NYT reference search: Stain on an otherwise decent site

While I’m reading an article online, I highlight words and paragraphs and click randomly around the page.

I don’t know why. It’s weird.

I read the New York Times. A lot. Recently, they came up with a so-called feature that lets you highlight a word and double-click it to get a popup window with related reference information. So imagine a caffeinated random-clicker like me trying to read NYT – more pop-ups than a GD porn site, and for stupid things like the word “the.”

But apparently I’m not the only one in the world that does this. In fact, there’s a small movement to get this feature removed, or at least provide a way to opt-out. There’s even a little button and everything. Yes!

Aside from weirdos exhibiting random-click behavior, here’s some other reasons why this feature sucks:

  • Violation of user expectations: 99.9% of Web sites don’t behave this way. Surprising users with unexpected behavior is a core usability violation. Most annoying is that this behavior is triggered anywhere you double-click on the page. ANYWHERE!
  • Popups!: Users hate them. Regardless of any good intent, years of popup abuse have now instilled an associated feeling of dread. In the Web 2.0 world, there are surely more slick and unobtrusive solutions.
  • Feature overload: It’s just too much. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Less is more. Etc etc etc.

Customer service

Customer service is coming back into vogue. AOL hasn’t gotten the memo apparently:

“An AOL service guy told me to stop complaining and learn to use a computer,” she said. “Then he hung up.”

Ahh, a classic example of blaming the user. If they really hope to compete with their new free business model, they’re going to have to do a lot better than that.

Cat bite?

Has a cute little cat managed to sink his teeth into your luscious flesh lately? In multiple places, most notably on a joint? Wondering if it will get horribly infected?

The answer is PROBABLY.

That’s right. Cats have dirty little mouths (dirty as in bacterial dirty, not dirty like a sailor’s). Not nearly as dirty as a human’s, but dirty enough that you will see serious infection in about 50% of bites, according to the doc who treated me.

The Most Annoying Car Ever

I like to use car analogies a lot when explaining to people why a lot of user interfaces suck.

Pepole often hear me say something like, “You just know how to drive a car. It’s intuitive. If they designed car controls the way that they design most software interfaces, you’d have wrecks happening all the time.”

But now what happens when the car – a BMW M5 in this case- with its relatively mature interface is mashed up with a computer? According to the host of a British TV show, Top Gear, it’s a disaster. Check out the video.

Luckily, the magic M button, which boosts the car into high-performance driving mode, seems to be its redemption. I just wish computer applications had one of those.

Back in the USA

Ok, I’m back home after a great month of travel through the Balkans. It’s nice to sleep in my own bed again, but I could travel for a long time, I think. Photos and more stories to be posted.

For now, enjoy some photos I snapped over the Alps during a flight from Zagreb to Milan.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Wow, what a change from Kosovo. Dubrovnik is tourism central, English is spoken everywhere and there are no destroyed buildings to speak of. (Though Dubrovnik was shelled to bits by Serbian forces in 1991 for no strategic reason. It’s since been restored.)

I’m too tired to really post anything interesting because I spent 15 hours on a night bus from Prishtina to here. Terrible roads and Albanian pop music make Jason a dull boy.

I did manage to shoot some photos today. Enjoy.

Kotor, Montenegro

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Prishtina, Kosovo

I arrived in Prishtina, Kosovo last night. What’s a Kosovo, you ask? It’s a region in the Balkans, formerly part of Serbia. As of 1999, Kosovo is a protectorate of the UN and NATO after they intervened to stop Serbian agression – genocide and mass expulsion – against Albanian Kosovars.

If you’re wondering about the significance of this place, Wikipedia has an extensive article on the conflict in this region.

Kosovo is on its way to independence, which will likely be confirmed in a 2006 referendum. Google is a good source for current news about Kosovo.

People have been asking why I’m here, and that’s a good question, too. I guess it’s to see what’s here. And to take photos, of course.

More as I explore …

Belgrade, Serbia

[I’m jumping ahead to write about Serbia due to limited Internet time and apathy. More on Slovenia and Croatia soon.]

From Zagreb, I caught a night train to Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro (Yugoslav Republic, whatever you want to call it). When I got on the train, I was able to supersize to a sleeper car for only €10. It sounds like a deal, I know, but it’s really impossible to sleep on an eastern European train that makes 12 stops in 6.5 hours.

The redeeming part of the trip was the vibrant pink sunrise over the outskirts of Belgrade. Mist-shrouded villages and browning corn fields set a striking, almost cliche, autumn morning scene.

On the train, I met a Slovenian guy named Daniel, a programmer who had been all over the world and spoke pretty good English. He was visiting his uncle in Belgrade and kindly invited me for some morning coffee. After finding our respective hotels (€17 per night for my own room!), we grabbed some joe at a little cafe in the old town (Stari Grad) of Belgrade. Big American-style breakfasts aren’t really popular in most parts of Europe, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw scrambled eggs and ham on the menu. It’s nice to have a taste of home now and then.

Parting ways with Daniel, I took a long nap at the hotel and awoke in the late afternoon. I headed out at sunset to find a little place called ?. No joke. Apparently, it was named after the cathedral across the street, but the priests got pissed. The owner renamed it to ? as if to say, “What’s all the fuss?”

? was built in the early 1800’s and probably hasn’t changed much since then. The floors are polished by years of foot traffic and dark wood beams frame plaster walls covered in 100 year-old photos of random Serbs. The waitress sat me down in the lightly smoky dining room where three regulars began jamming out some Serbian folk music. One played a classical guitar while the other two plucked away at mandolins, streaming out melodies reminiscent of pastoral folk scenes. Diving into a local draft beer and a Serbian salad – tomatoes, cucumbers and soft cheese – it was a great introduction to Serbia, not to mention the ultimate travel experience: when you feel like you’re not just a fly on the wall, but rather you’ve become a part of the place you’re visiting.

I had some tasty stewed lamb after that, followed by some kind of pear dessert with Serbian coffee. (Okay, really it’s Turkish coffee, but don’t tell them that. The Ottoman Turks ruled this part of the world for several hundred years, right up until 1912, in fact. They’re not exactly fond of eachother.)

A fat meal at a great restaurant. Total price: about $14.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

After Vienna, I made my way by train to Ljubljana, the capital city of the tiny-but-wealthy Slovenia (pop. 2 million). The Austrian Alps are incredibly scenic. The rolling mountains are dotted with castles, some of them fairly intact and really spectacular. Just imagining California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, wandering through this countryside as a young body-builder-in-training gave me a feeling of comfort and serenity. Coincidentally, there was another guy from Austria who became a powerful leader in another country. Adolf something …

Nah, I love Arnold. He’s so plastic and lovable. Plus, he’s too busy driving his Hummers and groping chicks to engineer the mass genocide of several million people.

Ljubljana was a welcome change from the big-city bustle and grandeur of Vienna. Only about 250,000 people live there. There’s one university, one of three in the entire nation. The city has a bit of a Venice feel to it, though, with the Sava River running through the middle of town in a sort of canal spanned by the Triple Bridge.

Eating horse burgerWhen I arrived, I was starving and headed for the middle of town with an Australian duo to get a “horse burger” at a place called Hot Horse. The Lonely Planet guide actually referred to it as a “‘horse burger’” with the quotes and everything (what the hell is that wink-wink use of quotes called? anyone?), so I assumed it was not really horse. I mean, who eats horse? They’re for riding. It doesn’t seem economically viable, really. And horses are nicer than cows. The more friendly the animal, the less likely it is to end up on a plate, right?

Well, we ate whatever the hell it was, and it was good. It didn’t taste like cow, or, well any meat I’d ever had. So maybe it was a blend, a meat potpourri. Slovenian meatloaf, of sorts, perhaps.

Between the three of us, we managed to reason that we had not, in fact, eaten horse. Flicka had not died for our insatiable human appetites for meat. It had been some stupid, unfriendly cow, or at worst, a mule or some impossible creature.

The next day, I cruised around the city, checking out the commanding view from the castle (any good city has one, you know) and taking photos of photogenic things. Yeah.

That night we went to a great bar called Pr’skelet, or the Skeleton Bar. It’s a cellar bar in the heart of the old city, done up to look like a dungeon and best of all, it’s decorated with skeletons everywhere – hanging on the walls, in cages dangling from the ceiling, and even turning in their graves in the see-through floor. There’s apparently no bathroom … until you push on what looks like a bookcase, which swings open to reveal a fairly normal commode.

It was there (at the bar, not the bathroom) that I met two very friendly locals, Simona and Tina. They spoke great English and, well, I mostly forget what we talked about because I was drinking a fair amount of beer. I had one nagging question, though, that I had to have answered: Was it horse?

“Oh, yes,” they nodded vigorously, with no sign of a smirk from either. “We eat horse in Slovenia.”

So I ate horse. I half-apologized to Simona, a vegetarian who actually prefers to ride horses rather than eat them.

Later, they took me to club – again in a cellar – where we drank and talked more, concluding the evening with a visit to the local kebab shop. (Believe me, my American readers, late night kebabs are the bomb. Why the kebab phenomenon hasn’t hit America – or California, at least – is beyond me.)

Before we parted ways, Simona offered to drive me around the countryside the day after next. Stoked, I accepted. (Hint: Getting to see a country with a local is almost always better than any tour or guide book.)

I walked a cold half-mile back to my ultra-hip, ex-prison hostel as Simona and Tina drove back to their respective villages on the outskirts of the city.

Weird food

It’s a given that when you travel, you will encounter weird food, so today I’ll talk about my experience with Bavarian food

The Germans like meat. They eat it for breakfast, luch, dinner, dessert, whatever. In Augsburg, I had the pleasure of eating several new, tasty meat dishes.


This is basically a big hunk of pork with the skin still on part of it. It’s baked in an oven until the skin boils and gets crunchy like a giant pork rind. And that’s really all you get.

Beer and a hunk of flesh.

It’s pretty good – just don’t have one of these every day or you’ll be getting angioplasties more often than Dick Cheney.


Literally “white sausage”, this is strictly eaten for breakfast. It literally looks like, uh, white sausages. You peel off the casing, dip in some sweet mustard and chow down. According to Tim, it has to also be eaten with a glass of wiessbier (white beer). Yes, for breakfast. And that’s ok.


Flesh salad! It’s like salad, but with tasty pork flesh instead. Picture strips of pig in a sort of mayonaise sauce. Spread on a half-roll and enjoy!

Now, this isn’t all the Bavarians eat. They also enjoy normal things like yogurt, fruit and McDonald’s hamburgers. Just don’t expect to get a large American-style breakfast anywhere since cold cuts, bread and cereal are pretty much the morning standard.