Blogging since 1998. By David Wertheimer

Month: February 2004 (Page 1 of 2)

Blood, gore, and Jesus

Metacritic gives The Passion of the Christ a fairly favorable once-over, starting with Roger Ebert’s insistent (if properly tempered) applause for the film’s accomplishment. I, however, far prefer the pull quotes on Rotten Tomatoes.

—”The Passion of the Christ is so relentlessly focused on the savagery of Jesus’ final hours that this film seems to arise less from love than from wrath, and to succeed more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it.”

—”It’s as if Gibson is measuring God’s love by the amount of blood he shows on the screen.”

Even Ebert notes that the film deserves an NC-17 for violence and the MPAA wimped out.

Of course, as with any movie, the book is much better.

Defining “upgrade”

I received a postcard in the mail Monday telling me that Sony Ericsson and AT&T were sending me a free phone, a brand-new T226. Great news! My T68i is a year and a half old and is starting to fall apart.

Something felt fishy, though. My T68i was a $200 investment, and this new phone isn’t costing me a penny. So I went to the Sony Ericsson T68i Upgrade Web Site to find out more.

Impressively, Sony Ericsson is not shy about the upgrade specs; a big link on the home page goes to a comparison page. Unimpressively, the new phone is a major downgrade.

A list of what my new phone won’t have that my old one does:

– worldwide operability

– a calendar

– 7-field phone book listings (the T226 has 3 fields)

– voice-activated dialing

– Bluetooth and infrared (no more linking to friends)

– a modem (no more Web access)

– shortcuts (no more typing 7-8-4-2 to play solitaire)

These are not minor issues. I used my phone overseas and want to do so again this year. I used four and five fields for my contacts quite often, and I relied on my shortcuts.

And that’s just the features I use. The T226 also has no voice-activated dialing, no PC synchronization, half the memory and less picture and personalization features. It does have polyphonic ringtones and a more colorful display.

The Sony Ericsson T226 is the free-with-contract phone for customers who sign up for new plans. That I am expected to consider it an upgrade from my expensive T68i is wholly unimpressive.

I thought the new phone might keep me on AT&T Wireless for a few more months before I ported myself to Verizon and away from AT&T Wireless’s poor suburban GSM reception. But I doubt it.

On gay marriage

The fuss about George Bush attemping to ban gay marriage with a Constitutional amendment saddens and disgusts me on multiple levels.

Bush is only making noise about it to deflect discussion of more pressing, damaging issues that could undermine his re-election campaign (note the timing of his amendment announcement on the same day as the grilling of the director of the CIA on Iraqi intelligence). Even worse, he is turning a personal issue into a political one. Notice how Dick Cheney doesn’t say a word about gay marriage since his family’s opinion would undermine the election campaign. I suspect that deep down Cheney thinks the issue is none of his boss’s business.

Worst of all, though, is how Bush wishes to insert a restrictive clause into a set of Constitutional amendments that for the past two centuries has increased personal freedoms, not diminished them. He aims to place marriage in a straitjacket alongside a long list of proud American freedoms. (This Metafilter post nicely frames the amendments: “20 out of 27 deal directly with giving people more rights and only one [prohibition, later repealed] took away rights. If passed, 28 would be the only standing amendment to limit rights of citizens.”)

What happened in San Francisco last week, with thousands of gay and lesbian couples lining up for legal marriages, will someday be hailed as a watershed moment in American liberties, much like Susan B. Anthony’s work and Rosa Parks’s stand before them. Women and minorities had to fight for decades against persecution, prejudice and political rhetoric before making their way into a (mostly) equal and accepting society. Homosexuality, sadly, is going to have the same fight.

Thirty years from now we will look back at this era and wonder how so much of the country was so stubborn and wrong. In the meantime, one can only shake one’s head and hope wiser judgment prevails against fear and intimidation.

Stop thinking home page

One of the hardest things to do during Web site creation is to finalize a vision for the home page. So much to do, and so little real estate! How will users find anything? Where will it all fit?

Yet the same questions that stymie home-page development often magically disappear inside the site, where suddenly, logic and order rule. Major items go in top- or left-hand navigation schemes. Subcategory navigation squeezes under the main lists, either through clever spatial allotments or more-clever DHTML and Javascript tricks. Promotional items cascade down the right-hand side or across the page above and below major content.

Why is this so? Several reasons:

– Stakeholders around an organization all feel they need, and deserve, home-page placement and promotion for their interests.

– The home page tries to be all things to all people. Heaven forbid a user land on a site’s home and not see every crucial function the site provides.

The good news is that Google’s continued dominance has brought the trend in home pages toward lighter, cleaner designs. Urging their continued dominance is not a new argument, but it bears repeating, as too many sites still do not practice this policy well.

The solution to this is to stop trying so hard with the home page and start thinking about how the rest of the site works. Functionality and placement become more obvious inside the site. Why not carry those same principles backward, onto the home page?

A prime factor in lightening the home page burden is that home pages aren’t the all-encompassing portals they once were. Search engines still lead users deep into sites, and initial exposure is often not the home page but an internal content area that showcases an entirely different set of priorities. Only as a second or third click do users find the home page–which they expect to deliver better functionality or explanation, not necessarily the kitchen sink.

Therefore, if the home page is not necessarily the starting point, it doesn’t have to be the catch-all presentation device like, say, a magazine’s cover. It has to continue the brand definition and extend functionality, whether that is more simply executed or more accurately explained.

Users are increasingly goal-oriented online; they arrive with a purpose, and they want to achieve their goals as smoothly and easily as possible. Some recent arguments even contend that users don’t care what page they’re on, relative to a Web site’s hierarchy, so long as they’re making progress toward their goals. That may not be an all-encompassing argument, but the underlying tenet rings true: one only needs to identify position in a site structure only if one is confused or lost.

Bearing that in mind, a well-designed Web site will have simple, useful navigation and a moderate (or less) amount of clutter on internal pages. Ground is ceded to the presentation of content, and utility finds logical placement, sometimes by default. This should be the standard site-wide.

That brings us back to the home page, which may be the first or the fourth page a user visits during a session. It should maintain a similar navigational structure to internal pages. This is not because it’s a good introduction, but because it may be part of the continuing progress of the user. A visitor could quite conceivably go from an article to a section index to the home page, inside-out; if that is the case, how disconcerting might it be when the home page looks and works differently than the inside? (Even ultra-simple Google maintains the same top-of-page links on its home page as it does on its results pages.)

The same rules apply to the myriad interests angling for home-page positioning. Many sites have one or more links or promotions that go to specialty or off-site pages; these are miniature advertisements that don’t appear elsewhere on the site. Rather than cluttering the home page with one-off opportunities, find ways to integrate these links with the rest of the site, in places that make sense and promote consistency. If said placements overlap on the home page, so much the better.

The idea is not to revolutionize home-page design but to ensure that it embraces the activity within. Let the home be integrated rather than stand-alone. Your users will appreciate it.


It’s been a pretty busy news week if you’re a socially liberal New York Jew.

San Francisco is marrying gays, and that makes me happy. Enough said.

Mel Gibson is his father’s son, and that makes me sad. Note that ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is riddled with inaccuracies that will likely go ignored by proud, hard-line Christians.

Alex Rodriguez is a Yankee, and I have no shame for the Yankees’ payroll. You want parity? Fix the system. The Yanks are the only team that voted against the current revenue scheme about which everyone is complaining.

Oh, and my dog got a terrible haircut Saturday. Not all news is national.

Best wrong number ever


[breathy] “Hi!”


“Hiii, Dave! How are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you—”

“It’s so good to hear your voice! Whatcha been up to?”

“Not much. …”

“So, what’s up?”

[pause] “I’m sorry, but who is this?”

“This is Lucinda! You know, your cousin Matthew’s friend, remember?”

[pause] “Who?”

“C’mon, don’t give me that!”

“Whose cousin are you again?”

“This is Dave, right? I’m Matthew’s cousin, you know, Matty?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have a cousin Matthew.”

“No, seriously.”

“You know, I think this is the best wrong number I’ve had in a long time.”

“You’re Dave, right? I’m Lucinda, you know, Lucy? Remember how I used to call you Dee and we would play in the park and run in the sprinklers?”

“Nope, not me.”

“Come on. Don’t you like hotties all dressed in leather who like to smack you with their titties?”

“I’m sure I would, but you definitely have the wrong guy—!”

“I really want to get with you.”


Pizza no more

I’m not sure why the new shuwarma place on St. Mark’s and Third rates as worthy news fodder for the New Yorker, but I empathize with the submissions for the name-the-new-joint contest that ask for the return of St. Mark’s Pizza, the eatery that is being replaced. St. Mark’s made a terrific slice; more than once I begged them to deliver to my apartment, outside their usual range.

An added note of sadness for the owners of St. Mark’s Pizza, too: they just renovated the place in 2003 before the purchase and subsequent closing.

The ringing

Famous people with tinnitus.

My wacky ear problem is long gone but my tinnitus remains, as it has pretty much continuously since 1995.

I recall two particularly good moments over the past nine years: one, in the late ’90s, before the Matthew Sweet concert that pushed the tinnitus farther into permanency, when I was taking the bus and walking to work every day instead of using the PATH train, and the ringing quieted down tremendously; and two, during the evil diplacusis phase, when I had a deep tissue massage on my neck, shoulders and chest, and for 24 hours I literally had no ringing in my ears. I unwisely chalked that up as an anomaly, didn’t return to the spa where I got the massage, and haven’t experienced that since.

This issue comes about because of a friend’s encounter with Bob Mould, who has a nasty case of tinnitus himself.

From the same page, the lyrics to U2’s “Staring at the Sun,” which supposedly chronicles Bono’s encounters with tinnitus:

There’s an insect in your ear

If you scratch it won’t disappear

Its gonna itch and burn and sting

You wanna see what the scratching brings…

Waves that leave me out of reach

Breaking on your back like a beach

Will we ever live in peace?

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