Sites that use an infinite scroll to forward you from one story to the next, while restricting you to a number of articles per month. Thanks guys, that sure makes me want to subscribe.
ARGH! That about covers my reaction to the latest Firefox update that was forced on me and millions of others in the past couple of days (that would be the jump from 42 to 43). So what’s my problem with the blasted thing? Basically that in their infinite wisdom the developing team saw it fit to option to undo a feature redesign that had first been foisted upon us back in version 33. I’m talking about the search bar’s redesign that left us stuck with a different input mechanism -and a really annoying grid of icons- rather than a drop down list of search engines. As I said, while the redesign had been around for about a year, up until a few days ago you could fix that one by going to about:config, and setting browser.search.showOneOffButtons to false. That is no longer an option.
Now, that grid looks very pretty… provided that you don’t have any search engines that don’t have a custom icon, and that you don’t have any that share the same icon(you want to be able to search wikipedia in more than one language? Good luck trying to figure out which one is selected. You want to have the option to search Project Gutenberg by either author or title? Ditto), but if the grid is not working for you, well, that’s just too bad… or at least that would be the case if you were left at the tender mercies of the development team. The good news is that that’s not necessarily the case. The bad news is that the solution calls for the use of an extension. I’m talking about Classic Theme Restorer, whose only reason for being is to… undo the damage these frequent updates do to the user experience (look for this option in the ‘General UI’ tab).
Don’t get me wrong, while I hate bloat -and I’m not too keen on change for change’s sake- I don’t want my user interface to be stuck in the last millennium, and there are plenty of new features I am actually grateful for. It’s just that there are some instances in which designers should realize that reversing the old ‘it’s not a bug, it’s a feature’ to read ‘it’s not a feature is a bug’ is not the best way to make a better product.
Yesterday I was doing a bit of housecleaning in my bookmarks, and in addition to a million dead links I found a few old favorites that predate the advent of social media. Most of these have long since been abandoned (and in their pages too broken links are legion), but one thing that struck me was the care that went into putting them together, the depth of knowledge they contained… and the fact that they are ad free. Granted, many of these were/are maintained by universities, but the thing is that back when maintaining a site meant learning html, and an update was a major undertaking. It was something to be proud of, and it showed. That gave rise to sites such as:
Bibliotheca Augustana (world literature in the original language)
Visualizing Chaucer (one of a number of Robbins Library Digital Projects)
The Camden House (Sherlock Holmes)
The thing is that visiting those sites reminded me of what the web was like in the early days, and while there is no denying that social media has some advantages, the fact that pretty much anyone can post anything without giving it much thought hasn’t come cheaply. In fact my little trip down memory lane was a rather painful reminder of the web we lost as a result… and of the fact that easier isn’t always better.
Okay, so my last post was an anti-facebook rant. Now let’s turn to the brighter side of technology… at least from where I stand. To begin with let me get one personal detail out of the way: I am dyslexic, and that means that I basically owe my life to my computer… or at least my lifestyle, why?
Well, to begin there’s the fact that without a keyboard I can’t write, full stop, and yet I’ve been able to become a writer. That’s about as big a shift as there can be, and the very notion of being unable to get the words out is one that fills me with a sense of dread. I realize that to an outsider that may sound like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not, and I am almost painfully aware of the fact that I was only a generation away from finding myself in exactly that position.
When it comes to reading I was lucky to overcome most of the challenges at a fairly early age (politically incorrect, and cringe worthy as it may sound, I have to give Enid Blyton a lot of credit for that one, as her books made reading fun) but even there I have to admit that I find reading on a screen, where I can actually modify the layout to suit my needs, so much easier. In fact my favorite device in that regard is an iPod touch. Yes, I realize that it’s an odd choice, and that most people cringe at the thought of reading on such a tiny screen, but from my perspective that’s by far its best feature (and I’m still grumbling about the fact that some moron saw it fit to increase the size of the display some three years ago)… and from a more general perspective there is the internet. We can’t forget about that one.
No, I’m not a digital native, and I suspect that that gives me both a better perspective to appreciate the benefits the internet has brought about, and a greater awareness of what the price we’ve had to pay has been, but that’s a subject for another post.
For some fourteen years I’ve been working on a fantasy series, and in the past few years I even managed to publish the first three volumes of the thing. In fact I was beginning to work on book four when the whole thing was basically poisoned in my mind. In a nutshell, I had entrusted the covers to one of my closest friends, and that was a mistake that wound up causing the friendship to implode as we were trying to agree on a design for book three. The end result was that for a while there I couldn’t even look at those books without a lot of pain… and then I reread them.
I don’t know how tainted my perspective was by that recent debacle, but I wound up cringing quite a bit. That led me to push book four to the back burner. Now I am back to contemplating what to do with the whole thing, and I’m leaning towards a full revision of the first three books, to be released simultaneously with book four (and hopefully a new set of covers that doesn’t cause my stomach to get twisted in a knot whenever I see them). Yes, I realize that it is a bit extreme, but one of the downsides about publishing a series is that you are bound by what’s already published, even though at times it might be described as cheating, this will enable me to go back and make some changes… and it is that freedom to make changes that brings me to the main question I wanted to address with this post: how am I supposed to tackle the subject of technology?
That’s one I hadn’t expected to become such a major issue, but the truth is that given that the first draft was written back in 2001, there are a number of aspects that seem a bit anachronistic. I realize that there are plenty of books out there that gleefully disregard that particular aspect, that literature has a permanence that is part of its charm in an age of planned obsolescence, and I don’t even know how feasible is it going to be for me to work that into the story without totally disrupting the plot (not to mention that, even if I were to succeed, in five years the books will probably be back to feeling as dated as they feel now), but at least for the time being, I am tempted to give it a shot.
BTW, the series in question is Citlalli, but if you want to give one of my books a shot I would probably suggest that you give those a wide berth, and consider Horsesh*t (history/humor), Homo Ex Machina (SF), or The Eyes of the Dead instead.