Monthly archives of “October 2006

Locking out IE users

UPDATE: The code being used is from the Explorer Destroyer project, which has an explanation of its rationale here. It’s worth noting that it’s not just ‘Get Firefox’, but ‘Get Firefox with the Google Toolbar’, hence the $1 referral fee… I’d much rather have Firefox with some degree of privacy, to be honest. Thanks for the info, Joshua.

This is what Töshöklabs’ website looks like in Firefox: on Firefox

And this is what it looks like in Internet Explorer (with a close-up of the text): on IE on IE

I came across this site via an interesting piece at 3.7

“While I understand the frustration many designers have when dealing with making a site IE compatible, and I absolutely love the idea of more users browsing with Firefox, we have an obligation to make sure the IE version of a site looks just as good as its Gecko counterpart. It is, after all, the most common browser in use hands down… It wasn’t until I saw this “IE incompatible site” that I realized how bad this trend has spread… The designers outright do not let you browse their site if you are on IE. They shut out 80% of the Internet without batting an eye. This is no different than the painful old trend of stating how the web page should be viewed, IE: “Best viewed in 800×600 on IE 3.2″.”

The thing is, the Töshöklabs site is not actually ‘IE incompatible’ at all. The site is deliberately made unusable in IE by showing a hidden layer, invisible to Firefox (and Opera) users: source

This is a clever trick; I’m not quite sure what my reaction should be. Are the site’s creators saying “IE users aren’t the sort of people we want using our site”, or just “Get educated“? It’s surely the latter, but they perhaps forget that many possible visitors are stuck in offices where they’re just not permitted to install Firefox (or other alternatives), or are using other types of specialised browsers*, screen-readers, etc. Not everyone is able to make a choice about the software he or she uses.

I understand exactly what Töshöklabs are trying to do, and the aim of spreading the message of alternative software is a laudable one (as is their giving away DRM-free music), but the implementation is only one step away from MSN’s deliberate anti-Opera behaviour. It would be better from a usability point of view to have that “We see you’re using Internet Explorer…” message as part of the homepage, large enough to catch visitors’ attention but not take control away from them.

*e.g. here’s what it looks like in Lynx – not a very intelligent script, then! on Lynx on Lynx

The secret

“The secret to getting ahead in the 21st century is capitalizing on people doing what they want to do, rather than trying to get them to do what you want to do.”

(Glenn Reynolds of, in a Wired article quoted at the Public Journalism network)

I think this applies very much to issues of control in products, systems and environments, in addition to the blogging context in which it was spoken, just so long as people are aware that there are alternatives available which do let them do what they want. eMusic exists, with a DRM-free format, but more people still use iTunes. Why?

As Cory Doctorow has so often put it, “No-one wakes up in the morning wanting to do less with his or her stuff.” It will be especially interesting to see how businesses built on the model Reynolds expresses fare in the years ahead. Is this really the secret to getting ahead? Will we really have companies and governments succeeeding by striving to help and empower people, or will the lure of increased control prove too attractive?

Enforcing reverence & increasing mental acuity?

Ta Keo, photo by Casual Chin
Ta Keo, photo by Sarin Va
The steep steps with tall risers and shallow treads at Ta Keo, Angkor, Cambodia. Photos by Casual Chin and Sarin Va

Simon Crilley
, designer and author of the Future Thinking blog, left a very interesting comment on the recent ‘Architecture & Security‘ post:

“These architectures of control aren’t new: temples in India and Morocco have gateways with lintels so low that people must dip or bow to enter the temple, just in case they weren’t intending to respect their gods.”

This made me remember reading about the ‘intentionally’ steep steps with very shallow treads used to approach some temples – the idea also being to compel visitors to bow their heads (in this case, to watch their steps very carefully for their own safety) and arrive in a state of some deference (if not reverence) as well as relief after a long climb. The above pictures show the very steep steps at Ta Keo, Angkor, described here:

“Next, I climb Ta Keo and start to notice that my upper legs are not really in any shape to climb 45 meters of stairs, where every step is a foot and a half high and only 4 inches deep (on the “easy” west-side). Supposedly they build them this way to ensure you bow your head. Well, in my case I have to do it using both my hands and feet, as vertigo really kicks in at some point (and that does not really happen easily).”

Of course, in both cases (low lintels and steep steps) the enforced ‘reverence’ is often only the appearance of reverence, but think about this: does increased blood flow to the head (from lowering it) cause significant temporary physiological changes? Does bowing your head (e.g. when praying) cause you to become more (or perhaps less) alert? Does it, perhaps, put you in a suggestible state? Or does it give you a feeling of peace or fulfilment which is then associated with the environment in which you experience it?

Image from Hothouse Bikram Yoga There’s been plenty of research on brain function during prayer and meditation, so I’m sure this question must have been addressed by someone (I just don’t know enough about the field to know where to look). For example, the image to the left (from Hothouse Bikram Yoga) shows a yoga posture claimed to “increase blood flow to the brain bringing mental clarity, good memory.” Does regular ritual prostrated prayer (e.g. salat) lead to actual changes in the brain in the longer term? Perhaps, in the temple examples, it’s the sudden light-headedness that may accompany raising one’s head after the prolonged period of increased blood flow into the brain, which gives the ‘intended’ effect.

Are any readers better able to comment on this?

A vein attempt?

Blue lighting makes it more difficult to see veins
Blue lighting makes it more difficult to see veins

Blue lighting is sometimes used in public toilets (restrooms) to make it more difficult for drug users to inject themselves (veins are harder to see). The above implementation is in Edinburgh, next to the Tron Kirk.

It was more difficult to see my veins through my skin, but there was normal-coloured lighting in the street outside, and one would assume that the users would thus just go outside instead, though the risk of detection is greater. (An additional result of the blue lighting is that, on going outside after spending more than a few seconds in the toilets, the daytime world appears much brighter and more optimistic, even on an overcast day: could retail designers or others make use of this effect? Do they already?)

So the blue lighting ‘works’, but is it really a good idea to increase the risk that an injection will be done wrongly – maybe multiple times? This is perhaps a similar argument to that surrounding delibrately reducing visibility at junctions: the architecture of control makes it more dangerous for the few users (and those their actions affect) who ignore or bypass the control. This seems to be an architecture of control with the potential to endanger life, although the actual stated intention behind it probably includes ‘saving lives’.

Without knowing more about addiction, however, I can’t say whether making it difficult for people to inject will really help stop them doing it; it would seem more likely that (as in the linked Argus story), the aim of the blue lighting is to move the ‘problem’ somewhere else rather than actually ‘solve’ it – as with the anti-homeless benches, in fact.

Another example in this kind of area is the use of smoke alarms specifically to prevent people smoking in toilets, e.g. on aeroplanes (the noise, and embarrassment, is a sufficient deterrent). There’s even been the suggestion of using the Mosquito high-pitched alarm coupled to a smoke detector to ‘prevent’ children smoking in school toilets (I’d expect that quite a few would deliberately try to set them off; I know I would have as a kid). A friend mentioned the practice of siting smoking shelters a long way from office buildings so that smokers are discouraged from going so often; this backfired for the company concerned, as smokers just took increasingly long breaks to make it ‘worth their while’ to walk the extra distance.

Anti-perch spikes

Spikes near Edinburgh Castle
Spikes near Edinburgh Castle

These spikes on a window ledge in Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, look quite old. The ledge is steeply angled, so would be difficult to sit on anyway; if anything they’d make it easier actually to climb up to the window if breaking in were a concern. All I can think is that they attempt to stop people ‘perching’ on the ledge to rest for a few minutes – presumably this must have been a problem? Any other suggestions welcome!

More anti-sit devices and anti-homeless benches.

Preventing baggage trolleys going down the escalator

Barriers at Heathrow

These ‘pinch point’ barriers at London’s Heathrow Airport prevent the baggage trolleys from the Bus Station being taken down the escalators which lead to Terminals 1, 2 and 3. Mistake-proofing (for safety reasons: a trolley down the escalator would be dangerous) but also unnecessary if the airport had been designed differently from the start. Is forcing users to load baggage on and off multiple trolleys whenever their path descends or ascends really desirable? A lift (elevator) may be available, but how many people – and their trolleys – can fit in it at once?

An inclined travelator (as used elsewhere at Heathrow) would be a better solution.