Reverse Psychology

This is how I get Max to practice:

Get my bass and his violin out. Ask Max to help me learn his pieces on the bass (i.e. Suzuki book 1, ABCs of Violin, Fiddle Magic, etc…) Play the piece he’s working on and ask him to point out any mistakes. Intentionally make many mistakes. He points ’em out, with much giggling. Ask him to play it for me so I can hear it. And voilà – he’s playing it just fine. Repeat, simply making mistakes where he needs to work on it.

Bonus points: I get to work on my thumb position technique and treble clef reading at the same time.

Judging a book by it’s cover…

Sharks patrol these waters...

Or in this case, judging a candidate by their web design! Let’s face it – I am no political wag, and politics is something best left to other demagogues and zealotous pundits across the spectrum.

However, I can claim passable knowledge in double bass, and claim a rudimentary knowledge of web development design and development practices. Obviously I certainly can’t use my bass chops to judge this year’s candidates for president, although if one were to bust out a contrabass and wail out a rendition of oh, say the Koussevitsky Concerto in solo tuning, then I’d have vote for them just on principle.

But I sure as hell can embrace my inner fashion slave and get all up in their web design business! If nothing else, I can at least engage in the purely superficial practice of candidate analysis by using their primary online web presences as the basis:

  • http://www.barackobama.com/ – PHP backend, which says to me: “I’m an open format, flexible, and I like to get things done.” Title tag reads “Barack Obama | Change we can believe in.” Great design, usable. Very ‘web 2.0’-ish design. What stands out: Quote that says “I’M ASKING YOU TO BELIEVE. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington… I’m asking you to believe in yours.” First line of quote in all caps which we will see is overused later on, but here provides appropriate emphasis in the context of the quotation. While I generally don’t like to see drop-down primary navigation menus, these are done well and seem to server the text that is within. Only criticism is the most recent blog post in which they inserted 14 full-size images that were subsequently shrunken down in the display using HTML attributes. This is generally considered a bad idea. Please cut them down to an appropriate pixel dimension for the thumbnail versions and link back to the high-resolution copies. But that is more of a content management issue…
  • http://www.hillaryclinton.com/ – ASP.NET, with a slightly disturbing marionette-like picture of Hillary, and the words in bold “MAKE HISTORY.” In all caps. For emphasis I suppose. Kind of a weak message if you ask me. It’s saying: “Vote for me, just because I’ll be the first woman president.” Drop-down menus seem a bit boxy and compartmentalized – I don’t find them to be as readable as Obama’s. Update: I check back the next day to find that they updated Hillary’s site with a new, vastly improved photo. Airbrush is your friend. Seriously – I have no problem with the airbrush tool in Photoshop and intend to wipe away each wrinkle in my own photo history as they occur…
  • http://www.johnedwards.com/ – Appears to be static HTML. Design looks dated. Message says “Thank You, South Carolina.” Color theme is not your typical palette. Here we have a sort of ochre/green/maroon/blue thing going on – a wider gamut than your usual red, white and blue political site.
  • http://www.johnmccain.com/ – Running on an IIS server. Interestingly, trying any file extension other than .aspx yields the default IIS 404 error page, but when using a .aspx, we get the “intended” 404 page with the site chrome. Noticed this problem on Hillary’s site too. I’m a fan of monochrome color schemes, so I had a soft spot for the site when I hit their splash page. (Why do all these sites insist, in 2008, on using splash pages still?) But the soft spot faded quick when I came to the home page and got overwhelmed with boxes, sliding pictures, a scattering of instances of “click here!” and “learn more” buttons, and a giant smiling McCain holding a mic. Message: “Best Prepared to Lead on Day One.” (Using smallcaps, for slightly less emphasis than all caps I suppose.) But for a minute I thought the site message was “click here.” This page has some nice b/w treatment. Overall I find this site to have an overabundance of head shots – maybe scale it back 50% or so? I get saturated by it – front, left side, right side, repeat.
  • http://www.mittromney.com/ – Server is running Apache Tomcat and appears to be servlet-driven. Slogan: TRUE STRENGTH FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE. You alpha male you. Center image advertises “Limited Edition Mitt Romney T-Shirt Designs” that suspiciously look like André has a Posse stencils. Right action box has the heading “TEAM MITT,” which I subconsciously took to read “dammit” for a minute there. Like the Five Brothers section overall, although they really need a sharper JPEG for the banner.
  • http://www.mikehuckabee.com/ – IIS server. Same 404 problem as McCain and Clinton. Not sure why this is hard on Microsoft web servers – should not all not found pages get the same treatment. Site uses Scriptaculous and Prototype, although I didn’t see any use of these in my cursory glance. Overall not a bad design. Oops – just saw the tagline in the right banner: “FAITH. FAMILY. FREEDOM.” I smell erosion of the 1st amendment separation of church and state and must flee far away from this site…
  • http://www.joinrudy2008.com/ – PHP, and overall not a bad site design. His site doesn’t use his first and last name. The site rudygiuliani.com appears to be controlled by a domain squatter. Anyway, the home page renders an embedded Flash video with Rudy’s portrait in the still image, and I’m immediately reminded of something: Rudy looks like a mortician from one of those wild west flicks – the gaunt, hunchbacked undertaker in a long coat and stove-pipe hat. By now I’ve noticed the ubiquitous box in the lower right of each candidate’s home page that is used for linking to their MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, Digg, and whatever presences. Looking at the home page, I don’t immediately have a message to take away. Every other candidate seemed to have one engraved in text somehow. I was shocked there was no typographical mention of 9/11 mentioned. To get Rudy’s message, you need Flash and have to run the home page video (a feature he relies upon site-wide). OK, once we run this, I see the familiar harping on terrorists and 9/11 that we all know and love from Rudy’s talking points. Rudy’s blog is all video posts, which is kind of odd and probably not that friendly to search engines or people scanning for messages.
  • http://www.ronpaul2008.com/ – PHP, and not a bad first impression for the site design. In fact, we get a meta tag generator attribute that tells us they use Moon PHP MVC framework. Has a Web 2.0 feel to it, although we feel a bit cluttered on the home page. Ron’s tagline is “HOPE FOR AMERICA.” Glad to see at least one candidate on the Republican side has moved beyond wrapping themselves in a flag and thumping on a bible. Join Campaign page has appropriate use of fieldsets which is a nice touch. But what’s this? Under the “The issues that most concern me in this election are:” fieldset, we have a checkbox entitled “Pro-Life.” Obviously this campaign is prepared to exclude the pro-choice camp from having a voice here. Pro-life is not an issue, it is a position on an issue.

Well that was an eye-opener. It is mind-numbing when you have to pay attention to these wingnuts for only a few minutes. It is interesting to note the similarities between many of the sites – the general layout, the features they all place in their sites and on the home page, and how they treat color and typography. The quality of the various sites overall was good, but not really that great. I have to say, for my tastes Obama’s site is by far the best of the crop. The design is there, the usability is there, it nails the design trends of 2007 on into the present, and has the best treatment for features, typography, and messaging. On the Republican side, I have to say that Ron Paul’s site is best, but I’m still having trouble getting past the semantics for that one checkbox issue. Of the three main democratic candidates, I noticed a sense of overall inclusion and positive attitude. On the Republican side, with the exception of Paul’s and somewhat on Romney’s site, I got the feeling that they were trying to convey a sense of “this is what we believe and how we’re going to do things – end of discussion.”

Interestingly, I was surprised to see that all of the ASP.NET/IIS websites failed to have a good 404 error page behavior. And overall, the PHP sites seemed to be coupled with the highest-quality page designs and content structures, although correlation does not equal causation as the whole pirate to global warming trend so effectively illustrates.

So close, and yet so far

Microsoft recently posted confirmation that their early builds of Internet Explorer 8 pass the Acid2 test for proper CSS rendering support. This was hailed as wonderful news among web developers worldwide as a momentus occasion where we could finally adhere to web development specifications as written and as intended.

Please Avoid Carefully The Collision

And then came the big let-down.

In a more recent post, Microsoft announced that in order to have IE8 enter true standards mode, you’d have to enter an extra HTML meta tag. An extra, non-semantic, content-free, crufty, browser-specific meta tag. As if this were some parting shot – some way of saying (in your best Joe Pesci “Goodfellas” voice:) “Oh yeah you want standards mode? I got your standards mode right here baby! Yeah….”

I read that announcement and felt deflated. I tried to rationalize it, saying hey – at least we know that there is some otherworldly way to get IE to behave to spec finally – but then the rationalist in me ultimately won out and rejected this categorically bad idea. This is wrong on many levels:

  1. This penalizes web developers who have been striving to adhere to web standards and do the right thing, while rewarding bad behavior.
  2. This inserts yet another rendering mode. How many rendering modes do we need to support? Will there be more?
  3. This inserts the idea of targeting browsers with versioning. Future browsers. Not past browsers. This sets up the case for decades of cruft and bloated code.
  4. This added tag will ultimately mean many terabytes of added bandwidth and added disk space. Good for vendors, bad for you.
  5. Already-standards-compliant Firefox, Opera, and Safari are doing just fine and increasing their market share while IE wanes.

I stopped at 5, but if you read the comments to the post over at the IE blog, you’ll find many more. If you really feel the need to provide backwards compatibility to all those sites who were trying their best but still had to hack otherwise standards-compliant sites up to get them to work properly in IE 6 and 7, then give them the meta tag option. I’ll wager the few who care and would rather insert this meta tag over coding their web sites to spec will be happy, and the lions share of web site owners out there won’t have a care in the world if it works or not. Because let’s admit it: Most of them will have moved on by the time IE8 matters.

Gluten-Free Bao Wan Recipe

Bao wan are these killer little dumplings that I love to have whenver we go to Taiwan. I haven’t had these since the celiac diagnosis, but Yingwen and one of our friends came up with this recipe and they are delicious. Here is the recipe.

bao wan

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 7 cups cold water
  • 12 oz. potato startch
  • 1 lb. chopped, minced, or ground chicken or pork
  • gluten-free soy sauce (black bean soy sauce or wheat-free tamari both work fine)
  • 1 cup rice wine
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 4 to 6 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped bamboo shoots
  • 1/2 cup Shittake mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • white pepper to taste
  • chili sauce to taste
  • cooking oil

Equipment:

  • large pot (for boiling)
  • wok
  • large steamer
  • mixing bowl
  • 12 small bowls approximately 3″ to 4″ in diameter (small rice bowls work great)

Skin: Combine rice flour and water and bring to boil. Let cool until the mixture appears sticky. Mix in potato starch and set aside.

Filling: Combine meat, rice wine, sugar, garlic, bamboo, mushrooms, soy sauce, and rice wine in a mixing bowl and stir fry. Set aside.

Use cooking oil to grease the inside of the rice bowls. Using the rice bowls, wrap the filling inside the skins so that no filling is sticking out. Each bowl should be filled to the top.

bao wan in the steamer

Place the bowls in the steamer and steam them for 28 minutes. Let cool, cover with plastic wrap, and then refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours. Bao wan should then be fairly firm to touch.

Reheat them in a microwave or steamer, cover with chili sauce, white pepper, and cilantro to taste, and enjoy!

Mandarin version:

米粉1杯加7杯水,攪拌一起煮,煮到成糨糊狀,等冷卻( 我都拿到後院涼較快)
米粉冷卻後,加入片栗粉(potato starch, not sweet potato starch) 12 oz, 一起攪拌
現在肉圓皮有了.可以炒內餡
內餡材料有;
雞胸切丁塊,罐頭筍. 香菇, 加醬油,酒, 蒜頭,白胡椒。不用炒熟(因要蒸29-30 分)
準備12小碗,碗要油抹過, 先層皮,中間內餡加入,在層皮
蒸29-30 分
之後加甜辣醬,好吃.

這個食譜對我這種料理白癡來說,實在太easy 了