news and views from michael rollins in tokyo

Category: Tech (page 1 of 2)

On Steve’s Passing

I find myself feeling unexpectedly shocked and saddened this morning by the news of Steve Jobs’ passing. I don’t know if it’s the (perhaps misplaced) underdog quality I associate with him, his role as one of this generation’s most successful visionaries, or simply his very key role in in changing so dramatically for the better my relationship with technology.

As I write this I’m surrounded by the output, the fruition, the product of a creative vision that puts people and user experience ahead of technology. Multiple manifestations of the idea that simple elegance is more important than endless bulleted lists of features, or functionality for its own sake. Technology and products that just work, are a pleasure to use, and are beautiful to behold. I can think of no one else in recent memory who has had, and continues to exert, such influence on my day-to-day life.

I use an iMac all day at work, pick up my iPhone countless times daily, take my iPad practically everywhere I go and sync and share data across all of them effortlessly. I rarely have to tinker, tweak, fiddle with or configure anything. I worked for a decade as a system engineer and am well-versed in the arts of tinkering and configuration. These days I have no interest in doing either, and (in large part) thanks to Steve, I don’t have to.

Steve Jobs and Apple introduced us to the idea that powerful technology doesn’t have to be complicated, or rife with idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies which just have to be tolerated. The idea that, for the things you do all most of the time with your phone or PC, if you need a manual to know how to use it, well, it’s too complicated. Microsoft has never understood this, and the various UNIXs out there don’t care to. Without the vision and efforts of Steve and the others at Apple we’d all still be  spending a lot more time rebooting, ranting, fumbling and flailing. I’m reminded daily of how glad I am for now doing so little.

I didn’t know Steve, never met him, and–sadly–I never will. But I nonetheless feel close to him, and an odd kind of indebtedness for the ways in which he’s made my life that much easier, more interesting, and more fun.

Rest well, Steve. And thank you.

Beautiful iPad Life

I waited a while before getting an iPad. From the pre-release hype right on through the orgiastic post-launch buying frenzy I kept thinking, “now here’s a device that’s getting waaaay more attention than it deserves.” I mean, let’s face it, the way things are these days Apple could announce an iFlowbee and Mac fans everywhere would be as giddy with excitement as a Japanese schoolgirl queuing for an Arashi concert.

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Registration Proclamation (Or, How do you say “scam” in Chinese?)

auto_salesmanI seem to be seeing more and more of these lately, mostly thanks to them being forwarded by confused and  concerned clients. If you want to get someone’s attention these days you can start by injecting a little FUD into their thinking about their Internet domain name.

Those ever-industrious Chinese have taken this idea and run with it, giving the world yet another high-quality Chinese export, this time delivered by email.

The subject often reads “Registration Proclamation,” and the message looks like this:

Dear CEO,

We are the department of Asian Domain registration service in china, have something to confirm with you. We formally received an application on July 30, 2010. one company which self-styled “West innovation Ltd” were applying to register “domainname” as Network Brand and following domain names:


After our initial checking, we found the brand name were similar to your company’s, so we need to check with you whether your company has authorized that company to register these names. If you authorized this, we will finish the registration at once. If you did not authorize, please let us know within 7 workdays, so that we will handle this issue better. Out of the time limit we will unconditionally finish the registration for “West innovation Ltd”.

Best Regards,

Peter Chang
Senior Consultant
Tel : (+86) 555-1212
Fax : (+86) 555-1212
Address:  Bizpark West
Ningguo Road, Baohe District, HeFei, China

First things first: this is merely an unsavory sales tactic, nothing more. There is absolutely no need to “check with you whether your company has authorized that company to register these names,” and what you’re really looking at is an inducement to pay the sender to register these additional domains. If you get one of these I suggest you simply ignore it. If you want more detail/background have a look at this detailed blog entry on the subject.

Your site without JavaScript. Seen it lately?

With the arrival of JavaScript libraries like jQuery web development has gotten a lot easier. Better still, these tools make it possible to design website user experiences that are simple, intuitive and interesting. Our use of jQuery and MooTools has opened a world of “cool” possibilities and makes our work a lot more interesting. However, as we recently discovered, the use of and reliance on these tools involves a certain degree of risk.

We recently lunched a new, redesigned and much improved website for a Tokyo-based client. This firm’s website has grown over the years–as happens with many businesses–to be its primary tool for customer acquisition and interaction. Web-based forms and a host of back-end systems–most of them browser-based and built by Netwise–handle key business operations such as inquiries, estimate and work requests and the like.

As part of the website redesign process we sought to optimize and refine the customer-facing functions in order to create the most positive user experience possible. We made changes to the information architecture and workflow, improved the design, built in improved error handling, assorted Ajax functions and more. In this critical area we succeeded in realizing significant improvements over the previous version of the site, using the latest tools and practices. But we had a problem.

One of the main jobs of the website is to collect information and documents via a somewhat lengthy form. With the launch of the new site, however, we started seeing a drop in the number of documents that accompanied inquiries. In this area documents are more or less assumed, but now we were getting 5% of inquiries with no attached documents, or about a 300% increase. Something was clearly wrong.

We tested and tested some more, using all of the current browsers and also older ones. We used fast connections and slow ones. We tried big files and small ones, and myriad file types. We could not reproduce the error. We scoured the data from Google Analytics to try and find some clue, a hint as to the cause. We collected information from users who reported problems, tried to reproduce the issue with the same combinations of OS and browser, all to no avail. Frustration mounted.

Finally, one of the team, trying to reproduce the bug reported by phone by a customer moments earlier, decided to try the site at IE’s “High” security setting. And in doing so, he saw the bug for the first time. That simple setting disables JavaScript, and by extension just about all of the new, cool functionality companies like ours use to create useful and interesting websites.

Who browses the web with JavaScript disabled? Nobody, right? According to Google, only 0.75% of users surf with JavaScript off. Why? One reason is that the web can be a pretty barren and forlorn place these days without it. While there are certainly sites that work the same with or without JavaScript, the majority today definitely make extensive use of it as well as frameworks and libraries that rely heavily on it. Nobody would disable it, right? Wrong. In our small sample we saw figures at or around 5%, which is, well, a lot.

Finding these users was especially tricky because–like so many other sites and applications–Google Analytics relies on JavaScript as well, and needs it to collect traffic and usage data. Each visitor that came to the site, and everything they did while there, was essentially hidden from our view.  It was only through more thorough testing that we were able to identify the source of the problem.

The lesson learned in this case is this: jQuery, MooTools, form validation code as well as most client-side behaviors and dynamic functionality all reply on JavaScript. If you’re not testing your websites with it disabled then you really have no idea what a small percentage of your visitors are experiencing while there. Developers and testers are used to working from a matrix of browser and OS combinations, but need to include a “security” dimension in there as well if they’ve not already. Even today, when common sense and experience suggest otherwise, JavaScript can’t and shouldn’t be assumed.

Netwise launches Tokyo’s first wine portal

One of our recent projects is now online and is picking up steam in terms of traffic and membership. Here’s the “official” blurb:

Tokyo has a lot to offer wine lovers.

From world-class restaurants to standing wine bars to the massive retail and online wine trade, Tokyoites have access to an incredible range of not only wines, but wine-related events, education and—of course—wine socializing. However, keeping up with the myriad events and topics of interest to lovers of the vine has been difficult at best. But now that’s all changed, and for the first time Tokyoites have a one-stop, comprehensive resource for keeping up with and getting the most out of the world of wine here in Tokyo.

Welcome to Vinotokyo.

Vinotokyo is a community wine portal that exists with the goal of collecting and sharing wine-related information of interest to Tokyoites. It is the first and only online directory of wine bars and wine-centric restaurants in our vast metropolis, with the first comprehensive calendar of wine events such as tastings, dinners and wine parties.

Here are some of the things you can find or do there:

  • Consult the comprehensive (and growing!) restaurant and wine bar listings to discover new places in and around Tokyo to wine and dine.
  • Read and write reviews of wines, restaurants, wine shops, online stores and just about anything else in our directories.
  • Join the Vinotokyo community and interact with others in our access-protected social network.
  • Have a Facebook account? Login with your Facebook details and skip the registration process completely!
  • Check the event calendar to see what’s happening around town in the world of wine.
  • Submit new listings for your favorite wine spots not yet in the system.
    Join the forums, share tasting notes, recommendations and more.


Ready to get started?

Then either create an account or login with your Facebook
credentials using the Connect with Facebook button.

WPtouch Me

Just discovered this and hot damn is it ever sweet! WPtouch is a theme package/plugin for WordPress that optimizes them for mobile devices like the iPhone and Android. Very fast, clean and cool. Rich control over look-and-feel and other options via a custom Settings screen. Easy to install and activate. What, other than, say, 1980 pop music videos, could be finer?

WPtouch (denbushi | blog)

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