Visualising the age of consent

Wednesday 10th February, 2010

In the course of my usual data-immersion session in my RSS reader of choice I came across a short but thought-provoking post by Stephen Law linking to some data on the age of consent.

Being a big fan of data visualisation I decided to have a go at representing the data in a way that can be more easily absorbed. So, armed with the source data, a list of ISO country codes, and the docs for the Google Chart API, I started playing.

The biggest question when visualising data, just like with statistics, is deciding what you’re looking for. This data is complex enough to be difficult to show in its entirity, involving maybe a dozen or so possible pieces of information for each location.

Here I’ve opted to look at the difference between the age of consent for straight couples and gay couples.

Blue indicates larger differences between straight and gay ages of consent (or illegality)

Vilified by Visa

Monday 1st February, 2010

Following on from a previous post about how the Verified By Visa and Mastercard SecureCode are training users to give up their identity to anyone who asks for it, apparently some lovely boffins at Cambridge have written a paper on it. (via)

Logging in Javascript

Wednesday 15th October, 2008

Today’s Ajaxian article about the Blackbird Javascript logging library has prompted a stream of comments asking what advantage this gives over console.log() in Firebug.

I think both the commenters and the Blackbird author have missed a very important aspect of logging in Javascript, namely the ability to record errors outside your own session, i.e. server-side.

This is all that’s missing (in roughly JQuery syntax for brevity):

window.onerror = function(e)
    // get the error data
    if (!e) e = window.error;
    // save error and UI activity for context
    $.post( log_url, 
            // do callback if necessary

Clicks aren’t a tip jar

Friday 22nd August, 2008

I can’t help thinking there’s something missing from Seth Godin’s post “Ads are the new online tip jar“.

If people click through ads to thank the content provider rather than because they’re interested in the product, it seems certain that conversion rates will decline. The value of those clicks will then go down, possibly as far as the level they were at before. Worse still, content providers who didn’t encourage those extra clicks could be worse off because of that decreasing click value.

Perhaps a safer alternative is to ask your readers to look at the ads, and only click through if they’re actually interested.

More Outlook Insanity

Thursday 7th August, 2008

A real gem from Outlook this morning. It’s been sending automated emails (SVN commit notices if you’re interested) from people in the office to my junk mail folder.

Marking those emails as “not junk” seemed to have no effect whatsoever, other than popping up a dialogue box which promised to move the email to my inbox (it didn’t). Subsequent emails still went to my junk mail folder.

Naively I thought I’d add the addresses of my colleagues to my “safe senders list” so that they didn’t go to the junk folder.

You’d think that’d just add the sender to my safe senders list, right? Wrong :o)

Apparently the sender is from within my organisation, so I can’t add them to my safe senders list. Instead I’ll have to spend more of my life working around Outlook’s bad design. Today it made three mistakes that got in the way of my productivity:

  1. Sending useful email (that I’ve set up rules to filter) to the junk folder
  2. Failing to mark them as not junk despite explicit commands
  3. Putting up a comedy alert message instead of adding those users to my safe senders list

I don’t mean to pick on Outlook, it’s just that I have to use it all the time, and it gets in the way so often and for such daft reasons that I feel compelled to verbalise it. I’m sure the Outlook team are nice guys.

Microsoft Worldwide Telescope

Friday 25th July, 2008

Microsoft recently released Worldwide Telescope, a download that allows you to view a virtual night sky, zoom into it, and rotate it around your viewpoint. Great idea, but I was hoping for something a bit more interesting after seeing their Seadragon demo and Google Earth.

The child in me was hoping for a night sky that was full of images rather than just one at a time, and the physicist in me was hoping that they’d normalised the spectral range of the images so that you could view any part of the sky in whatever range of the EM spectrum you wanted, and adjust that range using a slider in real time.

Now that would have impressed me. Don’t be disheartened MS WWT team, this is the 21st century. We’re a tough audience.

Like Facebook without the crap

Friday 4th July, 2008

When I was first told about Facebook, I asked what was so good about it. Apparently I could upload photos, and “connect” to my friends. I said “so what”.

Later I tried it, and it was quite addictive. Not because of the photos, or the friends that I could keep in touch with the old fashioned way, but because of the news feed. I could get bite-sized chunks of news and feel in touch with people I otherwise wouldn’t see.

It’s the mini-feed that makes it addictive. The apps and endless invites are frankly boring unless you have time to burn.

Services like Twitter and Friendfeed provide that same ambient contact without the rest of the cruft, without the data-lockin, and without the endless stream of zombie bites, ultra-mega-wall spam and “gifts”. I say the same ambient contact, but it’s actually better.

Facebook news feed

Facebook news feed

This is a sample of my Facebook news feed. It’s fine, but compare it to the level of detail in my Twitter feed. The Twitter feed is user-linkable, has avatars, allows broadcast replies, direct replies, and favourites.

Twitter feed

Twitter feed

None of this is anything facebook can’t replicate, but really I don’t see the attraction of going back to their closed eco-system when the open internet offers the best bits, but without the crap.

Mysterious IIS errors lead to Skype

Monday 30th June, 2008

IIS has been throwing some incomprehensible error codes at me recently: “Unexpected error 0x8ffe2740 occurred”. A quick search discovered that this happens when another service is running on port 80… something that really should not be “unexpected” and should have resulted in a more helpful error message.

Looking through the list of active ports using TCPView came up with nothing, so I returned to searching for people with similar problems, when I came across this gem.

Apparently someone at Skype decided that their client software should lock up port 80 if it’s not being used at start-up. This means anyone who starts IIS after they start Skype will get an error message.

Poor show from both Skype and Microsoft.

The Internet Makes Us Faster

Thursday 26th June, 2008

There’s a lot of discussion at the moment as to whether the Internet makes us (more) stupid… or to be less sensationalist, whether our brains are adapting to fit new behaviours enabled by new technology, such as Google and Wikipedia.

I’ve certainly noticed my tolerance for reading long passages of text has decreased while I’ve been a regular internet user. I’ve also noticed that I can increase it again by changing my behaviour. If I spend less time online and more time reading books for example, the effect goes away.

I notice the inverse effect when observing people using websites. Obsessive web-heads skim read, only paying attention to functional elements and labels such as buttons, tabs, etc. When reading online, they tend to skip to bullet points, quotes, bold text, or specific words that they’re looking for. Less frequent web users can behave quite differently, reading the page from the start like a book.

This is all anecdotal so doesn’t prove anything, but it indicates to me that because we’re used to reading pages with plenty of irrelevent or redundant copy, we’ve taught our eyes to find what we need more quickly… just like we taught our eyes not to see banners adverts. When we go back to books, we just have to learn to relax that aggressive visual culling of copy and let the words flow more linearly.

It’ll be interesting to see whether other effects develop over the next few years due to the availability of new high-bandwidth content, social tools, and location-driven mobile services.

Outlook Team, Be Ashamed

Monday 23rd June, 2008

I’ve just spent 5 minutes (Update: And another 10 minutes the next day) trying in vain to tell my copy of Microsoft Outlook not to “correct” my spelling to US spellings. It keeps switching the language back to US English and ignoring my explicit instruction to leave my spelling alone.

Bizarre language behaviour in Outlook

What’s more, this PC is set to GMT, International English, and UK keyboard layout. Why would it think I wanted USian spellings?

Language settings set to UK only

Sadly this is representative of my experience using Outlook.

If any of the Outlook development team fancy popping out from behind the brick wall I’ve been banging my head against, please do. I’ve got some constructive feedback for you.