Bitter Grounds - espresso fueled ramblings

Saturday, March 17, 2018

What's old is new again - 1902 called & wants its B-2 Stealth back

I was amused by a discussion on-line not long ago where someone asked “what did people do before technology”, meaning back in the dark days of the 1980s.  I chuckled because of the assumption technology is shiny new and millennial. It often comes as a shock to people when you point out the wheel is technology and that  tech is nothing more than the “application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry” (Oxford dictionary).  

So … I thought it might be fun exploring tech – of all types. I often wander through Google’s Patent search engine looking for cool stuff. My favourites are proposals that never quite made it off paper. Not all were fails, some were simply ahead of their times. Some were a combination of too soon and too impractical. To wit: Theodor Gibon's, of Clarksville, Tennessee, aeroplane (Patented Sept 30, 1902):

image of the Theodore Gibon V wing aeroplane patent 1902

Look vaguely familiar? While everyone was mad for straight wing designs, in 1902 good old Theodore took a different approach. He created a sleek, single delta that was ahead of it's time in terms of wing design. This sweeping v resembles the modern B-2 Stealth bomber. Or rather, the B-2 looks like the T. Gibon aeroplane. Okay, yes I agree, the Gibon looks more like a paper airplane, but you get my point. 

Read more: What's old is new again - 1902 called & wants its B-2 Stealth back

Yahoo's final end - a not so misty eyed farewell

Well … this is an end of an era. Yahoo for all intents and purposes is gone. Truth be told, the Yahoo we all loved in the 90s disappeared a long time ago. Today it was swallowed up by telecom giant Verizon. This wasn’t much of a shock. Yahoo has been wooed for years, most notably by Microsoft with a $44bn offer in 2008. Yahoo turned the offer down, and shortly after, the worst stock market crash since the Great Depression hammered it’s bottom line into submission. Yahoo’s value fell to about half of what MS offered. Since then, Yahoo has been trying to plug up financial holes, desperately trying to breath life into it’s once respected brand. Over the last 8 years, things haven’t improved much and today the company accepted Verizon’s offer of $4.83bn. Stockholders are likely wistfully thinking back to the day when Yahoo was valued at $125 billion.

Tech experts expect Verizon to merge Yahoo with AOL. Yea, AOL is still around, who knew? Verizon previously splashed out over $4bn to acquire the former ISP giant. There was a day AOL was as ubiquitous as Yahoo. Then it became known more for bad customer service and spammers. I did a quick check while writing this article and discovered AOL is still in Canada and might be one of the last offering dialup access. I’m also surprised they are still flogging their incomprehensibly bad AOL Desktop software. Will this merger bring any lustre back to either? Not likely. The internet is an unforgiving playground – those who don’t innovate, die deaths of a thousand cuts. It sounds like Yahoo will be turned into a delivery portal for Verizon sponsored ads. Which, when you think about it, is pretty much what it is now, except for the Verizon focus.

Read more: Yahoo's final end - a not so misty eyed farewell

Using Win10’s Cortana for fast online searches

There’s been a lot of chit chat lately about Microsoft Cortana’s voice activated help. What isn’t talked about, as much, is how you can use it for quick searches via Edge browser using only your mouse.

example of Microsoft Cortana search results Here’s how it works:

1 - highlight a word or phrase

2 - right click on the highlighted section

3 - tap “Ask Cortana"

A window will slide open on the right of the screen with the results. Keep Cortana open by pinning it (top right corner, tap the thumbtack). This allows you to scroll through all the offerings without having to redo the right click ask routine.  When you click a search result, it shows up in the main window (on the left), leaving the rest of the list accessible.

You can even use this Cortana search for info on images you see on any webpage. Right click on a photo/image -> Ask Cortana and it will pop up information. This doesn't always work and occassionally can spit up a rather wonky result (see here: Fun with Cortana and More fun with Cortana). Accuracy will depend entirely on whether the page designer setup the image tags correctly.  At the very least, it can be entertaining.

Read more: Using Win10’s Cortana for fast online searches

Alas poor Blackberry ... end of the road for a classic

It's finally happened. Blackberry is putting their venerable and ground breaking Classic out to pasture:

Sometimes it can be very tough to let go. For BlackBerry, and more importantly for our customers, the hardest part in letting go is accepting that change makes way for new and better experiences.
Ralph Pini, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager for Devices at BlackBerry (see Blackberry's blog)

It looks like the company is going to focus on their smartphone line and no longer have room for this older model  Production of the now iconic Blackberry with keyboard will come to an end this year although Blackberry will continue offering support. 



Slideshow confusion - another candidate for Web Ring of Hell

The other day I went off on the prevelance of web developers who overload slide shows.  Today, I have a related sin: image of a slide show that doesn't match the headline

A couple of issues come to mind:

What is the actual news story? This is a prime case of a jarring headline mismatched with the first slide. Talk about mental whiplash. Why choose a slide of Pamela Anderson to lead the slideshow if the headlines are talking about human remains washing ashore.

Read more: Slideshow confusion - another candidate for Web Ring of Hell

First ring of web hell – the never ending slide show

 There should be a naughty corner for web and content designers who think this is a good idea:


Notice the number of slides? 238!  Who wants to stick around through all those slides? I’ve noticed an uptick in this  lately and it’s driving me around the bend.  From a user point of view, it’s tremendously tedious scrolling through all those screens. If the reader is interrupted and returns to the page at a later point they have to start from the beginning. By the time the slide show and all the various ads load, I’ve lost my will to live.  If a site has that many slides, then supply a link to a page listing them.

I’m willing to skip through 25 to 30 slides, but after that but I can’t be bothered hanging around and take a pass.   

Another design issue is the claustrophobic layout:

Sample of cramped web design

 Oddly enough, the mobile version of this website is infinitely better - very readable. and a joy to scroll through.  The full website sacrifices flow for ad space by squeezing the content into an unreasonably small space.  The ad at the top squishes the content and makes reading the content irritating.

There you go, my two big web pet peeves of the moment.   



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Catpaw with a pint & a typical bad haircutTime for a new look - the venerable cat on a postage stamp is now retired. As much as I loved him, it was time for a face lift - bad haircut & all. 

"The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself."

- Albert Camus

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