2012-12-28

How to stop the habit of taking a nap on weekday afternoons

I started to take a nap after lunch on Saturdays several years ago, partly in order to supplement lack of sleeping time on weekdays. I usually sleep six hours on weekdays (I go to bed at 23:00 and get at 05:00), but I seem to need seven and a half hours of sleeping daily. When I started the habit of taking a nap on Saturday afternoons, I used to sleep only for one and a half hours, but these days I sleep for three hours.

Gradually I came to allow myself to start this habit on Fridays. Since I started my sabbatical this academic year, I often find it difficult to resist the temptation of taking a nap on weekdays, too if I take lunch at home, which I usually do after the Talmud class at the yeshiva in the morning. So I end up sleeping seven and a half hours when I take a nap after lunch on weekdays.

Taking a nap seems to be a healthy habit, especially in the early afternoon, when our brain becomes less active than in the morning and late afternoon, but it also seems to be a waste of time. Once I finish my sabbatical, this habit will never be an option at all, but I would like to stop it even now so that I may be able to function properly after lunch next year.

So I am racking my brain over how to really stop this seemingly healthy but time-consuming "luxurious" habit of taking a nap on weekday afternoons. There seems to be only one simple solution - to start working at some public library. When I started my sabbatical, I originally planned to take with me a lunch box I would prepare in the morning and go to one of the libraries of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem after the Talmud class at the yeshiva. But because I was too lazy to prepare a lunch box in the morning and did not waste my time taking a bus to and from the library, I found myself returning home directly from the yeshiva, preparing lunch then and, alas, succumbing to the temptation of taking a nap afterward.

But the question remains whether I will be able to start working efficiently after lunch without taking a nap. One (or probably the only) possible compromise or solution is to take the so-called "power nap", which lasts 15-30 minutes. It seems to maximize the benefit of a nap versus time. I can probably use the time of my bus ride from the yeshiva to the university library, which lasts about 15 minutes. Actually, I am reminded now that when I taught at Bar-Ilan University, I often took a nap on my way back to Jerusalem and this was so refreshing.

2012-12-21

Worst mistakes in web accessibility and usability

Surfing the web with a computer that has a smaller screen is like being physically challenged, but not because such a computer has a problem in itself but simply because many websites - I would say more than 90% of those I visit regularly - pay little or no attention to accessibility and usability. Now that I use my new Windows 8 hybrid computer with the display size of 11"6, the web looks totally different physically because of these barely accessible and usable websites.

The very root of many common mistakes made by web authors and especially by web designers in terms of web accessibility and usability is their WYSIWYG mentality as if web publishing were word processing or desktop publishing without understanding what web publishing is all about.

Before I elaborate on the worst mistakes by web authors and web designers, I would like to share with you some of the worst websites in terms of web accessibility and usability among those websites I visit frequently. If the screen of your computer is bigger, let's say, 13", you may not notice any problem. If you have a device with a smaller screen, please visit these sites with it, and you will also understand how problematic they are.

The biggest irony is probably the fact that two popular websites about life hacking, including computer productivity, make all the worst mistakes: Lifehacker, MakeUseOf. A very high concentration of barely accessible and usable websites is found in the category of newspapers and magazines, probably because they cannot think but in terms of print publishing; examples include: Jerusalem Post, Ha'aretz, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Economist, National Geographic Magazine, Scientific American. No less problematic are websites of many research institutions and universities; examples from Israel include: National Library of Israel, Israel Academy of Science and Humanities, Israel Science Foundation, World Union of Jewish Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bar-Ilan University.

Probably the worst mistake as is made in these websites is to specify the width of a webpage and its various parts with an absolute unit of measurement (e.g., 800 pixels) instead of making it "fluid". This unfortunate decision is based on the assumption that all the potential visitors have the standard screen size. But this is less and less true in the age of mobile computing. You can never assume the screen size of any visitor, and making your website with such an assumption seriously harms its accessibility and usability.

The second worst mistake is to use graphics for site navigation. Since the size of images is also specified absolutely, this causes a serious problem in accessibility and usability for the same reason mentioned above.

What really frustrates about these websites is that the average visitor has no way to change their barely legible design. There are some ways to do so, but they are only for computer mavens. Actually I have been trying to apply one of them - a famous Firefox add-on called Stylish - but I have not been successful so far as the above mentioned websites are authored so badly with physical markups that I cannot decipher the structure of pages there, which is a precondition to use this add-on.

What then are truly accessible and usable websites? Unfortunately, they are the minority. Among the websites I visit regularly are W3C, Wikipedia, Wictionary, Microsoft, Windows. I cannot praise them and those who made them more.

Although I do not think this insignificant blog can change the bad practice of many web authors and designers, I would like to share with you four of the most useful online resources for those who want to make their websites truly accessible and usable to all visitors regardless of the size of their respective screen: Web Accessibility Initiative, Mobile Web Initiative, Universal Usability, Web Style Guide. I think that everyone who makes a website, especially if it is of public nature and he or she is a designer by profession, should read them. It goes without saying that they are excellent examples of universally accessible and usable websites.

Of course, it is easier said than done. Here are two of the academic websites I built and maintain, incorporating the advice from the above mentioned four websites: Jewish Language Research Website, Department of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, Bar-Ilan University.

2012-12-14

New Windows 8 hybrid computer

This Sunday I could finally acquire Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro, a new Windows 8 hybrid computer for whose arrival to Israel I had been waiting impatiently for a few months. It has impressed me more than any other Windows 8 hybrid computer I could find on the web. Here are some of my random thoughts about this device itself, Windows 8, preinstalled "Modern UI" applications and how legacy desktop software programs work in this new environment after five days of using them quite intensively.

Ever since I got disappointed with Android tablets in terms of both hardware and software, I have been thinking that the future of mobile computing lies in a hybrid computer that can be both a notebook computer and a tablet, and that with a single operating system. Before I purchased this hybrid computer, I feared that 11.6" might be too small as the size of the display, but I find it big enough thanks to its high resolution and clarity. Although the computer turns out to be a little heavier than I thought both as a notebook computer and as a tablet, it is the lightest and slimmest (but the most powerful) computer I have ever owned. The only thing I am sorry for is that the battery life does not seem to be long enough as I wanted.

Windows 8 is probably the most revolutionary but controversial upgrade in the history of Windows though internally it is only a minor version upgrade from Windows 7. Actually, Windows 8 is quite similar to Windows 7 when it is in the traditional desktop mode. What makes it both revolutionary and controversial is its "Modern UI", which is best experienced with touch interactions instead of a keyboard. In spite of many negative reviews I have read online about "Modern UI", I find it quite sophisticated and comfortable when I use my new computer as a tablet. But I have not found an efficient way of switching between the desktop and "Modern UI" modes yet, and feel as if I had two operating systems on one computer.

The source of the biggest confusion (and complaint) for many users, including myself, is the lack of the "Start" button and menu in the desktop mode. Fortunately, I have already found a number of software solutions. Start8 appealed to me most; I have already purchased and started to use it. This (or some other similar tool) is probably the single most important desktop program for people who are migrating to Windows 8 from an earlier version of Windows. I still wonder why Microsoft had to remove this indespensable function from its new operating system.

Having tried all the preinstalled "Modern UI" applications, I have already come to a conclusion that this UI is meant basically for passive computing. So I have even uninstalled all the preinstalled applications except for four by Microsoft for four main types of my passive computing, i.e., reading ebooks, viewing photos, listening to music and watching videos. Actually the ebook reader by Microsoft called "Reader" was a pleasant surprise to me. It has already become one of my favorite programs, especially when I use my new computer as a tablet, and it will probably remain the single "Modern UI" application I will continue to use on a daily basis.

It did not come as a big surprise that I encountered no problem in installing and running any of the legacy desktop programs I used to use on Windows 7. Because of the small size (and high resolution) of the display I had to change its virtual size to 175%. This has caused serious usability problems with some desktop programs with an old UI which seems to rely heavily on graphics. Among those programs with these problems which I use frequently are LibreOffice and Adobe Reader.

All in all, I am very impressed and satisfied with this new Windows 8 hybrid computer by Samsung and would even recommend it to anyone who is looking for a well-balanced Windows 8 hybrid computer, though it is rather expensive (nearly $1,600 including VAT in Israel). For Windows 8 I have a mixed feeling. Although I think there should be more seamless integration between the desktop and "Modern UI" modes, I fully agree with Microsoft in that the future of mobile computing is to use a single operating system for notebook computers and tablets (as well as smartphones), pace Apple.

2012-12-07

Neglect of physical order and fitness in traditional Jewish culture

The first thing I do every time I arrive at the yeshiva in the morning is to return books other students used and left scattered on the tables in the study hall to the bookshelves and clean these tables they make dirty with spills of coffee and foods. Although this is extremely bothering, I do not intend to ask them to change their behavior; instead, I repeat this Sisyphean labor every morning. This neglect of physical order, which seems widespread not only in our specific yeshiva but in traditional Jewish culture in general, is also enigmatic, for they are supposed to strive to make conceptual order out of the seeming intellectual chaos of the Talmud. I cannot help wondering why lack of physical order does not bother their persuit for conceptual order.

Unfortunately, neglect of physical order seems to be so deeply ingrained in traditional Jewish culture. Generally speaking, the more religious a certain neighborhood or even a whole city is, the dirtier and the less physically orderly it is, as some people who live there themselves have told me. In Israel even many of those who are otherwise far from traditional Jewish culture are also quite "traditional" in this respect. Public libraries suffer from the same neglect of physical order. People scatter books everywhere and do not return them to the shelves after using them.

Another symptom of traditional Jewish culture that is also common even among many of those who are otherwise disconnected from it is neglect of physical fitness. Actually, Jewish sages, including, e.g., Maimonides, stress the importance of physical fitness, but in reality, it is largely neglected. Here again the more religious a person is, the less physically fit he or she is. This is not only because religious people are less likely to engage themselves in regular physical activities (except for eating, of course) and more likely to overeat on Sabbaths and holidays. To serve more than one can eat and be tempted to eat more than one should whenever possible is a sign of culture of poverty, but this culture still lingers in Israeli society, which has become quite affluent.

In the past two weeks I could neither run nor swim because I had caught cold and did not feel physically strong enough. Even after only two weeks of lack of these regular physical activities I could feel some physical changes in my body. The biggest change is felt both externally and internally in the buttocks. Actually, the buttocks are the body part that shows more than any other body parts whether someone is engaged in any regular physical activity or not. I have also wondered what happens to someone who has been neglecting their physical fitness all their life by not doing any physical activity regularly except for eating, and unfortunately, there are many people like this in Israel, especially among the religious but also amonth the secular under the influence of traditional Jewish culture.

There is and should be no contradiction between Judaism and physical order and fitness, but I am afraid that it will take a long time until the majority of the people in Israeli society start thinking more about physical order and fitness and behaving accordingly.