Fair and Balanced

Today, U.S. district Judge Denny Chin rejected Fox News’ lawsuit against Al Franken, for mocking their tagline “Fair and Balanced” on the cover of his book. Some of Chin’s quotes on his ruling include:

“There are hard cases and there are easy cases. This is an easy case. This case is wholly without merit, both factually and legally.”

“It is ironic that a media company, which should be protecting the First Amendment, is seeking to undermine it,”

The Judge also noted that the ‘Fair and Balanced’ trademark itself was “unlikely a valid trademark. The mark is a weak one as trademarks go.”

The publisher moved up the sale date of the book to yesterday, so as to coincide with the publicity that this case has generated. Last I checked, this book was #1 on Amazon.com.

Fixing the Help Viewer

Like the old disposable razor sitting underneath your sink rusting in a puddle of expired NyQuil, Apple’s Help Viewer on Jaguar has some rough edges and you might not want to use it…

One problem is when links appear to break when viewing a documentation set that uses frames – basically when you click on a link on one side, the other side with the content doesn’t budge. This is usually caused by increasing the font size. Since the font pitch in this application tends to be so small, this is a normal thing one would want to do. Just decrease the font size back to the default, relegate yourself to using the Help docs in microprint, and it should at least function.

If that doesn’t work, you might need to delete your preferences. In this case, go in to ~/Library/Preferences and clobber com.apple.help.plist and com.apple.helpviewer.plist. I did this and it may have caused my help docs for my Chinese input method to break. Or that may have been broken all along. And all the stuff in the Help Center tray disappeared, but most of that seems to come back as I access each app’s help docs.

Another option is to open your help docs in a browser. To use Macromedia Dreamweaver MX as an example, open /Applications/Dreamweaver MX/Help/Using Dreamweaver MX/index.htm in your favorite web browser and all the stuff will be there. And then you have full control over font size, bookmarks, and all the other good browser features that should be in the Help Viewer application in the first place.

I hear that this thing is better in Panther, however. Any improvements here are greatly anticipated and welcomed.

Working with ActionScript in BBEdit

Today I was working with coding some ActionScript in Flash MX and, well let’s just say I grew tired of the way it was displaying my code. Oh all right – the code editor in Flash MX is funky. Buggy rendering and cursor placement problems that pop up intermittently. They go away if I close and reopen the panel, but why should I even have to bother? This would be so much easier in BBEdit, I thought to myself. But then I’d miss the automatic text coloring (which I need because my eyes tend to act kind of funky lately and I often go cross-eyed looking at this stuff).

And lo and behold, someone thankfully wrote a BBEdit Plugin for ActionScript… It recognizes .as files as ActionScript by default, change the colors in Preferences, and you can set the language in the Document Preference menu on the document toolbar, just like everything else. Nice!

Illustrating Data

I just finished reading Edward Tufte’s book entitled The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. As the title implies, this book is about designing statistical graphics. What a topic, right? The subject sounds about as dry as a Mojave riverbed in August. However, this book is exactly the opposite.

Tufte explains the principles of good (and bad) statistical graphic design with a sense of enthusiasm that borders on zealotry. He compares examples of illustrations throughout history and shows by example how some simple modifications to a graphic can turn it from a pedantic, heavy-handed blob to a refined, articulate illustration that conveys a meaningful message.

The principles in this book are repeated throughout. Be concise in your illustrations, uphold the integrity of the data, and avoid doing things that detract from the message. Use simple graphics to convey complex data sets, and never the other way around. Use multiple variables when possible, to show more meaning with your data.

I didn’t necessarily agree with every point this book. Tufte frequently extolls one particular graphic, a grayscale plot of galaxy distribution, which I find uninteresting for two reasons: First of all, the graphic itself does not give the viewer a deeper insight into the distribution because the shades of gray are often in dots too small and can be hard to distinguish from the darker or black dots. Second, the issue of perspective in a galactic view of the universe makes little sense in a two dimensional plane because your point of perspective at any given time and place in the universe and what you are observing is completely different than the next; distance and time distort greatly the perceived spacings and distances between galactic objects, and if Hawking’s theory of an infinite universe that loops back on itself is correct, then placing a four-dimensional galactic distribution (space+time) into a two-dimensional plane is meaningless, or at the very least not effective in this way. The filaments that appear in the graphic are no different than a puff of smoke from a firecracker – but then perhaps that is significant in itself…

Also, the writing style can be a bit presumptuous at times. Often complex terms are thrown out in the text without a definition, while minute historical details about obscure graphics appear in the side notes. If I were editing this book, I would have placed a few key definitions in there among the notations. Occasionally, ideas are thrown out there without supporting arguments and we are expected to take his word for it. I got a lot more out of the actual illustrated comparisons and the supporting explanations, which always clearly demonstrated the point.

Speaking of which, I love how the pages in this book are laid out, with the footnotes on the side, as Tufte said in his lecture ‘the way God likes them’. These notes are level visually with the illustration they describe, and it is much easier for the eye to travel left to right and associate the text with the object it describes. The book itself is beautifully done, with nice thick opaque non-glaring pages, gorgeous typography and illustrations, and a solid old-school style of sturdy book binding. It is a good example of placing your integrity behind your work by focusing on the details and the core essences of your product.

Overall, the book is gorgeous and I loved reading it – despite some of my disagreements with the details. It has made me think differently about how I go about designing these graphics in my everyday work. I am looking forward to reading the next two of his books, Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations. But first, I must get through Eric Meyer on CSS, Flash MX Training from the Source by Chrissy Rey, and Jeffrey Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards. So much to do, so little time…

XML Document Trees and Mac Browsers

Standalone XML documents can be viewed as collapsable document trees in Mozilla (1.4 in my test) and Internet Explorer (v5.2.3) on the Mac platform. Both browsers will correctly show errors if the XML document is not well formed. Mozilla shows a little extra info at the top of there’s no style information attached, and Mozilla also has a slight rendering bug that occasionally happens with the spacing between some of the characters occasionally appearing a little too scrunched up together. I can’t figure out what triggers this display bug, but it’s no big deal anyway.

The latest versions of Safari and Camino fail to parse the data as a tree and just display the data as if they were unrecognized HTML tags in the document. OmniWeb 4.5 sometimes displays source, and sometimes displays just text – either way failing, but with inconsistent results. CDATA strings seem to make OmniWeb want to try to display text instead of source. Weird. Anyway, the latest versions of Mozilla and Internet Explorer on Mac seem to work properly, and that’s today’s fun tip for hacking XML on Mac OS X!