Web accessibility, photos, travel and random noise

Welcome!

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.

One second after

by William R. Forstchen

Easy to read story depicting how quickly our very civilized societies can be returned to the middle ages, feudal systems, sky high death rates and even cannibalism. A real page turner, which I finished over the course of a week. The back story is a little too "we're American, how could this happen", but the detail of what happens when anything electrical stops working is all too alarming. Highly recommended.

"Further information on this book"

The player of games

by Iain M. Banks

Great book from one of the all time greats of science fiction. An Intergalactic game of Risk determines the fate of the main protagonists and the future of billions.

"Further information on this book"

Why do I still use Facebook?

Most mornings I still check my Facebook feed. More and more I am wondering why. There's never anything of interest before I start scrolling. This forces me to scroll. First a few ads, then some suggested posts. Mixed in are some posts from content providers that I liked or looked at enough. These are mainly funny video clips such as House of Bounce or Americas Funniest Videos. I like these for brief entertainment purposes to pass the time. Really I could be doing something more relaxing, like reading a good book.

Within these first 20 posts or so I might see 5 posts from friends. These are often shares of either stuff I am not interested in or a repost of something they did a few years ago. Nothing wrong with that since they are my friends. Rarely am I interested the former and I don't care too much what they did 5 years ago, although they are nice memories. If amongst the first 20 posts there is one real update from a friend on what they did I am happy. But I had to scroll through about 5 pages of irrelevance to see it. I get a slight concern that maybe I missed something. Consider briefly to scroll back up. Think "Nah, can't be bothered" and go and waste my time somewhere else on the net.

It turns out that my friends are posting interesting things about their lives, but Facebook's algorithm is not showing them to me in my feed. So I have to go onto their walls individually to see what they are doing. That kind of defeats the purpose of Facebook to me. It didn't used to be like this. I used to see all the posts of all my friends in chronological order. I object to Facebook deciding which of my friends' posts I get to see.

I removed their app from my phone a long time ago, because I didn't want to be tracked all the time. It's harder to remove Facebook from my browser. I don't want to delete my account, because for many friends from a long time ago it's the only contact point I have. I hope to use it less often in the future. Certainly not every morning and then throughout the day! Habits are hard to break, even when you notice you get less and less pleasure out of them. This of course is Facebook's ace card. It knows you will keep coming back for that little dopamine surge. I will try to resist a little more in future. We'll see how I get on in a few months time.

Blindsight

by Peter Watts

A well written hard science fiction book. The hard science can be difficult follow at times, but the concepts and storyline are original.

"Further information on this book"

Batak and Beglik lake

A short but nice weekend in Batak and nearby lake Beglik.

Batak

Aerial view of Batak surrounded by two large statues from the top of a nearby hill

As seen from a monument above the town.

Beglik lake

White sailing boat moored on the Beglik lake

Small blue motorboat moored to a small pier, with pine woods in the background

Inflated Grades

On Tuesday, the A-level results in the United Kingdom were published. Due to Covid, rather than sit exams grades were awarded based on teacher assessments. These were audited, both internally and externally. Incredibly, 45% of school leavers achieved A or A* grade. This rose to 70% for those in private education.

At the same time there is a huge concern about the missed educational opportunities due lockdowns and lack of face to face teaching. This leads to the somewhat oxymoronic situation of people complaining simultaneously about the lack of teaching during Covid as well as the inflated grades being awarded this Summer. Those achieving A or A* has increased by 75% since the last time end of year exams were sat for A levels.

Are we really doing these children a favour? What about those who return to sitting exams in 2022 or 2023? If the quality of education increases so much through online learning, why bother with physical presence in school at all.

Or have those locked down really been studying that much harder because there was so little else to do. This would be an insult to those who worked hard for their results in 2019. Were they really just that much more lazy? Distracted by being free to meet up in large groups?

And what does this say to politicians? Get rid of teachers and just have it all done online, with one teacher per subject for the entire country?

Enjoying the beach

Dog happily sitting on the beach

At the northern end of Albena beach on the north Bulgarian coast.

Usable design

Clean interfaces

Too much web design is focused on visual aesthetics and not on making things usable. Aesthetics has its place and not everything has to be intuitively usable. Cleanly designed web interface do look good. However, removing interaction clues in order to make something look neat and tidy is not always in the interests of the user. Making them difficult to interact with leads to more user frustration.

Microsoft's web based Outlook is a good example. Don't get me wrong, I think Outlook is great. I use it every day, both at work and for my personal emails. The web version is very functional and generally well thought out in my opinion. Yet, the way the scrollbars are implemented is frustrating. Here's a screenshot of Outlook's user interface to illustrate my point:

User interface of outlook

The layout is split into four columns. The application icons on the far left, the list of folders next to them, the list of emails in the selected folder and the content of the email selected to be read in the largest column on the right hand side. All four columns has a vertical scrollbar if needed. In the image you see it on the list of emails. There is no scrollbar in the email display column itself, because it is not needed. You would see it if the email was longer. However on the first two columns the scrollbar is needed because there is more content to scroll to. However you don't see it. It only appears if you hover over those columns, in which case it looks like in this image:

Scrollbar in column showing list of folders

So what issues do I have with this?

Inconsistency

First of all I do not see the point in hiding the scrollbars when hover is removed from the column. This is inconsistent. Some scrollbars are permanently visible. Some aren't. How do I know there are more folders in the folder list without hovering over them?

Hiding the scrollbars serves no purpose. They don't cover anything up when they do appear, so hiding them seems pointless. In addition they are so thin that even if they did cover up folder names, the amount covered would be minimal. Which leads me to the next point.

Interaction issues

Because these scrollbars are so thin, I find them difficult use. I don't have a target area before hovering over the list of folders. So I move the pointer over the list. The scrollbar appears and I have to move the pointer back a little to get to the scrollbar in order to scroll. However sometimes I move too far and the pointer leaves the column. As it is no longer hovering over that column, the scrollbar disappears. Then I move the pointer back over folder list. It occasionally leads to the frustrating effect of me chasing the scrollbar. Why can't it just remain visible all the time?

Old School

Interestingly this design is not repeated in Microsoft's desktop explorer:

Windows explorer with visible scrollbars

As you can see all the scrollbars are visible and they are much wider than in the web interface. Admittedly this a bit of an old school design. But it works and is much more usable than the implementation of scrollbars in the Outlook web interface.

Sometimes the old tried and tested design is better than the shiny new one.

Hundred Year Floods

The 15th July saw hundred year floods hit Luxembourg. Thankfully the situation was not as desperate as in parts of Germany and Belgium and I am not aware of anything other than material damage. These are some photos which don't do justice to the extent of the local flooding in any way.

Flooded garden with shed and pool surrounded by water

Flooded fields behind road sign

Flooded river rushing under bridge

Flooded footpath through flooded fields

British Grand Prix

Sprint Qualifying

Yesterday I watched the enthralling race at Silverstone. It was the first Formula 1 race ever to use a sprint race to decide the pole position. This was a lack luster affair and did not bring the hoped for extra excitement. They have a couple more races like this, after which I hope they ditch them.

The race opening

The highlight of the race was the spectacular collision between Verstappen and Hamilton on the second lap at Copse. Having raced nose to nose for the opening lap, Hamilton saw a gap and dummied left before going down the right of Verstappen leading into Copse. They were more or less side-by-side, with Verstappen slightly in the lead, but Hamilton having the inside line. Just before the apex Verstappen pulled across Hamilton's line thinking Hamilton would move further to the right or lift off . He didn't. Verstappen's right rear wheel was clipped by Hamilton's left front, sending Verstappen sideways into the barriers with a 51G impact! He walked away, but was a littler dazed and got checked up in hospital.

The stewards decided this was Hamilton's fault and gave him a 10 second penalty, which he observed during his first pit stop. Their decision read as follows:

"The Stewards reviewed video and telemetry evidence," read their ruling. "Cars 33 [Verstappen] and 44 [Hamilton] entered turn 9 with Car 33 in the lead and Car 44 slightly behind and on the inside. "Car 44 was on a line that did not reach the apex of the corner, with room available to the inside. "When Car 33 turned into the corner, Car 44 did not avoid contact and the left front of Car 44 contacted the right rear of Car 33. Car 44 is judged predominantly at fault."

Whatever happened to letting the drivers race? Is F1 really dishing out penalties based on whether a driver's line will reach the apex. The racing line is not always the one which will win you the race. If in a collision blame is automatically assigned to the guy off the racing line, then what's the point of racing.

Maturing, but not yet mature

My take on the incident starts a few corners earlier, where the situation was reversed. Coming into Brooklands, Hamilton was clearly in the lead with Verstappen going down the inside as you can see in this clip at 1min 10seconds. But Hamilton gave Verstappen space and didn't turn in on him. Verstappen missed the apex and went over the curb. Hamilton ran slightly wide on the outside, knowing that he risked ending in a spin by having his left rear clipped by Verstappen's front right if he stuck to his line. If Verstappen had taken the same approach a couple of corners later he would have come out of Copse second. Yet, he would have had the whole race to catch Hamilton. Even if he didn't, he would have lost only 7 points, maybe 6 with the fastest lap. As it stands, he lost 25 points and the championship is again wide open.

The chase

After Hamilton pitted and observed the 10 second penalty he was down in fourth, 15 seconds behind Leclerc. He began to reel him in, passing Norris, Bottas and then Leclerc with a couple of laps to spare. I feel sorry for Leclerc who put in a brilliant drive. But Hamilton showed his class in the second half of the race, despite the crash with Verstappen. Roll on Hungary!

Carbohydrates in food

I have to watch the carbohydrates I eat, since I am Type 2 pre-diabetic, I made myself this list of foods I tend to eat by carbs per 100g. I've split them into several categories, based on the carbs per 100g:

  • extreme carbs, above 70g
  • high carbs, anything between 35g and 70g
  • medium carbs, between 15g and 35g
  • low carbs, between 5g and 15g
  • very low carbs between 1g and 5g
  • Negligible or no carbs, below 1g

My source is basically Google searches. This is a work in progress and will change as I add to this list.

Extreme (above 70g)

Sugar, Rice (uncooked)

High carbs (between 35g and 70g)

Chickpeas, Brown bread, Pasta (uncooked), White bread

Medium carbs (between 15g and 35g)

Banana, Grapes, Lentils, Kiwi, Sweetcorn

Low carbs (between 5g and 15g)

Apple, Blueberries, Cherry tomato, Grapefruit, Hummus, Strawberries

Very low carbs (between 1g and 5g)

Asparagus, Beer, Eggs, Cucumber, Tomato, Wine

Negligible carbs (below 1g)

Meat, Spirits

Online coding environment with Gitpod

Over the last few months I've made my hosting environment entirely serverless thanks to the help of GitHub, Forrestry and Netlify. Next, I wanted a cloud based development environment, so if I wasn't at my laptop and wanted to make a change, I could.

There were quite a few options, but the two that seemed to fit the bill for me were GitPod and GitHub Codespaces. The latter is not yet available to the general public. Whilst I did register for access, it's not yet been granted. That left me with GitPod. So I signed up, pointed it at my preview branch on GitHub, added a few config settings and I was done. I had a fully fledged development environment in the cloud, including full preview functionality. The IDE is basically Visual Studio Code in the browser. It is true that coding in a browser is not quite as user friendly as in a dedicated desktop app, but it's still very much manageable for me. I don't code that much, most of it is tinkering with existing code.

So now I have both my hosting and development environment fully in the cloud. The cost of all this? Surely all these services must cost something. Well, for my basic needs the monthly cost is zero. Nothing, zilch, nada!

Jungle in the city

I've lived in this neck of the woods for a few years now, but hadn't yet come across this lovely view of our local jungle!

Scenery of green bushes with a river covered in green algae

Walferdange, July 2021.

Vaccine equality

As the richer western countries approach their ceiling of who they can vaccinate freely, they are starting to vaccinate those under 18 in a drive to increase the overall vaccination rate. This is understandable, but I wonder if a better use for those vaccines would be to ship them to poorer countries to help them in their vaccination efforts.

The effect of Covid on the young is very small. It is true we do not know the long term implications of having had covid. Long-covid is a real thing, which also affects the young. But the long term effects of the vaccine are also unknown. It is looking increasingly likely that we will need yearly booster shots. Do we really want to be vaccinating 12 year olds and jabbing them every year for the rest of their lives? This is new territory, it has never been done before.

Let's get the world's adult population vaccinated first. As we get to understand the virus better maybe we will find a single shot solution.

Covid vaccination

Yesterday I had my second Pfizer jab against Covid. When I had my first jab I felt nothing, no side effects. A slight itch on the shoulder maybe. Nothing worse than a mosquito bite. The second one is a different matter. I woke up this morning sore, stiff and tired. No fever or other flu like symptoms, but definitely worse than the first jab. Hopefully by the weekend I will be better.

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