Web Form Design Best Practices

It was not a very sexy title for a Tech Talk. But i was curious and it turned out to be an interesting talk. Little things that used to seem (to me) just a pure style preference actually would make a big difference in user experiences.

Luke Wroblewski is a free lance web designer and he worked on multiple redesigns for Yahoo and E-Bay. So he had real world data to back him up.

Here are a few things that I found interesting from his talk:

1. Top, Left, Right Aligned Form Labels
Top aligned form layout is the fastest. User takes the least amount of time to fill these up. So it is best for simple/familiar informations. If you want user to stop and think when filling out the form, then depends on how much time you want the user to take, use either Left Aligned (Slowest) or Right Aligned (in between of Top aligned and Left aligned)

2. Identify optional versus required fields
Minimize the special mark and notations to indicate a field is optional or required. So if there are more required fields than optional, then mark the optional field instead. Keep all the special mark in one vertical line (end of the input field box on the right, for example) so user can single out all the different fields in one glance

Leave out optional field all together. Don’t make it harder for users, no one likes filling out forms in the first place, keep it short.

3. Form Flow
Try to imitate real life conversations, for example, if you go in to the bank to ask for a loan, the clerk will engage you in a conversation first, why do you need a loan, what kind of loan, etc. He won’t start by asking for your name, gender, userid, etc.
Take a look at Yahoo’s new Sign in page for some idea on how people are adapting to this new approach.

And here is the complete presentation in pdf format: Best Practices for Web Form Design

Why is MSN so popular in China?

I’ve often wondered how did MSN become so popular in China all of sudden.

One example to look to is Microsoft, where its MSN China site is a joint venture with Shanghai Alliance Investment, a major city investment firm run by Jiang Mianheng, son of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Microsoft’s China business mainly took off after that particular partnership was forged, Yu noted.

via The Reuters

So that is why! :O

Leonard Cohen

I liked The Street from Leonard Cohen when i heard it on NPR earlier this year. As mentioned then that i didn’t find more of his poems that i liked. But after reading this interesting review from Orpheus: Poet with a poor voice, he quoted the lyrics of Joan of Arc that i really like. So I found some more interesting lyrics on-line: The best of Leonard Cohen. Note to self, when searching for good stuff in the future, try append “Best of” to the query. 🙂

Joan Of Arc

Now the flames they followed Joan of Arc
as she came riding through the dark;
no moon to keep her armour bright,
no man to get her through this very smoky night.
She said, “I’m tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
a wedding dress or something white

to wear upon my swollen appetite.”
Well, I’m glad to hear you talk this way,
you know I’ve watched you riding every day
and something in me yearns to win
such a cold and lonesome heroine.
“And who are you?” she sternly spoke
to the one beneath the smoke.
“Why, I’m fire,” he replied,
“And I love your solitude, I love your pride.”

“Then fire, make your body cold,
I’m going to give you mine to hold,”
saying this she climbed inside
to be his one, to be his only bride.
And deep into his fiery heart
he took the dust of Joan of Arc,
and high above the wedding guests
he hung the ashes of her wedding dress.

It was deep into his fiery heart
he took the dust of Joan of Arc,
and then she clearly understood
if he was fire, oh then she must be wood.
I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
but must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?

Bird on the Wire

Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If I, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you.

Like a baby, stillborn,
like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
and by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”

Oh like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

So Long Marianne

Come over to the window, my little darling,
I’d like to try to read your palm.
I used to think I was some kind of Gypsy boy
before I let you take me home.
Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Well you know that I love to live with you,
but you make me forget so very much.
I forget to pray for the angels
and then the angels forget to pray for us.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

We met when we were almost young
deep in the green lilac park.

You held on to me like I was a crucifix,
as we went kneeling through the dark.

Oh so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now.
Then why do I feel alone?
I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web
is fastening my ankle to a stone.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

For now I need your hidden love.
I’m cold as a new razor blade.
You left when I told you I was curious,
I never said that I was brave.

Oh so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

Oh, you are really such a pretty one.
I see you’ve gone and changed your name again.
And just when I climbed this whole mountainside,
to wash my eyelids in the rain!

Oh so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began ..

A Day of Cello

Yesterday’s glorious sunshine was replaced with calm gray. A cloudy but still crisp day, if that’s possible.

As I walked into the cool autumn afternoon, Jacqueline du Pré’s Dvorak Cello Concerto came on in my headphone. Her passionate play matched so well with the overcast. The originally gloomy air suddenly seemed to be emotionally charged with energy. The entire bus ride to downtown was turned into a whirlwind journey. Humans are genius at creating something as beautiful, varied, and inspiring as classical music. I was so reluctant to turn it off as I got to the shopping center.

Came home as the dusk faded away, I started listening to Janos Starker’s Bach Suites for Solo Cello. This music was so rich and massive, it made me feel warm in the evening chill, warm and happy (okay, i didn’t get to Suite #2 then).

Drinking hot chocolate and finished listening to the rest of Bach Suites for Solo Cello during the evening. Then moved on to happier music given to me by Matthew – “Altre Folie” a bunch of early music from 1500-1750, performed on old instruments, performed by Jordi Savall‘s ensemble HESPERION XXI. It contains music from a wide range of geographic regions, including Peru(!), England, and of course Vivaldi. The night is still young, the night sky is still clear, there is a half moon shining down onto the peaceful city. Where is the rain?

Clicking on the album cover above you get to the detailed description of what a Folia is. A form of a dance music originated in Portugal’s country side, and often performed on Viol (viola da gamba, the ancient form of Cello). I’m not sure if any of the music in this album is performed on Viol, maybe it is all on on modern day violin?

For anyone who is interested in viol itself, check out this movie “Tous les matins du monde” (All the Mornings of the World). It is about a famous viola da gamba player Monsieur de Sainte Colombe. The movie strongly resembles Barry Lyndon‘s mannerism and cinematography. But the story is simpler and worth seeing. Many music was played on the ancient viola da gamba throughout the movie. Jordi Savall and his ensemble did all the music adaptation and performing for the movie.

Enough cello for one day. 🙂

Climbing Nutcracker Suite, June 16, 2001

I found this in my journal last night. I was amazed at myself had been able to pull this off then. I doubt I would ever be in that good a shape again. Thought I should transcript it here so Gui and M could maybe get excited of trying Nutcracker on their own? 🙂

========================
July 16, 2001 Saturday, Yosemite

We did it. 🙂
After all these planning & anxiety, we climbed nutcracker, in 5.5 hours, from 8:30am to 2pm. 5 pitches, 600 feet.

8am.
It was already hot to stand in the sun. We drove passed camp 4 on our way to this picnic areas in three brothers. The camp was bustling with activity already. I was worried there might be a line up at nutcracker. There were a few cars in the parking lot, two 30ish guys were sorting through their climbing gears.

We took 3.5 liters of water, 2 cans of liquid food and all the multi-gran, beef jerky, camera, headlamp, one rope, all the slings except the longest one, all the biners and all but one quick-draw, and the route map. C took his hiking books, i took my sandals. We stuffed all the water, food, and footwear into the backpack that i would be carrying. C took the slings, biners, and all the quickdraws.

When we got to the bottom of the route, there were 2 backpacks by the tree. We assumed one party was ahead of us. They were on at least the 2nd pitch by then because we couldn’t see them.

We put on our climbing shoes and insects repellent. The mosquitoes were still out in full force in the shade.

First Pitch

It was “crescent shaped lieback,” “clean rock”. C was panting loudly on the top. I yelled, “Hard?” “No! Not bad at all.” But he was panting, how come? I was soon to find out.

C climbed over the top of the lieback section, disappeared.

I felt the full weight of 3.5L of water on my back. I had to figure out the best way to use the lieback section. Very soon I understood C’s panting. It was extremely demanding. I had to stop a few times just to catch my breath. I soon learned the trick to keep going. Stop and go was way more tasking on my arms then keep going. At the top of the crescent rock, the continuous bomber hand crack disappeared. I fumbled and fell. C got me, he yelled over “after the 2 bad hand holds is another bomber.” he was right and I was over the top and I saw him smiling down on me.

He sat on a fat ledge, clipped in. We switched belay, he’s off again.

Second Pitch

2nd pitch was the “easy walk” in the guide book. I had trouble feeding him slack fast enough. he was soon on belay. I couldn’t see him. By then I was very rested. That little bit of doubt in my mind during the 1st pitch vanished. I followed the rope up. It was a very gradual climb. I won’t call it a walk, but it’s definitely an easy climb.

The 2nd belay station was on a flat rocky platform, surrounded by the grand view of the valley, very exposed, but secure and roomy. We drank our 2nd can of liquid food, took pictures of each other. C climbed on. The 1st step was a super exposed horizontal move onto the rock outside of the platform, watching C leading away, his body hanging on the edge of the granite, the valley spread underneath him, and the rocky spirals standing around us, I felt grand and happy.

Sidenote: we had a glimpse of the party ahead of us on the 2nd belay station. Their second was waiting for his turn. We thought we were making good speed. We also saw another party approaching when I was on the 2nd belay station belaying C, who was on the 3rd pitch.

Third Pitch

3rd pitch was crack/face climbing. It was almost eventless, I could recall very little details. The crack was slippery. I was again tired at the top. Seeing C’s face always gave me assurance and making me more aware of my fatigue. There was a small traverse. I was begging to rest on the rope, C asked me to rest AFTER the traverse so I won’t have to weight on the next protection.

It was amazing that I could always master up more strength even when I thought I was completely spent.

3rd belay station was a hanging belay, very narrow and uncomfortable. Our rope was falling away. C was off for the 4th pitch after carefully removing the waterbottle from my pack and we both drank some. Careful because we didn’t want anything to fall down 300 feet below us. While we were drinking our water, we could see the next party was at 2nd belay station right below us. They were FAST!

Pretty soon the leader of the next party was up at 3rd belay station, too. he went to the left of me to set up his own belay station at the tree. They waited for us while C was up. The lead gave C some beta, that he needed to get up higher till he used up all our rope!

Fourth Pitch

It was the longest pitch. The rock just started burning my hand while I was on the 3rd pitch, but now there was a breeze. Under the natural sling horn, there was water sipping out of the rock as if the rock was sweating with me. My toes were slowly melting away under the black robber sole of my shoes.

I couldn’t hear or see C. I felt the rope tense and then slacking off. I guessed C had to traverse and downclimb, which worried me. I thought he must be in trouble, and there was nothing I could do.

After the longest time, I was getting sick of listening to the obnoxious second belittling women in general next to me, C yelled down at me to climb. I was so relieved.

The 1st part was very exposed on the edge, there was hardly any hold on the smooth rock surface. I was seriously scared to death. Secretly, I was praying to God, or whoever out there cared to listen, I wasn’t being specific, please please let me get through this. I promise I won’t put myself in this situation ever again. I thought C was offroute cuz it was the kind of route in the gym that RZ would have set, tiny finger crunching holds.

I was relieved when I arrived at the crux, because I was no longer exposed.

I fell! The protection/rope held. The leader from the waiting party told me to try put my left foot in the crack then pull myself over.

I tried three more time, fell, fell, and fell again.

“You can do it.” The leader said.

I leaned my head to the rock, smelled the rusty surface, feeling the sun on my back. “I can do this, just do it. don’t dwell!”
Slowly I inched up, my feet (forgot which one) was in the crack and I actually stood up.

Holding onto the rock right above the crux, I felt so exhausted. I broke the skin of my right index finger, it’s bleeding profusely. Left some bloody finger prints on the rock.

The crack was clean and solid. One good hold after another. I concentrated on one step at a time, off I went. It was a breeze. Tiring yet breezy.

4th belay station was a fat ledge. I was filled with bliss. I made it! As if from a near death experience. I remember vividly when i was traversing on that exposed ledge at the beginning of this (4th) pitch, how scared I was how I kept on reminding myself don’t look down don’t look down. Even when I was looking down to check on a foot hold, I filtered out all the peripheral vision of the valley, concentrating on the rock surface, mentally I forced myself to see nothing but the rock surface.

Sitting at the belay station, the ledge felt so secure and welcoming, knowing that we were 1/5 away from the top. We happily drank up our 1st large bottle of water. “One mouthful of water” was all that I had been craving for while climbing this pitch. It felt so good when the water flowing down my sizzling throat. Sitting on the ledge, admiring the valley spread beneath us, it was like a dream. Hanging off the rock side, flying seemed such a plausible possibility right there and then.

Fifth Pitch

I watched C pulled off THE CRUX of the entire nutcracker. That infamous 5.8 mantle. He did it nicely. After that, all i could hear was the wind. All I could feel was the rope tensing and slacking.

Maybe my anxiety made it seem a long wait. Eventually I heard a joyful scream from the top… 🙂

The mantle move eluded me. I fell over three times. Afraid of sprain my ankle. Eddy, the leader from the other party was also a Yosemite Mountaineering School climbing guide, told me to pull on the pro that he had asked Cam to place there. I did and it held. It was the blue alien everyone on the climbing bbs talked about. I wanted to get to the top, I didn’t mind cheating a little, better than a broken ankle! 🙂

Seeing C again was like seeing the face of an angel. I was so happy. He smiled at me, “A hermit crab!” I smiled back, had no idea what he was talking about. “Jean, when you are in a comfortable position, I will feed you my end of the rope, hook the backpack to the rope, so i can take a picture of you. You look awesome from here!”

I couldn’t care less about the picture, or the view. I just wanted to get to the top and drink some water and not have to move. But I had no energy to argue. I got to the tree, clipped myself in, tied the backpack to the rope he fed me, he lifted the pack up.

I could see Royal Arch and Half dome in the early afternoon haze, they looked lazy and shiny.

So we did it.

At the top, C confessed he was very scared quite a few times, said it was a more sustained and demanding lead than his first lead in Arizona. He said I looked like a hermit crab when I surfaced on the last pitch, carrying that GIANT backpack (by then it had all the gears i cleaned after him, as well as his boots, my sandals, and half our water).

Descend

Descend was treacherous. My sandals were not good with slippery steep hills, and the top was quite exposed and we weren’t clip in anything! I was glad we were descending in broad daylight.

We rested a couple of times in the shade. Thank god we had one last bottle of water for the descend. All that heavy load finally paid off! C also said that every time when he reached a belay station, he so wanted some water but the water was with me so he had to wait. hehe.

In the parking lot, we fished out the last 2 can of soda from the cooler in the trunk. It stayed cool! Was like juice from heaven. We stopped by Merced River for a dip. Icy cold water. I was happy, content, and very very tired. El Capitan was massive, sitting right in front of us. I knew I would never think of climbing that thing from now on.

The Fun of Climbing

Haven’t climbed for over a year. After i kept up with running for a couple of months, i started miss climbing.

Went with Gui and M to Planet Granite a week and a half ago. I was a very depressing sight. So out of shape and out of practice. Gui said that i had stopped trusting the hold and my own ability.

Today we went again and the fun of climbing started to return to me. There were moments on the wall that I suddenly remembered why i loved it so much six years ago when i just started climbing. And Gui was right. My muscle memories are still intact. My body still remembers how to climb. It is the mental fear that I had conquered before that are now taking over. There were moves my limbs still remembered how to make, but my mental condition dared not to give the green light. There were moments my physical moves surprised me, as if my arms and legs were so impatient they didn’t want to wait for a “go” signal and just went on their own. Surprised the hell out of me.

My arms are heavy like led now. So tired, i could barely lift it to finish typing this paragraph. But it was fun. I should start climbing more often. Maybe getting the lunch pass back? and go bouldering on my own at lunch time? I will think about it.

Rainy Day

Forecast has predicted chillier weather and rain on Saturday all week.
Yesterday was actually sunny and relatively warm. So i was a little skeptical about the forecast.

Today I woke up to a warm and cloudy morning. I decided for a run, first time since i came back from vacation. It was such a gentle and warm morning, despite the cloudy sky. It felt cozy like a comfy sweater on an autumn day. The air wrapped you around, reminded me of the title of a Fitzgerald novel “Tender is the night”, although it wasn’t the night yet. The mood was fitting.

Came back from the run, i rested it a bit, talked to Gui about our plan for the day, checked out movie schedules on line, and reported to her the weather in the city “threating to rain but could go either way”. Then i went in the kitchen and made breakfast for myself, as i was sitting down to eat by the kitchen window, i suddenly realized it has started raining. The very very quiet kind of of rain, densely woven rain threads, the sky and surrounding still looked clear but moist. I could barely make out the slightly slanted rain tracks against our white painted exterior walls.

It made me a little sentimental. Slowly I finished breakfast, started thinking of writing a blog entry of all the good conversations I’ve had. Counting them out like Eugénie Grandet counting out his gold coin each evening…

Godwin’s Law

Heard of Godwin’s Law for the first time today:

On newsgroup and internet discussion thread, whenever “Nazi” or “Hitler” is brought up, “the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically “lost” whatever debate was in progress.”

Haha, we should apply this on all Chinese BBS! Could’ve saved so many wasted bits and bytes.

New Yorker Articles: Chocolate, Classical Music, and a Historian

Among the first things that Gui asked me since i came back from China was whether i have read the article on Chocolate in the New Yorker. I finally got around to finish reading the article: Notes of a Gastronome, “Extreme Chocolate,” by Bill Buford. Too bad there is only an “Abstract” online. The article is quite fascinating, especially the part about what a fresh chocolate “fruit” tastes like: honey, citrus and perfume. Here is also a slide show of the chocolate plantations they visited in South America: Food of the Gods.

As if to enhance the reading experience, we surveyed the chocolate section in a Whole Foods store while we were waiting to get in a restaurant for dinner. On Sunday we discovered the Argentinian icecream place we loved on Fillmore has been replaced by a chocolate shop. We couldn’t really complain cuz the chocolate shop sported four full shelves of exotic chocolate bars, among them there was some very interesting flavored ones such as: Szechuan Pepper, Spicy chicken, and celery (those are three different kinds of chocolates, just to be clear).

The description of each chocolate bar starts to resemble the descriptions we saw in wine shops, full of phrashes such as “a hint of blahblah note” and “such and such after taste”.

But somehow i can’t be too cynical about this “chocolate movement”. Not only because i love chocolate, but also because Matthew couldn’t resist the temptation of a “Szechuan Pepper” chocolate bar and we all ended up having the pleasure of tasting it in the evening. Sure enough, there really IS an after-taste! the szechuan pepper numbing taste in that bar! wow!

A few other interesting articles from recent issues of the New Yorker:
The Well-tempered WebThe Internet may be killing the pop CD, but it’s helping classical music. by Alex Ross (Issue October 22, 2007)
The Age of Reason (Abstract), Jacques Barzun at one hundred, by Arthur Krystal (Issue October 22, 2007)