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WDN Roundup

November 27

So there are a few pieces of WDN news that we wanted to put out there. I'll make this quick, cause I wouldn't want you to miss ’em by skipping an overly long post:

  • The most urgent news is that our early discount ends Friday November 30th at midnight. As of December 1st, the registration price is our full and final price. If you're thinking of coming, you might be wise to get in on the discounted price and pocket the difference. (Which is basically an extra day at Whistler...) (see the update below)
  • In speaker news, last week we quietly added Douglas Crockford to our lineup. If you're doing anything with Ajax, this is a talk you're not going to want to miss.
  • And finally, in sponsor news, both Media Temple and Microsoft are already on board for 2008. You might remember Media Temple's blowout closing party from last year? Get ready for the sequel. And those of us at Whistler were thrilled to use the Garibaldi Lift Company as a home base and filling station thanks to Microsoft's great support. We're doing that again too.

Things are shaping up, we're almost done adding events and speakers, but stay tuned, there's even more yet to be announced.

Update: we've decided to extend the discount an extra week, so you've got till this Friday to get in on the early price.

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Babble

November 15

One of the odd quirks of running a site available in multiple languages is that I receive email in a language other than English from time to time. Not often, but with enough frequency that it's something I've had to think about.

Short of learning the language, there's no sound way to deal with these messages. Babelfish is notoriously bad for anything beyond simple word translations. But with a bit of effort, and reasonably intelligent parties on both ends of the inbox, it can kinda-sorta work. Here are a couple of quick things I've tried doing to help preserve the meaning of my message.

  • I use short sentences, and simple English words, avoiding slang entirely. I try not to flex my vocabulary skills or write highly structured prose that requires an English major to decipher. I also used to avoid contractions, but it seems like most translators know how to deal with those, and I'd imagine that purposefully joining two words together could lead to less ambiguity for the translator. (ie. there's no need to ask "does that 'not' belong to 'is not' or 'not mine'"?)

  • I run my own words through Babelfish. If any English words remain in the output, I try and re-write to use synonyms instead. This one is particularly frustrating for the person on the other end, because they'd likely turn to Babelfish as well, and I've just demonstrated it can't translate those words. They might be able to figure out my intent in context, but given grammar differences between languages, I wouldn't rely on it.

    On the other hand, not all languages have their own words for things, and some simply use English words instead. How do I know which is which? I usually don't.

  • Speaking of grammar, without knowing the language I can't adequately fake its sentence structure. English words fall in a particular order, but that order doesn't necessarily make sense in other languages. I can get a hint of how different they are by translating my words to the language and then translating that result back to English, which sometimes gives me clues on how to re-phrase my sentence.

    Here are a couple of quick round trips I did from English to Dutch and then back again:

    Yes. You have my permission to use a screenshot of the site.
    Ja. U hebt mijn toestemming om een screenshot van de plaats te gebruiken.
    Yes. You have to my authorisation use screenshot of.
    Yes. I grant permission to use a screenshot of the website.
    Ja. Ik verleen toestemming om een screenshot van de website te gebruiken.
    Yes. I grant authorisation to use screenshot of the Internet site.

    The first time tells me that "you have my" isn't translating as well as I'd like, and the usage of "site" seems to be problematic. By changing them around, I get a result that seems to make more sense after coming back to English, and one that Faruk tells me is a passable Dutch translation to boot.

    Not to say it will always work that way, but with a bit of extra effort it does seem possible to create sentences that retain your intent.

After all this though, it's still tempting to consider explicitly stating I used Babelfish for translations to, you know, avoid sparking international incidents.

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Detect This

November 12
Browser error message

Reason #429 why your browser detection script needs to be trashed.

On Greg's say-so, I thought I'd check out the Starbucks card designer. Mixing up my morning coffee with creative UI design seemed like a winning combo.

After waiting a couple of seconds through an unskippable Flash intro (who still does this?!), I found the button to "Get Started".

Except rather than actually doing that, I was stopped dead in my tracks by an error message that my "Browser version does not meet minimum requirements".

I'm using Camino, which is of course functionally similar to Firefox. If they were testing for features rather than parsing browser strings, I wouldn't have received this message. So even though it's entirely likely my browser of choice is capable of treating the site the same as Firefox, they've locked me out. No "I know I'm living on the edge, let me continue anyway" link in sight.

Normally when sites do this to me, I can happily live without their service and just go somewhere else. Today I happened to have Safari loaded at the time and I was still curious, so I dumped the URL into the address bar. Another browser, another error message.

Keep in mind that Safari was listed as a supported browser. This error message tells me I don't have cookies enabled. Except, I do. Suspecting a frame, I viewed source which revealed that the white area is pulling a page from an extrenal site into a frame that presumably runs the card creation app. (Who still does this?!)

The actual issue stems from the fact that Safari allows me to specify if I want to accept cookies with the options "Always", "Never", and "Only from sites I navigate to". The latter is clearly the only sane choice for users who stop to think about it (and for all I know, it could be Safari's default behaviour). So the framed third-party application was denied cookie access, and clearly they have no fallback position for cookies being disabled. And I was shut out once again.

Okay, so what can we learn from all this? Your browser detection script better not be testing for specific versions of specific browsers, because there are too many out there, and they'll all (finally) updating rapidly enough that your script will be out of date in months.

If you absolutely 100% cannot launch without some sort of message to users who choose a different browser than you've tested in, do not lock them out. Throw up a warning message to cover your bases. I, the crazy non-standard browser user, can take it. But let me proceed anyway. This is literally 5 seconds worth of work, what justification is there for not including a link that will let me do it?

The cookie problem is a bit more complicated to tackle, especially for a third party service provider, but we do know about server-side sessions and APIs now. There are ways around it.

Otherwise, you're just foiling your copywriter:

Error message in Camino

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