Web Design Pet Peeves

I subscribe to a slew of free online newsletters and reports, most outside of my normal purview, because I never know what I might come across. This morning’s Research Brief — a free daily newsletter from The Center For Media Research (For Planners and Buyers of Advertising Media) — was about things that make consumers unhappy with web sites. Their data from a survey conducted for The Hostway Company, listed fifteen web site characteristics that people might find annoying. They asked respondents to rank their level of annoyance on a scale of 1(not annoying at all) to 5 (extremely annoying). The characteristics, from most to least annoying, are:

Pop-up ads
Requirement to register and log-on before viewing the Web site
Requiring the installation of extra software to view the site
Slow-loading pages
Dead links
Confusing navigation – hard to find pages, too many clicks
Content that is out of date
No contact information available
Music or other audio that plays automatically
Inability to use the browser’s “back” button
Ineffective site search tool
Overdone sites – unnecessary splash/flash screens or animation
Text that moves
Opening a new window for a link
Poor appearance – colors, fonts, format

The first three seldom apply to blogs, but the others should be taken into consideration for all web sites. Why? Because when encountering a pet peeve, over 70% of site visitors are likely to then:

Refuse to visit the site again
Unsubscribe to promotions or messages from the company
Refuse to purchase from that Web site
View the company in a negative way

Here are my thoughts:

I personally abhor pop-up ads, so you will never find them on one of my web sites, not even to flog my own books.

If you are asked for more than just an email address, the downside of registration for the visitor is the loss of anonymity. (Many people have email addresses that do not include their real name.) Of course, when you give out your email address, identifiable or not, to people you do not know, you have to consider whether that party is going to sell it and/or deluge you with spam. Still, asking visitors to register or log-in can have value for both the site owner and the visitor. Some sites provide registered users the ability to select certain viewing preferences and the site implements them when that person logs-in. And if the visitor shares common interests with the site and wants to receive notifications of any sort, registration is necessary. I know of a few bloggers who send out a weekly recap newsletter containing the first few lines or topics of their week’s postings, complete with links to each. The recipient doesn’t have to visit daily to see what, if anything, is new, and can click on any one or more of the links in the newsletter that are of interest…or none and hit delete.

There are some add-ons that I think are normal to expect, such as Adobe’s pdf reader and an audio player. Still, it should be optional. If you don’t want to play an offered audio or video clip, that should not deter you fro reading the rest of the site. Flash sites annoy me, but those sites that offer a first screen allowing me to choose win my appreciation.

Slow loading pages are a drag — I hope nobody is experiencing delays with my blog or website pages. I try to keep my graphic files small and I don’t use a lot of technobells and whistles.

Dead links are, well, deadly. Still, you can’t control other people’s content, and when you maintain an online archive of past postings it’s way too time consuming to re-visit every single link you ever posted. (There may be some nifty software tools that check every link on your site, and perhaps one of my savvy readers will tell us about it.)

Confusing navigation – I hate it when I can’t find what I’m looking for on a web site. The links should be clear and placed in the same location on each page. This is less an issue for blogs, as visitors generally read down from the top, but I do appreciate sites that have a search feature and for bloggers, such as myself, who write about a few different topics, having categories can be handy for the visitor that is only interested in particular topics. I’m not yet convinced that my categories are the most useful for my visitors…you’ll have to let me know.

Out of date content – well I believe bloggers should post on a regular schedule, be it daily, weekly, or monthly, as long as your visitors know what to expect and are not disappointed too often. Some bloggers can get away with posting a message that they can’t come out and play today, but others will lose their following if they try that too often. I am still in the latter category so I will do my best to keep posting something every weekday.

Contact information should be available, crucial for doing business, but just as important for bloggers. And yet I have not put my email address on the blog site yet. Why? Because the spammers have automated programs that troll for character strings that look like email addresses, grabbing up anything with text@moretext.com. Occasionally in a posting I have mentioned my email address, but I am not getting as much viewer mail as I would like, so sometime this week I am going to make a change and post it permanently on the blog site.

To be continued…

Difficult Discussions

A month ago my husband got the call: Shirley Horn is gravely ill and not expected to live much longer. The caller was not someone John knew, but the man said Shirley’s husband had asked him to call and tell John that Shirley was brain dead and on life support that might soon be stopped. John called Shirley’s husband and daughter repeatedly, but there was never an answer; and so we’ve been waiting for news. For the past two days, a single email message from singer Gail Marten has been circulating and it says that Shirley is conscious. I don’t know if it’s true, but I hope so…or do I? What does Shirley want? To me that is the only question that matters. We don’t often talk about one’s quality of life; the brief flurry of discussion caused by Terry Shivo’s case having died along with her.

In some ways, I feel it to be a simple matter, albeit one that can only be defined on an individual basis. One feels his or her own quality of life either to be, or not to be, up to a tolerable level. But defining that level is not something you can really do in advance. We think we know today what we consider to be minimal quality of life, but unless you have experienced a truly serious illness, you simply do not understand how profoundly your views and opinions about what is important can change. What you think would be intolerable today may feel to be only a minor nuisance tomorrow.

I believe we must think about such things, and plan as best as possible, but the best plan is an ongoing dialogue with those you love. A slip of paper in your wallet can help with the legalities, but you should re-read that directive often and and re-write it as needed. Those who find it to be an easy discussion probably should think again. It may seem simple today, especially if you’re talking about what you want for yourself, but it may not feel that way later. It is a discussion that fits hand in hand with the right to die, and letting a loved one go is never easy.

Fifty Writing Tools: The workbench of Roy Peter Clark

Clark, a Senior Scholar at the Poynter Institute, has written a series of instructional tips for nonfiction writers , and this amazing crash course in the craft of writing, from the “sub-atomic to the metaphysical level” (in the words of Pulitzer Prize winning feature writer Tom French), is posted online and it’s free.

Clark writes:

“At times, it helps to think of writing as carpentry. That way, writers and editors can work from a plan and use tools stored on their workbench. You can borrow a writing tool at any time. And here’s a secret: Unlike hammers, chisels, and rakes, writing tools never have to be returned. They can be cleaned, sharpened, and passed on.”

And as he says, “These are tools and not rules.” Clark succintly defines each tool, then explains, examplifies, and end with suggested exercises. These lessons are invaluable for novices and experts alike.

Whiplash

Sorry I’m late with today’s post; whiplash is my excuse. I wish I was referring to Snidely Whiplash, nemesis of Dudley Do-Right, or even just a metaphorical pain in the neck, but alas, I had the misfortune to be in an automobile accident last Friday and headaches are slowing down my productivity. Cruising down New York Drive on my way home from Radio Shack where I had been looking at gizmos for recording telephone interviews, I came upon an obstacle; a large flatbed truck making a delivery was jutting out into the right lane. It was at the bottom of a short steep hill, so one would not see them from off in the distance, and even close upon it the cars in front of me blocked it from clear view. One or more cars must have veered around the truck, but the Altima directly in front of me came to an abrupt stop. The speed limit for that stretch is 50 mph, and I’m not a slow driver, but I do keep a fair distance behind other cars – something like a car length for every 10mph – and so I was able to stop safely, albeit suddenly, without hitting it. Unfortunately, the Ford behind must have been on my tail because he hit me full force; my rear windshield shattered on impact, the trunk of my car crumpled, and I became the gazillionth person to suffer whiplash, also known as acceleration flexion-extension neck injury, soft tissue cervical hyperextension injury, cervical sprain, cervical strain, or hyperextension injury.

When I got home (amazingly, my car was drivable), my husband thought I should go to the hospital to get checked out, so I phoned my doctor, hoping he’d say “take two and call me in the morning.” He didn’t, and off we went to the ER at 7:30 on a Friday evening. I have heard that at an ER, Friday and Saturday nights are second only to Halloween and full moons; I think it must be true. “There are 34 people in front of you,” the receptionist told me. “It will be about three hours.” They’ve got a pretty good system, but unless you’re bleeding out, it does take forever. First you register and they give you a bracelet. Then you wait. Then comes triage — a nurse makes some notes and you go “back to chairs” to wait some more. Then they took me to the x-ray waiting room, and after snapping four films…”back to chairs.” It was after 11 PM when the receptionist took us down a long hallway into another wing where there were more examining rooms. A really pretty nurse came in to say the doc would be in shortly. I thought that pretty nurses and gorgeous doctors existed only on TV, but I was wrong — the doc was quite handsome. He sent me home with powerful pain killing drugs, a soft cervical collar that he told me use nonstop for the first several days and intermittently after that, and a warning that I was going to hurt, a lot, for more than a few days. “Heat will help a little,” he said, “and I don’t see any fractures on the films. Check in with your doctor on Monday.”

Monday I called my doctor, Tuesday I had a CT scan to check for intracranial bleeding, and today I got around to checking the internet for information. What did I learn, besides the fancy names for whiplash mentioned above? The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website confirms that symptoms may take several months to resolve, and eMedicine.com, boasting “the largest and most current Clinical Knowledge Base available to physicians and other healthcare professionals” concurs: “Most people recover completely from a whiplash injury in the first 12 weeks. Others’ symptoms continue to improve over the course of a year. You have a 40% chance of experiencing some symptoms after 3 months, and an 18% chance after 2 years.”

Whiplash or not, I’ve got to crack my own whip and get into gear…there’s research to be sorted, interviews to be conducted, and blogs to write before I sleep. Well, maybe a little nap….

A Prescription

Seems I am not alone in mourning the loss of unique places. A week after my Village Memories, Terry Teachout was home in Smalltown USA and wrote “I sometimes wonder whether the rural Missouri town where I grew up is losing its individuality.” (read the whole piece here .) Killin’ Time Being Lazy responded with Death of Smalltown USA which also linked to a January piece that quoted this recipe:

RECIPE FOR AN AMERICAN RENAISSANCE:
— Eat In Diners
— Ride Trains
— Put a Porch on Your House
— Shop on Main Street
— Live in a Walkable Community
(“Recipe For An American Renaissance” by Randy Garbin, publisher of Roadside Magazine, Worcester, Massachusetts)

Call it a recipe or a prescription, it sounds like good advice to me. The closest thing to a diner near me is a local establishment called Fox’s where I eat breakfast 2-4 times week. As I think about it, the place is worthy of a blog entry all its own, so I hold off on further description for now. I can’t afford any house renovations at the moment, but my immediate neighbors do tend to congregate out front, and we are not adverse to standing around or siting on the curb. The closest I can get to shopping on Main Street is the stretch of little shops in Sierra Madre that includes a few gifteries, an old fashioned cobbler/shoe repair (albeit folded into the local cleaners), a jewelry store, and tea shop. Millie’s Dancewear, much missed, used to be there too. I admit that I prefer living on a strictly residential street and that popping down to the corner for a quart of milk has lost its allure, still I support the small shops wherever I can find them. As for the trains, well, I ride the Metro North trains in New York, and like the Metroliner between Boston-NY-DC, but out here in Lalaland, mass transit is difficult at best. Still, the Gold Line is now nearby and the next time I have to go to downtown Los Angeles — an infrequent need, but perhaps jury duty next year — I will take a ride.

Django

When in pain – physical or mental – the two things I think most soothing are music (specifics vary by person and will be addressed in a later post) and the unconditional love of a pet. When I was fighting the cancer war, ensconsed at Glendale Adventist Hospital, they had a visiting pet program. I remember one morning, when in one of my darker moods, two strangers walked into my room with two small dogs. I was not in the mood to talk with friends, let alone strangers, but they said that was okay and asked if I wanted to pet the dogs. The dogs were already on my bed and snuggling up — irresistable. The couple carried on their own conversation between themselves and left me to the dogs. I don’t know how long they stayed, it may have been only fifteen minutes, but the effect was long lasting and far outweighed the ocassional unrequested drop-ins from various clerics.

I had a dog when I was very young, a poodle name Bosco. He was a nervous fellow, not meant for city life — or maybe he didn’t like wearing a bonnet and riding in a doll’s carriage — and he soon went to live with someone else in the suburbs. After that we had a succession of cats. So it may have been that hospital visit that primed me for my meeting Django, or maybe it was just fate. It was only a couple of months after the chemo and radiation treatments, and, in anticipation of further medical treatment, I had moved to New York City to be near to my family. One afternoon the apartment buzzer rang and the building superintendent said he had a package for me. I went downstairs and saw a puppy playing in the lobby. It was a cute little black and white ball of fluff, and when I sat down on the floor he jumped right into my lap. (I later learned that this fluffball was a pure-bred Shih-Tzu.) After a few minutes, I asked the super where was my package, and he pointed to the dog. Turns out, some idiot in a building down the block was going to take this dog to the pound, and that building’s superintendent mentioned it to our super who said he’d find a home for the dog. I was told his name was Sluggo, which I promptly changed to Django.

When I moved back to California, my parents agreed to dog sit while John and I got settled in the new house. That was seven years ago, and Django is still living with my parents — the three of them are inseparable. You may have seen Django with Dad on the pages of Jazz Times, or on his web site (Django is in picture #11 of the First Meeting collection here) , or in this shot I copied from a Japanese magazine. Django never strays too far from Mom, either, but she’s not partial to being photographed. The picture at the top is one I took just two weeks ago.

Fabulous dinner!!!

Every writing instructor and editor I’ve ever known has told me that exclamation marks are to be used sparingly, if at all, and never more than a one at a time. However, the dinner we had at Bond Street, an upscale contemporary Japanese restaurant in NOHO (that’s not Japanese; NOHO means North of Houston Street), was so amazing as to merit many more than the three I used in the title above.

How we came to dine there is a story in itself – a story about a young girl, a guitar, and a dog (actually two dogs) — no, it’s not about me. The girl is Eliza (ten years old, I’m guessing), and she lives in the building next door with her parents and their bird dog, Maddy (or is it Matty?). Eliza loves music, jazz, and studies guitar. The friendship began when the dogs meet on the street one day, and evolved with talk of music. Jim and Eliza became fast friends, attending one another’s concerts (luckily her parents like jazz, too, and they were all at the Y the other night), and sharing music (Jim wrote out the music to Sonny Rollins’ St. Thomas for her, which I understand she has learned to play quite well.) The bond between the two families was forever cemented the day Eliza’s mom, a veterinarian, made a house call and saved our dog’s life. (Django had been previously misdiagnosed, and she discovered and treated him for Lyme disease.) So what’s this got to do with a fabulous Japanese dinner? Eliza’s dad is one of the owners of the restaurant.

Housed in a brownstone, Bond Street has no restaurant signage, just a discreet awning displaying the address. The staff is genial, and the waiters are not only well-versed in the smallest details of the menu, they can describe the nuances of each of the twenty-something different types of sake available.

Kateigaho – Japan’s Arts & Culture Magazine posts this description in their piece about Japanese Cuisine in NY:

Executive chef Hiroshi Nakahara presents innovative sushi made with the choicest, most elusive ingredients from all over the world, such as hon-maguro tuna from Spain and crabs from Alaska. He has impressed diners since the three-story restaurant opened in 1998. There’s seating for 200; high-spirited chefs welcome guests to counter seats, while the dining area is cozier.

“Luxe sushi served in a nightclub atmosphere makes for an enduring scene,” writes Ben Williams in a Citysearch Editorial Profile. I don’t really know what is meant by “an enduring scene,” but here’s what he wrote about the food:

“High-end Japanese goodies are sprinkled throughout the menu: Toro-caviar sushi comes with a decorative gold twist on top, foie gras meets seared tuna to intoxicating effect and arctic char garnished with truffles has almost too much flavor. Yellowtail is superb enough to make a special featuring four different types a highlight. Blue fin toro is the gorgeously soft center of a special roll. If you want variety, the excellent 6 Bond Nigiri special delivers six exotic combinations.”

10Best.com says:

This celebrity hot-spot offers an attractive setting, chic diners and an excellent menu to delight even the most fussy of palates. The creative kitchen comes up with delectable offerings such as oba-leaf sorbet and sushi topped with gold leaf. Order one of Bond Street’s many sakes, sit back, grab a cell phone and bask in the excitement and frantic activity that is New York. Business Casual, with a flair.

We sat in the back room on the second floor, one of the quieter rooms, where our party of four shared appetizers of Crispy Himeji Rouget with tomato ginger dressing, Crispy Goat Cheese Crab Cakes with pounded rice crust and carrot lemon coulis, and sashimi. For an entry, I opted for a sushi and sashimi plate that included the most delectable mirugai, ebi, hamachi, and other morsels, plus some kind of roll encrusted with sesame that came with a dipping sauce. The Broiled Chilean Sea Bass, marinated in saikyo miso, was melt-in-your mouth delicious, and the Grilled Rack of Lamb with Asian pear and shiso sauce was equally tasty. Even the desserts were out of this world – my favorite was Banana Milk Chocolate Dim Sum with hazelnuts & sweet sour cream dipping sauce, but others at the table raved about Chocolate Meltdown with coffee ice cream & fresh cream, the Ricotta Cup with yamamomo granita, and the Lychee Panna Cotta with strawberry rhubarb compote and vanilla syrup.

Check out the menu (I found one online here) and don’t forget to make a reservation.

6 Bond St, New York, NY 10012 • 212-777-2500 (between Broadway and Lafayette)

Goings On

I had lunch yesterday with Bill Kirchner and his wife Judy Kahn. You may have read about Bill lately at Rifftides or About Last Night as both announced the new paperback edition of The Oxford Companion to Jazz. (To see their posts, which include a list of the essays included in this tome, go here or here.) In addition to being editor of the Companion, Bill wears many hats including those of composer-arranger, saxophonist, bandleader, educator, record and radio producer, and jazz historian. (Bill’s web site.)

We ate at a little bistro around the corner called The French Roast. Open 24-hours a day, it is a popular spot, and rather noisy when crowded. (When I was a kid, that corner location was Blimpie’s, a precursor to Subway sandwiches and the local neighborhood teen hangout.) Judy had just come from a desktop publishing class at The New School and gave me sneak peek at her latest layout of ther CD booklet for Bill’s new CD (more about that when it’s released). Judy is also a professional organizer and her business card reads Re-thinking Space, Designing Systems, and Organizing Homes, Buinsses & Files. Her website is currently under revision, but I love the name — De-Stress That Mess — and if you’re the disorganized type that might need help, you can bookmark it for future reference.

We talked about the jazz world and people we knew in common (coincidentally, one of those people mentioned was Annie Kuebler, who figures prominently in today’s Rifftide’s posting), shared ideas for our respective projects, lamented the price of tickets for live entertainment, and waxed nostalgic about the old days when for the price of a few drinks we could hang out at Bradley’s and hear the legendary pianists — Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Roland Hanna, Jaki Byard, and others. I have a CD library well-stocked with the works of these artists, but there is magic in the moment of creation that can never be captured and replayed.

Technology and the Internet provide wonderful tools for promoting one’s projects, sharing one’s thoughts (and art), and connecting with people across great distances (or even across the street), but I’m always glad for the in-person encounters.

ps. I am taking a couple of days off, so I will not be posting again until Friday.

What’s Good for the Goose…

After questioning the intent of a sentence on Rifftides earlier this month, turnabout became fair play. The grammar police, in the person of Doug Ramsey, emailed me regarding my Village Memories post:

Isn’t “still remains” redundant ?, i.e. * …its famous facade, including the clock tower, *still remains* — ?

He is quite correct, and I have edited the text to read “still stands.”

While we may seem to tease a bit, I do believe that a good editor is a writer’s best friend. (The corollary, however, is not true; best friends generally make lousy editors.)

Village Memories

The Greenwich Village stores and institutions that I grew up with in the 1960s are, for the most part, gone. But there have always been a few locales that have been in place for so long that you think they’ll exist forever…nothing is forever, not even Jon Vie, the local Sixth Avenue bakery with a city-wide reputation. Back in the days when roller skates were metal contraptions with four wheels that you fastened onto your saddleshoes and tightened with a key, I would roll around the corner, look in the bakery window, and one of the counter ladies would come to the door with a free cookie. One by one, the ladies retired and new clerks came and went, but the bakers remained and their rye bread and challah was the best in town. Now, I’m sad to report, it’s a store called Jeans USA stocked with brand new apparel made to look old.

Some of the long-gone landmarks that I remember include

    the Women’s House of Detention, a hi-rise jail built in the 1930s that rose above the old courthouse and took up the rest of the block from ninth to tenth street on the West side of Sixth Avenue, and from which windows the inmates would hollar to people in the street below. The Jefferson Market Courthouse was built in the 1870s by Vaux and Withers, and its famous facade, including the clock tower, still stands — now it’s the Jefferson branch of the New York Public Library, and the demolished prison is now a garden.

    Sutter’s Bakery on the northeast corner of Tenth Street and Greenwich Avenue where it was a treat to sit at one of the cafe tables and have a sandwich for lunch — now it’s a party store;
    International, just south of the south-west corner of Sixth Avenue and Thirteen Street, was a supermarket where I used to clerk; now it’s a Rite Aide. For a while there was a store on the corner where I would pour over huge Singer and McCall’s pattern books; I liked to sew. Across Sixth Avenue was a tiny little grocery/deli called was Smilers, where I used to buy the best rare roast beef sandwiches on rye break with Russian dressing, or Bialis for Sunday brunch. I think it became a Korean market (now closed and for rent) or maybe it was where the stationary store is – it’s hard to remember.
    Shopping for gifts was best accomplished at the Japanese store on Sixth Avenue, between Ninth and Tenth Streets, I think, where I could buy tea cups or pretty rice paper note cards, lanterns, or paper-covered boxes for cuff links and such. Then there was Fred Leigton’s on Eighth Street, where I was more likely to leave with a peasant blouse for myself than a present for someone else, or Papier Marche over on Greenwich Avenue, or in one of the many jewelry stores along those routes.
    Lowe’s movie theatre took up the whole triangular block bordered by Twelfth street, Seventh and Greenwich Avenues. It was there that I saw many a movie for 75-cents to a dollar-fifty, and paid 25-cents for a bag of popcorn. Across Twelfth Street was the Maritime building with windows made to resemble portholes — now part of the expanded Saint Vincent’s Hospital.

Expansion seems to be the name of the game, and I guess it’s a sign of prosperity, at least for those doing the expanding. The movie house on Fifth Avenue between Twelfth and Thirteenth Streets was taken over by The New School many years ago. Now I find that the bank where I had my first accounts has moved and that corner is being renovated for The New School. In fact, Walking about the Village I find lots of buildings now bearing the name of either The New School or New York University. I also see way too many nail shops, hair salons, and drugstores all within a few short blocks of one another. Ansonia drugstore on Tenths Street and Sixth Avenue has probably been there for more than fifty years (I can personally attest to at least forty-five), and Bigelows a block and a half south is ancient too. Both used to have a soda fountain, and I loved Ansonia’s root beer floats and Bigelow’s butterscotch sundays. But what I miss most is the diversity of all the little shops and unique stores.