a set time (like 20 seconds), or when you try to scroll down to see the rest of the piece, the page is overlaid by an obscuring panel/window offering you the chance to “subscribe” to the newsletter.
From a user perspective this is like trying to read a magazine and then the editor jumps round from behind you and slaps you in the face. It’s unpleasant, unwelcome, and a complete turn-off. Sure, I get it, you want to encourage people to sign up for your newsletter–I want the same for my site, but this method is more likely to piss people off than attract them.
- Pay-to-view switcherooney
Another common one. This is where you follow a link to a page that you think will be informative and (somewhat like the first of these sins) as soon as you try to read on, or scroll, up pops a box telling you that you need to pay to continue viewing the content.
I’ve nothing against paying to access content, but this is essentially a bait-and-switch exercise. The site is pretending the content is openly available, but it isn’t. And the reality is, unless the site is covering something very special, it’s probably nothing that isn’t available elsewhere.
- X other people are currently viewing Y
This is a feature I originally saw on Ebay, but is now spreading to other sites. It’s the box that says something along the lines of “12 other people are currently viewing this item.” It carries with it the implication that you better be quick and buy that sucker or else it will be gone! My wife tells me she’s started seeing it now on hotel room booking pages. And yeah, sorry guys, she closes those pages down straight away too.
- No pricing on business websites
This one has to be one of the dumbest decisions I can think of. You go to the site of XZX company looking to buy some self-sealing stem bolts. You use their search or browse and find that they have the size you want (and they’re even the right metric thread!) and…
Wham! How much are the damn things? No price is listed. Anywhere. Oh, but there’s a phone number you can call…
There are a couple of variations on this. There’s the one that won’t show you pricing until you create an account. Why the hell should I have to do that? Would you force people to sign up before you let them look around your store? (Okay, there’s dumb-ass Costco, but I don’t shop there either…) Then there’s the ones that won’t show you pricing until you enter your post/zip code. Why? Do you rip people off depending where they live?
- Commerce sites with no “commerce”
Has everyone seen this one? It has to rank has one of the most pointless web “design” decisions I can think of. In this scenario, you go to a supplier’s site to find out what they have to sell. They list products from a zillion different brand names, but there’s zero information on whether any of these are actually in-stock in their store (and like the previous sin, absolutely no pricing information). When you click on the so-called “product ranges,” instead of getting information on what the place actually sells, you just get redirected to the manufacturer’s site. Once there you can’t actually order anything of course. Instead they tell you to contact your local supplier… which is where you just came from. A never ending cycle of internet non-commerce.
- We’ll just scan our catalog
This business has a full blown print catalog already made, so they take the easiest path going and just scan the paper pages and whack them up on the web for all to see. Bad scanning makes the pages almost illegible of course, not to mention out of date, entirely incompatible with mobile devices, and usually terrible for anyone with any kind of visual impairments. Do the world a favor guys, just take this kind of crap off the web, you’re not attracting anyone.
- I fecking love puce on fuchsia
The designers/owners of these sites have a particular fetish for certain oddball color combinations, or love those really ornate fonts that look like they were created by ants tripping on a bad batch of acid. Not only is it not pretty, it’s virtually unreadable. Visitors stagger away with their collective eyeballs bleeding all over their keyboards or phones as they try to decipher the words on screen. Again, anyone with any kind of vision problems will also run away screaming from sites like this. There’s a reason that great design often looks so very simple. Even if you’re not a “great designer,” keeping it simple will at least not drive people away with melted eyeballs.
- Non-accessible/non-responsive design
It’s not your Daddy’s internet anymore folks. People don’t just browse the web on desktop or laptop computers. In case you missed it, people are now doing it *gasp!* right there on their phones or tablets, on watches, and internet enabled sneakers. Okay maybe I made that last one up, but the point is that now you need to have your website respond to the user’s device. Your design needs to be fluid, to resize itself appropriately to whatever screen dimensions and resolution they are using. It also needs to be not too graphic or video/animation heavy that they can’t find the content, or it takes thirty minutes and half their monthly bandwidth to load.
There’s more to it. The points I made earlier about people with visual impairments? These may not be people who have specific medical problems, they may just be elderly or color-blind. One of the key parts of using responsive accessible design is that it allows me, the user, to zoom in to see the content in a way that suits me best. No more locked layouts, no more fixed fonts, please!
And if that wasn’t enough to persuade you, Google now ranks non-accessible sites lower in its rankings. I mean, you do want to be found, don’t you..?
- Slide-based (Ad) “content”
Another common one. This is where the “Content” is organized into slides, each “slide” often requiring two clicks: one to see the image and then another to see the image and accompanying text. And of course, each “slide” is accompanied by a different ad. In a recent example, my wife spotted a supposed list of easy meal ideas that required her to go through twenty-three different slides! “Content” that only exists for the sake of putting eyeballs on ads isn’t really content. This should be swiftly dispatched to the seventh realm of Hell by hitting that close button.
- Bonus! No content-content
In this scenario we have an article or write-up supposedly based on a specific premise or idea, but it actually says nothing about that idea or premise. Usually a sign that the site owner that doesn’t really have anything to say and believes if they waffle endlessly, no-one will notice. Well, we do. Stop it. Remember the old adage, “It’s better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
That’s it for the top sins I see. Feel free to highlight any I’ve missed (and I’m sure there are some!) in the comments.
As I’ve mentioned before. I mostly use Scrivener for my writing. Because I want to work on multiple computers/laptops I have made my Scriv install as portable as possible, by running it from a flash drive.
One other useful feature in Scrivener is the idea of template projects. When you start the software you get the option to open an existing project, or create a new one from a selection of pre-made templates.
These can be customized to match your own writing process works and set to contain pretty much any information that you want. Their only real problem is that they, like Scrivener itself, are not really “portable.”
Even if you install Scrivener on multiple computers the functionality behind the templates isn’t good as they are stored in the user profile on each individual machine. So, if you create a custom template on your desktop called My-Template (for originality’s sake!) and are writing on your laptop, then the template won’t be available. Yes, you can copy them to each machine you work on, but that can be a pain too.
This is where running Scrivener from a flash drive can be a real help. The templates are just projects, like any other Scriv project. So, if you customize one to your way of working you can then save that as a regular (though empty) project to your flash drive with an easy to remember name (Such as “My-Novel-Template”). That way you know where it is at all times, it’s with you when you need it and easy to use too.
Creating a new project from this is easy. Simply follow the following steps:
- Load Scrivener
- Open the existing My-Novel-Template project from the flash drive
- Save it immediately using the “Save As” option, giving it the name of your new project.
Hey presto, a portable version of your project! All ready for you to start hammering out the words!
No? Okay, me neither…
I’m guilty, I’ll admit it. If I want to buy a book, I usually turn to the “big A.” Especially these days as I’m favoring eBooks over paper. Indie bookstores? I thought most of them were long gone. But a recent piece in my local newspaper about Authors For Indies caught my attention. And after a bit of research, I realized there are a surprising number of indie bookstores right here in Northern Ontario.
As mentioned in Heidi’s article, Bay Used Books is a mainstay of downtown Sudbury. Even though their focus is used books, they also carry a selection of new books by local authors. Sudbury authors, Nikki Koski and Rosanna Battigelli, are volunteering their services tomorrow to help promote Authors for Indies.
North Bay (the setting for Giles Blunt’s Cardinal mysteries, so my wife tells me) is home to Gulliver’s Quality Books & Toys on picturesque Main Street. As well as new books, they also stock puzzles and games. And just down the road is Allison the Bookman with a huge selection of used books.
Is Parry Sound in Northern Ontario? That always generates a lot of debate 🙂 But as it’s only 2 hours away from here and one of my favorite summer destinations I’ll put in a plug for Parry Sound Books and Bearly Used Books.
Let’s head back north at this point. Definitely no controversy about Cobalt being in Northern Ontario! Their downtown bookstore is also a publisher – White Mountain Publications. They acquired some titles from the renowned Highway Book Store after it closed in 2011.
And our last stop is Chat Noir Books in nearby New Liskeard. They have a quote from my favorite writer, Robert Heinlein, on their web site home page, and they serve lattes. I see a trip further north in my future very soon.
It’s great to see that all these indie bookstores are very supportive of local authors, whether “traditionally” published or otherwise. As an indie writer, I try to support other indie ventures as much as possible. So next time I’m buying print books, I’ll definitely be thinking indie.
If you’re out and about tomorrow, why not stop by an indie bookstore and show your support. You can find a list of events and participating stores at the Canadian Authors for Indies site.
US-based Chess is the author of the YA time travel series, The Call to Search Everywhen. Books 1-3 (complete with stunning covers) are available on iBooks, Nook, and Kindle. Find out more about Chess at chessdesalls.com.
Originally from Clyde, Ohio, JD is living in Japan right now. (Definitely planning to find out more about that during the convention!) You can enter a GoodReads giveaway for his superhero/SF title Invasion and be sure to check out his web site at http://brinkschaostheory.blogspot.com.
Kate writes SF, fantasy, and nonfiction and is the author of the steampunk dystopian series, Desertera. Check out the striking cover for the first in the series, The Cogsmith’s Daugher. Kate lives in the US with her husband and furry children. Find out more about her at http://www.KateMColby.com.
M.T. hails from Bury St Edmunds (yes, it’s a real place!) in Suffolk, England. You can download her latest book, the intriguingly-titled Escape From B-Movie Hell via her web site and follow her on her blog.
Belinda is from Melbourne Australia. Hero is the first book in her YA sci-fi adventures series Hero Rebellion, and she’s now hard at work on the sequel. Find out more on her web site www.belindacrawford.com.
And last, but not least…
Thanks to everyone for their contributions. A great mix of classic and new authors here. This was a fun post to put together.
You can meet our SF blog tour authors right now! Just click on the names to go to their author booths at the Brain To Books convention fairgrounds on Goodreads.
And don’t forget to head to Stop #8 on the blog tour for the link to the Science Fiction Jackpot Giveaways!
The 3-day convention includes live video coverage, panel discussions, cover wars, and much much more! And it’s all free! Event organizer, Angela B. Chrysler, has put together a helpful summary on her website.
Starting tomorrow, everyone who visits my booth and comments will be entered to win a copy of my special edition short story collection, Trillium. This includes a brand new unpublished story.
Plus, I’ll be running a fun contest with a special prize. Visit my booth during the convention to find out more.
Hope to see you in the fairgrounds!
I was just updating the stats on my website for my participation in the citizen science projects that I’m part of through BOINC. And noticed I’ve broken the six million cobblestones for the Einstein@home project.
I’ve been part ofEinstein@home since 2005 – over ten years of contributing my spare computing resources to the project. It uses LIGO data to search for evidence of the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity.
This led me to check how I was doing on all the projects that I contribute to (BOINC allows you to use your computer on multiple projects simultaneously). I was amazed to find that I’ve contributed over eight million Cobblestones of computation since starting my involvement. That’s nearly seven quintillion floating-point operations – a number large enough to make your head ache! Here it is in full:
7 000 000 000 000 000
If you’re in the Toronto area, or able to travel, there’s lots happening at Toronto Public Library over the next few months for SF and science/technology fans, and it’s all free!
Hugely successful Canadian SF author Robert J. Sawyer will be making an appearance in May to promote his latest novel, Quantum Night. The plotline sounds like one that would translate very well to the movie world. You can browse all the latest SF additions to the TPL here.
And did you know (which I didn’t until I browsed their web site) that they also have an incredible 72,000 items relating to SF, fantasy and speculative fiction in a special research collection? This includes not just fiction and non fiction, but also artwork and pulp magazines including copies of some of the earliest SF magazines. I could lose myself for hours in there!
As part of the library’s Thought Exchange program, there are some interesting science and astronomy-related presentations coming up, such as Placing the Planets and Misconceptions about the Big Bang. Or for a change of pace, perhaps you’d prefer to get to know the Arduino and then sign up for the intriguing-sounding Build a Space-Ship Interface & Love-o-Metre workshop!
Also on a library theme, I made some visits to my own local libraries (400km north of Toronto!) last weekend to drop off some copies of Dead Reckoning And Other Stories (exciting to see it in the library catalogue!). Everyone I met was really helpful. As I said to my wife afterwards, how come everyone who works in libraries is so nice?
They were also kind enough to display some flyers to promote the upcoming Brain to Books convention happening April 8-10 on GoodReads and Facebook. Check out this helpful infographic and click on your favorite genres to explore authors. Hope to see you there!
It’s that time of year when we all want to be Irish, or claim some Irish descent. Yes, we all love the Irish and maybe we used to know someone who might have been Irish–possibly. Yep, it’s St. Patrick’s Day! When the Irish become the world’s excuse for tying one on and wearing green.
I can proudly declare myself to have a little more excuse than some as my Dad’s family was Irish. My granddad left Ireland in mysterious circumstances shortly after the turn of the twentieth century and moved to England. No one in the family really knows why, and I’ve heard several explanations from different relatives. The story goes that he was escaping one of the following:
- A wife (divorce not being legal in Ireland at that point)
- The military
- The IRA
In a bid to cover his tracks really well and make sure no one suspected him of being Irish, he changed his name to… Kelly… And no, I’m not making this up!
The character of Antoine Solomon Murphy in my short story, Murphy’s Law, also has some Irish in him. He’s devised a new rule in life: “Adequate preparation and intelligence can cope with any situation.” But who will win in a battle between the “luck of the Irish” and Murphy’s Law?
Update: It’s my birthday so I’m extending the promo to Sunday 20th March!
And to finish up, here are a couple of my favorite clips from Father Ted. Wishing you all the luck of the Irish! Sláinte!
In a previous post I wrote an open letter to Microsoft, criticizing its strategy of trying to force Windows 10 on everyone. I didn’t really expect much, but since then I’ve thought more about the situation.
Microsoft has a long history of abusing its dominant position in the desktop operating system market with Windows. So much so that it’s been the subject of numerous investigations and regulatory actions by various governments over the years. Many in the technology community distrust their motives and with good reason.
So has the release of the wonderful, shiny new Windows 10 made any of us change our minds? Let’s see.
First of all, Windows 10 is a “free” update for all those running versions 7 and 8 of the operating system. This in itself has sparked suspicion among many people, myself included. We’ve seen Microsoft recently move towards pay-to-play subscription delivery, like many companies. The promise is that you, the customer, get full access to all their applications and automatic delivery of new updates more quickly. But the truth is that this is just a way of maximizing the company’s revenue stream at the customer’s expense.
And the fear is that Windows is going the same way. Microsoft doesn’t make much money on direct upgrade sales, so they can afford to forgo that extra income in exchange for dominating market share. With a number of other “free” options (ChromeOS/Android) Microsoft is simply reacting to the competition. So far there has been no sign of a switch to fee-based access to Windows–but that doesn’t mean it isn’t coming.
Windows 10 OS takes away fundamental choices from the customer. No longer can you decide if your computer gets updated. Now you simply have no choice-something technology professionals everywhere know is fraught with danger. So when the fee-based Windows comes around, you won’t have any choice whether you want it or not. It will simply be delivered, entirely for Microsoft’s benefit, to your computer. Your only choice will be to pay.
In fact the very idea of “your computer” has no meaning under Windows 10’s new regime. Your computer belongs to Microsoft. It is managed and updated entirely for the benefit of the company. Your preferences or wants are entirely subsumed in favor of whatever is best for Microsoft. You can’t stop updates, you have no control over the hardware that you paid for and own. There have been numerous reports of the Windows 10 “update” causing problems and effectively trashing people’s computers. What’s more, if you previously paid for Windows, even Professional and Enterprise versions, you are now downgraded to this same “free” version.
One of the characters in my story Dead Reckoning said “if you’re not the one paying, you’re the one being sold” and here is a perfect example of this. Microsoft has already “updated” Windows 10 to start showing ads on computers, irrespective of whether the computer’s owner actually wants that. Yes, you can switch these off –for now–but let’s not kid ourselves that the day won’t come pretty soon when you can’t. Then your computer is nothing but another dumping ground to bombard you with even more ads.
No doubt a lot of people will think, well so what, the internet is full of ads, my phone is full of ads, what difference does it make? All that is true, and all of that is wrong too. We’ve been collectively brainwashed into thinking that electronic spying and advertising is somehow “okay.” It needs to be stopped.
There’s something else that’s even more insidious here. Along with all these changes, Microsoft has increased the amount of “telemetry” it collects. Despite the vagueness of the technical term this is spying pure and simple. And like the rest of the Windows 10 “features” you have no choice in this. Microsoft doesn’t want to tell you how to disable this. In fact Microsoft doesn’t even want to tell you what it’s collecting.
Even more shocking is the complete absence of any authority challenging this. The U.S. government, the European Union, both previous challengers of Microsoft’s abuses of power have been unanimously silent on this topic. Not a peep. Which leads to the question–why? Have they suddenly forgotten their concerns for people’s rights?
I think the answer is very simple. It explains Microsoft’s rabid push of this technology and its complete lack of concern at any criticism of its approach. In exchange for adding all of its spy technology, in exchange for being able to trample on people’s freedom and privacy rights, I believe Microsoft has made a secret deal with government agencies around the world that it’ll use this spy technology to provide authorities with any information they want. It even says as much in the EULA (End User License Agreement). Here are just some of the items mentioned:
Microsoft now receives “worldwide royalty free intellectual property of the user content”–yes, your files and content now belong to Microsoft.
We share your personal data “when required by law or to respond to legal process; to protect our customers; to protect lives; to maintain the security of our services; and to protect the rights or property of Microsoft.”–pretty clear. They’re planning to share everything you do on your computer with anyone in “law enforcement” or anything that some anonymous someone determines is a “security problem.”
Or how about this from a CNN feature–“Windows sends Microsoft everything you say to Cortana. It also collects your name and nickname, your recent calendar events, the names of the people in your appointments, and information about your contacts–including their names and nicknames. ” Yes, you read that correctly, everything you say.
Again from the EULA-““Microsoft collects information about you, your devices, applications and networks, and your use of those devices, applications and networks. Examples of data we collect include your name, email address, preferences and interests; browsing, search and file history; phone call and SMS data; device configuration and sensor data; and application usage.” Name, nickname, phone calls?
You don’t need to worry about your government spying on you, Windows will do it all for them, and for anyone else who pays them to hand over your personal information. Oh and guess what? You can’t turn off this collection either. Microsoft provides functions to supposedly prevent this collection, but even when everything is switched off, Windows 10 still sends information–and no, Microsoft, won’t tell you what that is.
Want more support for this theory? Well, recently Microsoft has been supporting the FBI’s calls for Apple to unlock its iPhone. Coincidence? Maybe. As Garak from Star Trek – Deep Space Nine says “I believe in coincidences. Coincidences happen every day. But I don’t trust coincidences. ” Or how about this? Microsoft is now hiding “Get Windows 10” ads inside so-called “security updates” for Windows 7 and 8–commandeering your browser to push you to Windows 10!
Microsoft, like many other companies and groups, believe that if they wave the “free” flag fast enough in front of your eyes, you won’t see just how much they’re abusing their position.
Cleopatra the alchemist was born in 3BC in a small village near ancient Alexandria and was raised as an equal with her two brothers. During the mass zombie uprising in 8 AD, she and her brothers fought in Ptolemy’s Army of Light.
During this time she became an expert horse rider, sword fighter and was proficient with the Egyptian composite bow. Despite her youth, it was said that she could shoot a zombie in the eye from sixty cubits (approximately thirty meters or one hundred feet).
After the war, Cleopatra studied under Miriam the Prophetess and learned the essentials of chemistry and medicine, building on the practical knowledge gained fighting the Zombie army.
Female scientists were common at the time, often working in the areas of chemistry, biology and medicine. Cleopatra herself performed many experiments and wrote several books on poisons and cosmetics. She also discovered a number of acids using specialized airtight containers that she manufactured herself. She was said to be one of four women who were capable of creating The Philosopher’s Stone (Along with Miriam The Philospher, Medera and the legendary J.K. Rowling.)
Shortly after establishing her own research laboratory, Cleopatra invented a method of fermenting horse dung which was then used to heat the rooms where she worked. She also invented the Alembic, a type of still used to distill and purify chemicals which laid the grounds for modern experimental chemistry and moonshine production. She was also a pioneer in furnace design and worked to quantify alchemy by introducing standardized weights and measures.
Alongside her alchemy work, Cleopatra became a renowned horse-trainer and won the Grand National horse race. She was also known as a wild, passionate woman and seduced both Julius Caeser and Richard Burton, before winning several Oscars.
Much of her writing was destroyed by Roman and Christian leaders, hostile to science and only her “Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra” survives, in which she explored the philosophy of alchemy. It contains many symbols of practical alchemy such as Ouroboros, the snake that eats itself, a drawing of the kerotakis, a chemical apparatus and various star symbols.
When she was entombed, inscribed on her sarcophagus was the legend:
Which can be translated as “Death to zombies!”
(Note: As few documents survived discussing the life of Cleopatra the Alchemist, some of the events depicted here have been dramatized, but are accurate in spirit, if not fact.)