This is my personal site which I use to note down my thoughts. I hope you find it interesting and leave it feeling contented. Enjoy.
This is my personal site which I use to note down my thoughts. I hope you find it interesting and leave it feeling contented. Enjoy.
Whilst increasingly aware of neurodiversity, we still try to fit everyone into a world designed for a lucky few.
Rather than trying to squash everyone into a restrictive and shrinking box, we need to start expanding the box!
On the last day of the long weekend round this neck of the woods, we decided to visit the zoo Pairi Daiza. It is considered to be one of the best zoos in Europe.
It's certainly worth the visit as it's a wonderful day out with lots of animals to see in a lovely landscaped environment. Animals being animals, not toys, means they are generally just lying around. However, they are still fascinating. The pandas are amazing. You do wonder how they ever survived, only eating bamboo, meaning they have to eat most of the time. Then they sleep the rest of the time. On top of which the female is only fertile three days in the year. Still, nature and evolution find a way!
I also bought some of the beer made locally in the Cambron Abbey. Tastes very nice indeed.
Here are some pictures of the visit. Sorry, no alternative texts at the moment for those with visual impairments.
Our final full day in France was in Orleans, where we visited a friend. In fact it was the piano teacher of our daughters'. He's been living in Orleans for almost 30 years, having come as graduate student and worked his way up to professor of music, with all the benefits that brings - since it means being a state official. The idea was to watch a concert of his, unfortunately that did not happen.
The city of Orleans is all about Joan of Arc. There are statues to her everywhere. It also makes the place a very proud and independent city. We started our visit in the evening and had a stroll around the centre with an average dinner in a Thai fast food place. We did get a glimpse of the cathedral down the main boulevard.
The next day was a guided tour of the city with our friend. It started off with the main statue of Joan of Arc on the main square. Before heading to Groslot gardens and past Hotel Groslot.
We then headed into the Cathedral, which has Joan of Arc's story pictured in it's stained glass windows. You could also see all the local family crests hanging on the sides of the main area within the cathedral. Proud of their local heritage they certainly are.
We strolled around the city some more, which has been well restored - apparently the centre was totally rundown and unliveable off the main streets thirty years ago. Now you can see lots of beautiful old houses with their wooden beams.
As commented by our friend, in Germany when they restore old buildings they make them look new, in France when they restore them, they still look old. Having grown up in Germany, I can confirm this difference.
In the afternoon we decided to visit the museum of fine arts, just next to the cathedral. Fine art and looking at portrait after portrait of unknown people by artists you have not heard of is not my thing, but it still took me a good two hours to walk round the whole place. If fine art is your thing, this is apparently one of the best such museums in France, after the Louvre of course. Here are the two pictures I liked most.
And so ends our week in France. The next morning we drove home. We thought we might stop in Reims and the Champagne region, but that will have to wait for another day - the weather was not playing nice.
The drive home was great. Due to the tolls, the French motorways are apparently not so busy away from the main cities. I put the car in cruise control and basically didn't have to touch the brakes or the accelerator, except for toilet stops.
Of course this comes at a price - just over 50 Euros once we exited the toll system near Metz, and hit the more overloaded, but free, part of the motorway.
After leaving Versailles, we headed to Orleans to visit a friend and look around Joan of Arc's adopted home town. But first we headed to Blois, about 60km to the south west of Orleans. Blois used to be the official residence of the King of France, and has a castle to prove it!
The castle has been around for several hundred years and you can tell the parts that have been added over the centuries: all four sides of the castle are clearly from a different era.
We took the tour of the castle which was quite interesting. Turns out the decoration is all "fake", having been designed this way by the chief architect of the restoration a couple of hundred years ago. But it's very impressive nonetheless.
The most eery part of walking round the castle was standing in the room where Henry I, Duke of Guise, was assassinated. In the King's bedroom I believe it was. So here's a photo of the King's bedroom.
The views from the castle gardens are also impressive, looking out over the Seine and the rooftops of the city.
On the opposite side of the square to the castle, is the house of magic. Which every 15 minutes or so has dragons appearing in it's windows.
We decided to go in and were treated to a charming magic show, more geared towards little kids, but very interesting anyway. After that we explored the museum, about magic and the life of Robert-Houdin - illusionist and clockmaker.
Outside in the square between the house of magic and the castle, you can hang out in the bistros and also enjoy further views over the city. If you're lucky you will also see this black cat stroll past. Not sure if this is good or bad luck!
We didn't have much time to look around the city, but there is far more to see than just the castle and the house of magic. We did walk onto the bridge over the Seine and also ambled through the artists quarter just below the castle.
Blois is definitely worth more time than the single day we spent there.
Just as we were leaving Paris for Orleans, we decided to make a hard right and head for Versailles, possibly the world's nest known castle. We managed to park right next to the entrance (we only realised the cost on leaving...) and walked straight up to the entrance, well we would have done had it not been for the queues.
Whilst trying to judge the time the queue would take and discussing the merits of getting a ticket to see the castle or not, we got to admire the golden gates and the magnificent castle behind them.
Eventually we decided it would be worth the wait so went inside the ticket shop only to be confronted by another queue to buy the tickets. The online shop was unusable on my phone, so we gave up and decided to have a look "out back".
Interestingly there were no queues to see the gardens, so we walked up to the ticket stand paid our 11 Euros each and entered the rather impressive back yard of Versailles. Just this side minor annex would make most people proud.
In fact the Versailles gardens is a really a set of fantastic fountains linked to by equally impressive paths through the groves. The fountains have rather royal sounding names like Dauphin, Ballroom, Theatre of Water and Dragon pool. In fact the most impressive was in the Mirror pool, where we watched a wonderful fountain display accompanied by baroque music.
But there were many others, which you can see at the end of this page.
We spent the rest of the wandering around the gardens. This included a nice lunch in the bistro next to the canal.
There were plenty of statues to admire and lots of groves to wander through, before discovering yet another fountain!
All in all we spent around 5 hours in the gardens without even realising it. The castle will have to wait for another time. I leave you with two more images. The first looking down over the gardens from the castle, with the canal in the distance.
The second a panorama view of the castle looking in the opposite direction to the previous image.
Day two in Paris started well and we managed to get into town in a more reasonable time.
In fact we went all the way to the Sacre Coeur on the Montmartre to get a nice view of the city. Unfortunately the weather was not good in the morning, so we spent some time sheltering from the rain showers in the local cafes and thrift shops.
Eventually the weather brightened up after lunch, so we walked up the hill to the church.
The view from the top is fantastic, but unfortunately the Eiffel Tower is hidden off to the right behind the trees, although from the right spot you can see it peaking out in all its grandeur.
Just as we were sat on the steps, a deux chevaux drove past with it's exhaust banging on the ground. Paris at it's best. 🙂
We headed back down the hill and into town using the funicular, which we only then realised was actually included in the local transport system.
In the afternoon we headed back into the centre of Paris. First to look at the Centre Pompidou and then to do some more thrift shopping.
The walk also took us past the Hotel de Ville of Paris - it's townhall.
We arrived in Paris late afternoon on Saturday. Our hotel was about 20km to the south of Paris, chosen because it had free parking and was a rather miserable affair. Whilst everything was OK, the room was tiny, the beds were poor and the bathroom squashy. But it was cheap and close to public transport to get us into town.
So on Sunday morning we headed into town. First we had to get the tram line T7 from Moulin Vert and then switch to the metro line 7 at Villejuif Luis Aragon. Or that was the idea. Unfortunately the metro line was blocked due to a broken down train, so what should have been a 40 minute journey into town took about an hour and a half.
We started our journey at the Jussieu metro station and headed towards the pantheon.
After the pantheon and a first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, we headed towards the Notre Dame cathedral. This lead us past a flea market selling all sorts of worthless overpriced junk.
The Notre Dame was still being repaired following the fire in the spring of 2019. So we couldn't go in, or even get too very close to it. It still remains an impressive cathedral sitting in the middle of the Seine.
Next we headed to the Louvre, the world's biggest museum. We skipped going in, deciding that deserved a holiday in itself. Mona Lisa will have to wait.
We continued on through the park, past the place de la Concorde and onto the Champs-Elysees.
We walked up the Champs-Elysees, a much more ordinary road than I was expecting, and on to the Arc de Triomphe. The Champs-Elysees was shut to cars that day, due to an open air cinema being prepared at the eastern end, just in front of the Arc de Triomphe. This made it a nice leisurely stroll.
We got to the roundabout in the centre of which is the Arc de Triomphe. It is certainly an impressive monument. We used the underpass under the roundabout to get to it and strolled around the bottom of it for a while.
Next we headed to the Eiffel Tower. This led us past a statue of George Washington. So much for freedom fries.
Finally we reached the Eiffel Tower, just as the sun decided to make an appearance on what had up until then been a rather grey affair.
The Eiffel Tower really is impressive in its size compared to the rest of Paris. It sticks out like sore thumb, but a magnificent one! As you get close, the size becomes ever more apparent, until you are staring one of it's arched feet and feeling truly insignificant.
We finished the day's sightseeing with a coffee at a café in the gardens of "yet another museum" in Paris. In front of us was an elderly couple sharing a cocktail, with the man not letting go of the glass desperate for a drink and the woman making sure he does not drink it all himself! 🙂
And so concluded our first day in Paris. We headed back to our hotel with yet more disruptions on the metro, arriving there around 10pm. Next time we will go by train to Paris and book a hotel in the centre, but this time we needed the car to carry on our journey after visiting Paris.
We saw this lovely sunset whilst walking the dog in the let evening of this unusually hot and humid day in May in Bofferdange.
This was a great Dream Theater concert I went to on Sunday evening at the Rockhal in Luxembourg. The fantastic opening act was Devin Townsend. It's been a long time since I went to a rock concert... too long.
Rockhal is located next to Luxembourg university on an old steel works that is now creates a bizarre backdrop to the area.
A simple slow ride to Mersch and back in the lovely weather, before the Dream Theatre concert. Around 18km in an hour and a bit.
A nice 7.2km walk around Echternach lake. It started off with a steep climb into the forest to one side of the lake. The path returns to the level of the lake after about 4km in the forest. It then winds around the lake, past the Youth Hostel and back to the starting point. It was a lovely walk on a wonderfully warm and sunny day and the dog had a great time.
I cycled to Colmar-Berg and back, which is just under 40km. Took me three hours, including some breaks. Narrowly avoided a rain shower by cycling into the shower before it really started. It also meant going against the wind, which was tiring. On the way back everything was wet and there was unfortunately no wind in my back!
I was hoping to do another circular walk, this time the one around Mersch. Unfortunately we took a wrong turn near the beginning and ended up on a new part of the PC 14 cycle path heading to Schoenfels castle instead. Still it was a nice comfortable 7km walk taking about 2 hours at leisurely stroll with a dog more interested in smelling the flowers (and less pleasant things) than walking!
Here's a photo of the castle. Not exciting, but they apparently use it as a homeless shelter - or at least it houses the local homeless charity stemm.lu.
I cycled into town today for the first time in well over a year, probably 18 months. And, who'd have thought it, they built a new cycle path right past Dommeldange Gare which saves you cycling through a particularly annoying part of town on your bike. Fantastic!
This book was written by Jakob Nielsen almost a quarter of a century ago. It's been sitting untouched on my bookshelf for at least half of that time. Whilst in isolation due to covid, I decided to browse through it to see how relevant it still is.
In the preface, to answer the question why he published this information as a printed book and not online, he gave three reasons:
He predicted 2007 to be the year books would be finally replaced by online information.
Looking back from 2022, none of his conditions are satisfied to the extent that books are no longer needed. there are still plenty of bookshops, selling plenty of books.
Whilst there has been improvement in all three, addressing them point by point:
Below are my thoughts on each of the chapters in the book.
The basic point made here is that bad usability equals no customers. That you are not just competing with other similar services, but with all services on the web. If a user can't easily figure out how to use your services online, they might end up spending their time and money on another, unrelated service instead.
This point is certainly still very true. With one caveat, it doesn't apply to all the government services that are now online. If you need to file a tax return form online, you can only do this on the dedicated government site. It is probably why so many public sector websites had such poor usability, never mind accessibility in the past. But thanks to legislation the picture has now improved to the point where public sector websites have least detectable accessibility errors according to the latest WebAIM figures.
This section begins by stating that site design is more important than page design from a usability perspective, because it is unlikely the first page a user lands on will be the correct one. This is still the case, even if Google (which had only just been founded when this book was published) does a good job at pointing you to the correct information.
It then continues onto screen real estate in which most of the points made are still relevant. Don't waste space (which doesn't mean all white space is bad), use most of the available space for the content, minimise space dedicated to navigation and adverts (which if needed, should eat into the space dedicated to navigation). Whilst these principles still stand, unfortunately adverts rule the web and so few commercial pages follow them anymore.
Next up it discusses how to deal with screen resolutions, and the fact that you cannot predict your users' browser environment. The book makes the point that you should not assume too much about that environment and make sure your design can adapt to the most common environments, including being careful how you use non-standard components (thankfully this is less of an issue now). These points are still valid, in fact they are a pre-cursor to responsive design and graceful degradation I suppose.
It continues on to make the case for semantic markup which is now well understood even if not yet always implemented.
It also goes into quite some detail about download times and keeping these to a minimum (below one second). Whilst download times are no longer so relevant thanks to bandwidth improvements, the pure download speed problem has been replaced by the latency in the browser having to download many, often hundreds, of additional files and then process them before they can display a page. It means that despite all the advancements in browser tech, bandwidth, cloud caching and edge computing, very few websites meet the one second display time recommended here. That is a truly saddening turn of events. We've taken all the improvements in tech and made things worse.
The book makes a lot of still valid points about links. The link titles should be meaningful and two links pointing to the same place should use the same URL, so the browser can indicate a link has already been visited.
On this last point, I would say this is no longer relevant. Nor is the point about making links blue or underlining them. Users are now used to the fact that anything can be a link and don't care too much whether they have visited a link or not. Not that this is a usability improvement, but it is the current state of web design. In fact these are now considered more to be accessibility issues than usability issues.
Quite a bit of discussion on the need for outgoing links and not to be afraid of them. I think this is now well understood by most site owners. A good point is made about incoming links. The only way to make these work, is to use permalinks. After 20 years the web is now awash with broken links, so it's kind of accepted that not all links work. But if an incoming link does not work, make sure to offer suitable alternatives on your error page to the user.
The book does make the point that site registration breaks incoming links and leads to loss of users. Interestingly it also states that micropayments might take care of this. Unfortunately this never happened. Facebook, user tracking and selling our data happened instead.
The points on CSS and frames are probably no longer relevant. The web is mature enough to make good use of the former and scarce use of the latter, although iframes are making something of a comeback now.
It also covers how to make a webpage printable, although not using CSS, which probably wasn't standardised yet at the time. Instead it recommends linking to PDF (or PostScript) versions of the page. It does make the very important (and still 100% accurate) point that PDFs are for printing and not for reading on-screen. Don't make important information only available in PDF format.
Overall this section is still very applicable. Users don't like reading online. Keep it simple, keep it to the point, enable users to scan pages. Use clear headings, bullet points and plain language. And employ a "web editor" - writing for the web is a difficult skill that needs to be learned.
It covers the need for clear fonts and colour contrast and to avoid ALL CAPS content.
The section then spends a lot of time on multimedia content. A lot of the considerations are only partially relevant now, since bandwidth and smartphones have made multimedia an ubiquitous part of the web in 2022.
One point I disagree strongly with is that good sound can increase the user experience. Whilst true, it stems from the time when perhaps people browsed the web at home or in their own office. The point is also made that sound should be unobtrusive and quiet. Still it is infuriating when a website plays sound without me asking it to. If I start a video, or music file, I am happy to hear sound. Otherwise, keep quiet.
Finally, I am happy to see this point made about content:
Any time you use any format other than plain text and standard HTML, you risk depriving users with disabilities from being able to use your site.
This section hasn't really dated and thankfully the advice is largely followed nowadays. Key points are around the importance of an informative homepage, the scorn for splash pages and the pointlessness of under construction warnings. Websites are always under construction.
It goes on to warn about metaphors from the real world, such as the shopping cart, because the user might not always understand them. It does make the point that the online shopping cart had already back then become an interface standard and was no longer a metaphor.
The point is made that good site navigation is achieved when a user can answer the three questions:
I am not sure the second is still so relevant anymore, at least most designs now don't try to indicate this anymore, unless through the means of breadcrumbs. Also your browser history could tell you where you have been.
Structuring the site according to user needs, not the company's internal organisation is a well made point. It is now better understood, but still not universally applied. The fact that the user is in control of where they want to go and not the site designer is also made and still very true. The need to reduce navigational clutter is also raised and has to some extent been addressed through expandable menus (eg hover menus, which have become "click to open" menus due to the lack of hover on smartphones).
Since the book was written before Google completely redefined how finding information on the web works, the section on search is now not so relevant, except perhaps to intranets. I have yet to find an intranet with a decent search mechanism, often because the basic search algorithm considers all content equal. But keywords found in a page title are surely more important than when found in the main page content.
Finally URLs themselves are discussed. But other than trying to keep them alive as long as possible, I am not sure URLs are very relevant anymore. Whilst users do sometimes try to guess a URL (I know I do), since most of the web is now browsed on a smartphone it is probably less the case. In addition the prevalence of walled gardens and closed apps has made URLs less of a thing - with the exception that they need to work of course.
This is more about the business need for a good intranet than the actual design. User testing is key, along with an appropriate level of investment. The economic loss of poorly designed tasks in an intranet can costs millions when replicated daily by 1000s of employees. Still very relevant.
Quite a short section, maybe reflecting that this was still a niche consideration at the time. It does make the point that various legislation actually requires certain websites to be accessible. The techniques mentioned are all still very applicable today.
Unfortunately the point was not heeded and accessibility (or lack of it) is still a major issue in 2022. This is despite the following prescient comment:
Those of us who plan to be around for a few more years also have personal reasons to promote accessibility because as we get older, we will experience more disabilities ourselves.
It looks like we only have ourselves to blame if we are unable to claim our online pensions due to accessibility reasons.
This chapter is interesting because it recognises that the web is global and you might need to consider the cultures and languages you design your site for. The points are still very relevant especially this one:
Make translations bookmarkable: different URLs should be used for different translations of the same content so it can be bookmarked in the correct language.
Overall I am not sure the problem of country / language / culture has yet been solved adequately on the web. Certainly not in any uniform manner that could be considered an "interface standard" such as the shopping cart. I am still too often displayed content in the wrong language because of poor assumptions and design choices.
On the one hand this chapter is now largely irrelevant, on the other it is interesting to see if the predictions were correct. Many of the more specific predictions have not happened as predicted. Nevertheless, the underlying point that as the web becomes more common it will at some point be ubiquitous and change everything, has indeed happened.
The chapter does predict mobile devices, although fails to foresee many of the effects of this, especially with respect to the pros and cons of social media and the power of big companies that run them. It does predict that privacy becomes precious, however assumes that users will be willing to pay for this privacy. Unfortunately it seems we are at the moment only too happy to give away our privacy for free. But privacy awareness is raising and maybe this will change in another 25 years time.
The death of both browsers and newspapers is predicted. The former are still very much around, but having to contend with mobile apps and the power of the companies that profit from the app stores. The latter are clearly now struggling as a print media. Integrated media services are predicted to happen once bandwidth can support them. Welcome to the present day!
The points raised here are still relevant today, but I feel the web is no longer something to be discovered and we spend less of our time trying to find new services and more of it simply using the ones we already know how to use. So the need to keep people on your site it's perhaps somewhat diminished.
The virtual real-estate land has been divided up amongst the big players. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple are the obvious ones. However, within most sectors there are now established winners (Netflix, Strava, Spotify) and whilst competition is still rife, it is impossible to break into this without billions in financial backing. And even when you do, the most likely outcome is that your patch of virtual space will be bought. ie You will either be acquired or forced out.
The book has dated very well. Most of the points are still valid. Sadly few of them are universally applied. Still some way to go then.