Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Usability and Contrast Loss

07 October 2013

My father, Owen, is legally blind due to contrast loss. This is not your typical form of blindness. Essentially, everything mushes into grey. Note that some contrast loss with aging is normal, so the problems noted here do affect many people as they age, just not to the same degree.
When I first saw iOS 7, I knew it would be a problem for him and that he would not be able to see it as well as iOS 6 (which had problems, too, but fewer of them), but I didn’t want to make assumptions about what specifically was a problem until we’d had that conversation.
Last night, I managed to talk to Owen long enough (before the call dropped) to get some of his complaints.
Specifically, he can’t see the UI to unlock his phone. Let’s look at the before (iOS 6) and after (iOS 7) examples here:
(image from
Now, imagine that you’re only able to see high-contrast well, like Owen is. Which has greater accessibility? This is an effing lock screen, people. No one should have to go around with their internet pants down because they’re blind.
This is actually a really good argument for the iPhone 5s: it doesn’t matter how awful the accessibility is on a feature if it’s irrelevant. So, I’m going to help my dad get an iPhone 5s and set it up.
After my complaints on Twitter, several people suggested that Owen go into the Settings app and increase the font size and boldness.
Exercise for the reader:

  1. Assume you’re legally blind from contrast loss (and haven’t locked yourself out of your phone because you’re blind).
  2. Find the Settings app on iOS 7.

(clipped out of a larger image here)
Note how much less accessible (from that perspective) the iOS 7 icon is than the iOS 6 one is. Some of the iOS 7 icons are better, some are way worse, and some are about the same. This one is decidedly worse, and it wasn’t that great to begin with.
In addition to lower contrast, the detail is much finer, making it harder to see (than the iOS 6 icon) by most visually impaired people.
And that’s what the settings to improve accessibility are hidden behind?
Now, let’s get back to the point about increasing the font size and boldness. In general, this never hurts. However, for someone blind from contrast loss, these options may not help. It is the contrast, rather than the font weight or size per se, that is the issue.
Looking up at the lock screen, note that the time is a larger font than it used to be. Assuming it were also the same weight, it would still be less accessible for Owen — because contrast is more important. Also note that shadows, gone from the iOS 7 UI, help define edges and thus improve accessibility for those with contrast loss. Personally, I like shadows so long as they’re not overdone.
Per Owen, it’s also easier to see white text on a dark field rather than dark text on a light field. For him, light-colored backgrounds flare. I don’t know if this is true for all who have contrast loss, though.

Read More

Another Health Care Saga

01 October 2013

Kameron Hurley has quite the health care saga.
It’s inspired me to write up my own story.
I’d started a new job in May. Got married in June. Twice, in fact: the legal civil ceremony and a more symbolic one in Ireland.
There was time to do all the rest of the paperwork, right? Before then, I’d been on a large-deductible policy, but couldn’t add my partner because he wasn’t my husband.
Oh, and I had that policy because I had no health care through my employer. In fact, technically, I didn’t have an employer — I was a contractor for a Canadian firm that was illegally avoiding US hiring practices. They had an office in the US, but they paid everyone as though they were a contractor. What could possibly go wrong?
Fast forward to November. Yes. The same year. (He was a lot older; I sometimes joke that we didn’t have a May-December relationship, only a June-November one.)
My husband has a stroke. Given the obvious symptoms of hemiplegia and aphasia, I knew it was severe. At the time the EMTs arrive, I’m wondering about things like long-term rehab, fearing I’d have to give up my career in software development.
Instead, he was non-responsive not long after arriving at the hospital. However, as the hospital lacked more sophisticated equipment (no MRI machine, for example), they had to do EEGs over a period of 24 hours in order to declare him dead. Which meant a minimum of 24 hours in the ICU — about as expensive as it gets for a hospital stay sans surgery.
When I agreed to donate his organs, they asked if they could airlift him to the transplant hospital in order to declare him dead sooner (which would preserve transplantability of organs). Which I agreed to.
Indeed, his declaration of death was about 16 hours after the initial stroke.
Then I got the bills from all the care providers. All told, it was over $30,000. Some of that was for line items I shouldn’t have been billed for. While technically (and for very good reasons), I owed for his care up until the declaration of death, line items related to preserving his organs or prepping him for transport weren’t things I should be billed for. They did indeed have to do heart work in order to keep it pumping.
But, to me, preserving someone else’s life was the most important thing.
So it was really a shock to go over those line items, realizing I could have just said no to any additional care that’d keep his heart beating longer — and it would have cost less. But it wouldn’t have been right in my book.
I so didn’t need the line item call with the organ bank to see what should have been billed to them vs. me.
I recall writing a bunch of checks. About $13,000 or so. The bill had been whittled down. My numbers brain says it was in the neighborhood of $17,185 before my payments. A charity designed to help folks in our situation picked up the rest, and I never received another bill.
I don’t know who those lovely people were who contributed, but — thank you.
After he died, I asked for a week off work. (Yeah, that was stupid. Duh. I was in shock.)
After trying to get my act together, I went on temporary disability for three months for the simple reason that I couldn’t think. Without the ability to concentrate, I couldn’t work. I went on anti-depressants, paid for by the disability.
The tale I tell about anti-depressants is this: before starting them, I was convinced I’d never write again. Within a couple of weeks after starting them, I was writing again. I wasn’t writing well, but I was able to put together something of a plot. It took longer for my programming brain to come back (I could write about the pain, but programming needed a clearer head).
Those pills weren’t cheap, though amazingly, this was one period when the stupid prescription plan through my credit card company was worth its weight in gold. After spending as much as I had on medical for myself and my late husband, I didn’t have enough money to take the three months I needed off. The safety net protected me at a time of crisis. I’ve paid for that over and over with my tax dollars so that other people will be able to use it in their times of crisis, too.
Unfortunately, end-of-life care is horrifically expensive. It’s when hospital bills tend to be disproportionately high, and the bereaved is/are left holding only the bills.
It could have been much, much worse. It didn’t have to be that bad. From now on, it won’t be, because my late husband would now have an affordable means to get coverage.
Maybe he’d have had those headaches checked out.
Maybe they’d have found the aneurysm before it burst.
Maybe it could have been repaired.
Maybe he’d still be alive today, never having had a stroke.

Read More

Country List: 88

27 September 2013

Main count from Traveler’s Century Club

UN list from here.

  1. United States (UN 1, ISO 1: US) 1959
  2. Canada (UN 2, ISO 2: CA) 1962
  3. Mexico (UN 3, ISO 3: MX) 1968?
  4. England (UN 4, UK, ISO 4: UK) 1986
  5. India (airport overnight only, ISO 5: IN)
  6. Singapore (UN 5, ISO 6: SG)
  7. Hawaiian Islands (not UN, not ISO) 1987
  8. Indonesia (Java) (UN 6, ISO 7: ID)
  9. Chile (UN 7, ISO 8: CL)
  10. Bahamas (UN 8, ISO 9: BS) 1989
  11. Ireland (Eire) (UN 9, ISO 10: IE) 1990
  12. Northern Ireland (Ulster) (part of UK #4)
  13. Virgin Islands, US (part of US #1, ISO 11: VI)
  14. Jamaica (UN 10, ISO 12: JM)
  15. Puerto Rico (part of US #1, ISO 13: PR)
  16. Haiti (UN 11, ISO 14: HT)
  17. St. Maarten (part of NL #30, ISO 15: SX)
  18. Leeward Islands, French (part of FR #36, ISO 16: MF)
  19. Martinique (part of FR #36, ISO 17: MQ)
  20. Barbados (UN 12, ISO 18: BB) 1991
  21. Aruba (part of NL #30, ISO 19: AW)
  22. Venezuela (UN 13, ISO 20: VE)
  23. Colombia (UN 14, ISO 21: CO)
  24. Panama (UN 15, ISO 22: PA)
  25. Honduras (UN 16, ISO 23: HN)
  26. Belize (UN 17, ISO 24: BZ)
  27. Cayman Islands (British overseas territory, ISO 25: KY)
  28. Wales (part of UK) 1992
  29. Scotland (part of UK)
  30. Netherlands (UN 18, ISO 26: NL)
  31. Germany (UN 19, ISO 27: DE)
  32. Austria (UN 20, ISO 28: AT)
  33. Italy (UN 21, ISO 29: IT)
  34. Liechtenstein (UN 22, ISO 30: LI)
  35. Switzerland (UN 23, ISO 31: CH)
  36. France (UN 24, ISO 32: FR)
  37. Greece (UN 25, ISO 33: GR) 2007
  38. Ionian Isles (Corfu) (part of GR #37)
  39. Egypt (UN 26, ISO 34: EG)
  40. Crete (part of GR #37)
  41. Turkey in Asia (UN 27, ISO 35: TR)
  42. Turkey in Europe (part of TR #41)
  43. Denmark (UN 28, ISO 36: DE) 2008
  44. Estonia (UN 29, ISO 37: EE)
  45. Russia (UN 30, ISO 38: RU)
  46. Finland (UN 31, ISO 39: FI)
  47. Sweden (UN 32, ISO 40: SE)
  48. Norway (UN 33, ISO 41: NO)
  49. New Zealand (UN 34, ISO 42: NZ) 2010
  50. Australia (UN 35, ISO 43: AU)
  51. Spain (UN 36, ISO 44: ES) 2011
  52. Morocco (UN 37, ISO 45: MA)
  53. Canary Islands (part of ES #51)
  54. Madeira (part of Portugal, so UN 38)
  55. Bermuda (British overseas territory, ISO 46: BM) 2012
  56. Hong Kong (UN 39, China, ISO 47: HK)
  57. Macau (UN 39, China, ISO 48: MO)
  58. Dubai (UN 40, United Arab Emirates, ISO 49: AE)
  59. Luxembourg (UN 41, ISO 50: LU)
  60. Costa Rica (UN 42, ISO 51: CR)
  61. El Salvador (UN 43, ISO 52: SV)
  62. Faroe Islands (part of Denmark, so UN 28, ISO 53: FO)
  63. Iceland (UN 44, ISO 54: IS)
  64. Belgium (UN 45, ISO 55: BE)
  65. Guatemala (UN 46, ISO 56: GT)
  66. Nicaragua (UN 47, ISO 57: NI)
  67. Virgin Islands, British (UN 4, ISO 58: VG)
  68. Montserrat (UN 4, ISO 59: MS)
  69. Leeward Islands, Netherlands (UN 30, ISO 60: BQ)
  70. St. Barthélmy (UN 24, ISO 61: BL)
  71. Japan (UN 48, ISO 62: JP) (2013)
  72. Thailand (UN 49, ISO 63: TH)
  73. Sumatra, Indonesia (UN 6, ISO 7)
  74. Vietnam (UN 50, ISO 64: VN)
  75. Guam (UN 1, ISO 65: GU)
  76. Micronesia, Federated States of (UN 51, ISO 66: FM)
  77. Marshall Islands, Republic of (UN 52, ISO 67: MH)
  78. South Korea (UN 53, ISO 68: KR)
  79. Sri Lanka (UN 54, ISO 69: LK)
  80. Maldives (UN 55, ISO 70: MV)
  81. Malaysia (UN 56, ISO 71: MY)
  82. Myanmar (UN 57, ISO 72: MM)
  83. Bulgaria (UN 58, ISO 73: BG)
  84. Romania (UN 59, ISO 74: RO)
  85. Ukraine (UN 60, ISO 75: UA)
  86. Alaska (UN 1, ISO 1: US)
  87. South Africa (UN 61, ISO 76: ZA)
  88. Isle of Man (UN 4, ISO 77: IM)

Read More

How I thought Web Commerce Would Be Different

25 September 2013

…than it actually is.
When I first heard that people were going to be able to shop over the web, I had some expectations about what that experience might be like.
I was reminded of this when I was standing outside my London hotel waiting for the Hotel Hoppa bus, and saw another woman who had the same obscure brand of handbag — and, having never seen an ad for said bags, I wondered how she’d found out about them. In neither of our cases was it through advertising.
Here’s what I expected, back in the day, that I’d see when I logged into a place like Nordstrom:

  1. New clothing arrivals in a size that would actually fit me, with lines that didn’t ship in my size not shown at all. What do I see? Only clothes that don’t fit me.
  2. New shoe arrivals in a size that would fit me.
  3. Focus on what I mostly buy, which is accessories, in lines I actually buy from and (given that there are photographs of these things) colors I’m actually likely to buy. Show me something in a color you know I like, right? I’ll be more drawn to it. Isn’t that basic psychology?

One of my peculiarities is that I don’t buy black or brown unless it’s something spectacular (or spectactularly funny to me, in the case of Woot t-shirts). I own no black or brown shoes, for example.
So let’s take a look at Nordstrom, who presumably knows what I’ve bought from them, and have a look at the home page when I log in, shall we?

  1. Upper left: I don’t wear a watch. I have no philosophical objection to watches, I just fractured my wrist some years ago and wearing one is still painful. So I don’t. They know I’ve never purchased a watch there.
  2. Upper right: I don’t wear heels that high, and I don’t wear black shoes. At all. They know this.
  3. Lower left: While I do occasionally shop for make-up, this is not a line I purchase. They know this.
  4. Lower right: While I do love Nordstrom’s cashmere, the piece shown isn’t one that would fit me, and the pieces I would buy aren’t shown at all. They know this.

Below the fold is much the same.
How much does this draw me in? Frankly, it says that my interests aren’t at all relevant to what the company wants to push on me. No doubt this is why I’ve felt less and less of a draw to Nordstrom over the years.
Now, you might think I’m singling them out, but this is an endemic problem. It just happens to be an endemic problem with a company who has enough information about my purchase history to do something more meaningful.
In focusing on what companies pay them to push, they ignore their real customer and their real customer’s real needs. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the phrase (which I wish would DIAF) “must have.” It’s a phrase for the intellectually dishonest and lazy to use, in my opinion. It’s about telling the sheep what to do, not about providing what people actually desire or need.
What I’d actually hoped for in the internet shopping experience was something completely different: a way where one could find more indie-made goods that would be of interest based on some kind of social networking that is not based on advertising. In other words, based on what people you know and who have similar taste to yours actually like that you may not know about yet. Learning by networking based on similar aesthetic sense.
How you do that without big money from advertisers corrupting the process is left as an exercise in futility.
While that’s my grand utopic vision of internet shopping, it remains an impenetrable problem, apparently. Etsy’s as close as it gets to good, and it can be a really long way from good.
Every time I see someone trundling around with a Louis Vuitton logo bag, I wonder: is this something they’ve only been told they should like? Or did they spend that money because they thought it would get them status with other people? Do they realize how much status they lose in the minds of other people? I have nothing against LV bags per se; they do make fine leather goods. However, they are not the only company making fine leather goods. Also, I see relatively few of the “no logo all over” lines like Epi than I do of the ones that are walking ads. Worse still are the people carrying fake LV bags.
Frankly, every time I see someone carrying anything that’s a walking ad, I think, “Really? That’s all you think of yourself? That you’re a billboard for someone else? That you paid to be a billboard for someone else? Show some self-respect.”
I thought web commerce would be more about being more individual. Instead, it seems more about the homogenization of tastes. Homogenization is fine for milk.
The handbags we had in London? Ella Vickers. Probably not your thing, but, hey, the world’s a big place.

Read More

Words of Wisdom from Mackieman

16 September 2013

For a friend of mine who is having, shall we say, brick issues:

Being die-hard loyal to a company is like being in an intimate relationship with a brick. The brick cares nothing for you. Do not love the brick; the brick will only cause you pain when it forgets about you. The brick serves only its interests and nothing else is of consequence.
The brick does not love you.


Read More

About Those Trebuchets

10 September 2013

There’s been an ongoing discussion about the disability panel at Lonestarcon and the lack of a handicap ramp for that panel. Rose Lemberg’s post is here, and Mari Ness’s is here.
Short form: panelist in wheelchair shows up to speak on disability in SF panel, finds no ramp (which she’d been warned about in advance, at least), but there is a dais. Panel takes place on tables in front of dais. However, on other panels, she’s put next to the dais with a microphone while other panelists are on dais.
Discussion went on from that point, and I suggested magical trebuchets.
Rose pointed out we’d still have to request them.

Magical self-requesting trebuchets are clearly the right answer here. 🙂

Let’s wind back to before all that, though, back to ten years ago when I was a newer SMOF working as programming 2nd for the local large regional convention. The following two years, I was head of programming, a role that I’ve reprised since (but, for reasons other than convention politics, will not do again).
Back then, we were at the DoubleTree San Jose, which had eight large ballrooms and eight smaller ballrooms. Four of the large ones were used for art show/dealer’s rooms, which meant that four were available for programming. The largest rooms we kept two of the rooms together (at least) at all times, and a pair of the smaller rooms were more commonly used together. Further, two of the smaller rooms were used for gaming. So now we’re down to one large-plus room, two large rooms, four small rooms and one medium-sized one — or eight in total.
How many handicap ramps do you think there were?
One for the large ballrooms, one for the small.
Meaning that, if you needed to schedule something with a panelist who needed a ramp, out of eight rooms, you could schedule that panel in two of them. And because the room with the tech was one of the smaller ballrooms, that meant that you couldn’t have both tech and a ramp without sacrificing either panels needing tech or panels needing mobility-impaired panelists — if you scheduled any panels that needed both.
In the smallest room, we typically had at least one room without a dais at all, which made the ramp unnecessary, but made it harder to see from the back. Which led to different complaints.
Knowing what I know now, I’d have done some things differently back then, but I can’t change the past. Let’s just say that some of the complaints I’ve heard sound familiar. Like having the panelist in a wheelchair not on the dais when other people are (in a SRO group reading for the Chicks in Chainmail series). Because Lee Martindale is a far better person than I am, she is still speaking to me.
I’m not trying to excuse what happened at Lonestarcon (or any other con, including the ones I’ve been involved in). I’m just trying to point out that there are some rather horrible choices conrunners have to make because accessibility is not the default but rather a special case. Even at convention centers.
Another aspect of ramps: they take up space and may mean you can seat fewer people in the room. One of the complaints I heard about Lonestarcon was standing room only panels (which can be a great problem to have unless you’re a mobility impaired attendee entering the room late).
So, adding more ramps can make that problem worse.
Then there’s the problem of getting the wheelchairs up the ramps, which is not always as automatic as one might think, what with physics not helping and all.
I just remember that the Klingons helped.

Read More

Finland and Spokane: More Commentary

08 September 2013

First, Lisa Hertel corrected me on my previous calculations: Finland’s hotel price was €80 ($106), not $80, but it also included breakfast and taxes. Thanks for the catch.
Rick Kovalcik additionally pointed out that Finland’s hotel rate also included wifi and taxes. Thanks!
I’m not going to do the re-calculations, but you get the point: it tips things more in Finland’s favor despite my gaffe.
Then, the other night, a friend of mine and I were doing travel window shopping on Facebook chat, and he booked a one-way ticket from Oakland to Oslo for under $300 on Norwegian Air Shuttle.
I’d missed the news, later posted to my blog entry, but Tommi added a comment to my post: Norwegian Air Shuttle (a low-cost carrier) has just announced US routes. Their five US cities are: Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York City (JFK), Oakland, and Orlando.
More on that in a minute.
Next year’s Finncon, the Finnish national convention, is going to be in Jyväskylä, the 7th largest city in Finland. It only has air service from Helsinki on Flybe, but people generally get there by train or road.
Airfare from Oakland to Helsinki one-way is $576.40, but that includes (remember, low cost carrier) no bag, no meal, and no assigned seat. That’s $94 extra.
One plus was that there’s zero penalty for flying only one way (verified by checking other cities).
I don’t know why it wouldn’t show return flights (suspect their site can’t handle long connects), but I didn’t dig too deeply into it. Flying to/from Sweden (ARN) was $1265 on Norwegian with basic extras. Flying to/from Helsinki same dates (July 8-18) on SAS and partners was a hair under $1500. It was $1510 looking on United, but all segments were actually on Lufthansa. I don’t generally book LH for long haul as I like my economy plus thank you very much. For long haul, it may literally be a lifesaver.
Also, I’ll note that there’s a lesson in this: when searching for the least expensive of non-specific dates, as I was in my last post, is a very different problem space than searching for specific dates. If you don’t need to be anywhere at any time in particular, you can always pick the best fares.

About Those East Coast Fares

For JFK-GEG (Spokane), the lowest fares next July-Aug are $590 rt on Alaskan, basically 10% more than the fares I found out of SFO. 10-20% higher than that was not unusual, though. In general, Spokane’s numbers vary a lot, which indicates that they are frequently hitting capacity even this far out.
Cheapest flights to HELsinki are $914 on Turkish, meaning a change of planes in Istanbul, or about 15% less than the fares I found from San Francisco.

Read More

Yahoo's New Logo — And Branding Changes

08 September 2013

Almost invariably, I hate branding changes. Sometimes, they’re needed because of changes of business, but most are just sheer WTFery and large wastes of money.
But first, I’d like to incorporate this geeking out about Yahoo’s new logo by reference. There’s one quibble I have, though: I wouldn’t use the word “fashion” to describe Optima. I’d say “formal.” There’s a seriousness to it, but it’s also neither a fish-or-fowl entry in the serif vs. sans dichotomy.
It’s one of my favorite typefaces, and that’s one of the reasons I use it for the body text on I use a funky serif font (Opuscula Serif) for the headlines, so the body text needed to be something that wasn’t quite the usual Helvetica or Times, but also needed not to be particularly far out there.
The old Yahoo logo wasn’t dated. It was friendly. The new one is just off-putting. Ugh. I feel sad for some talented designers, like Marco, who have to face that every day.
Here’s a branding change I think makes sense, even though I don’t like the logo change:
United Airlines had a classic logo designed by Saul Bass in 1974. It’s invariably referred to as “the tulip” logo.
I’ll skip a branding change here and go to the last pre-merger change to the monochrome tulip logo, which is my personal favorite.
Then there was the merger with Continental, which had the “lottery cage” logo (a change from their earlier “meatball” logo, which you can see on their wiki page).
So the goal was to really bring home that this was a merger. So the type saying “United” looks more similar to the historic look for United, but the tail logo was from the Continental side of the house. And there was much whining, but I actually think it’s brilliant integration of the history of both companies. They were keeping the United name, but they kept the significant part of the Continental logo: the tail of the plane.
This is the rare case where a logo change made unambiguous sense (more so than the similar change American made to their long-standing logo).
But Yahoo’s? Makes no sense to me. Being different isn’t being better. There are far more ways to fail than there are to succeed.

Read More