Garrity’s Law of Icon Metaphors

A rule of thumb I try to use when looking for visual metaphors for actions or elements in an interface:

If an element does not have an obvious visual metaphor, then it should not have an icon.

I’m also working on a law that governs how to name laws after oneself, but I don’t have a good name for it yet.


Firefox 3.5

Firefox 3.5 icon

As with every major release of Firefox since 1.0, I’ve had the privilege of working with Mozilla on their website updates for the new Firefox 3.5 release.

If you care about web browsers, you already know why it’s awesome, and if you don’t care about web browsers, all you need to know is that it’s better.

Even though there are loads of significant new features (audio/video, downloadable fonts, big performance improvements), my favourite feature so far is stupidly simple. When you View Source on a page, you can now click on the links to CSS and JavaScript files to view them right in the source viewer. This had made my life 0.000.1% better, which isn’t bad for a web browser.


Boring But Delightful Standards

I’ve written before about the boring but delightful benefits of standards. Another such standard is emerging in Europe this month. Most major mobile phone manufacturers have signed on to support a standard phone charger for mobile phones in the European Union. Such a grand display of common-sense is unusual and is to be applauded.

The Mini-USB charging port on my mobile phone is just about the only thing I like about it (other than it having lasted for three years so far). When travelling, one USB cable can power my phone and transfer photos from my camera to my laptop.


Captcha’s Used Against Us With Comic Results

Nasty Spam Captcha image

I’ve always been bothered by the idea behind captchas (those weird looking things you have to type in to create an account on some sites). I resent that they make us, the good guys, prove that we’re good guys (or that we’re human, in this case). I feel the same way about having to lock my car, but after being repeatedly robbed, I have given up on that ideal. I’ve even had to use captchas on a few systems I’ve worked with myself (and I’m particularly proud of the catchpa on

The reasons captchas are bad have been well explained by people smarter than myself. I’m no fan of spam, but I find myself oddly delighted to see spammers using the very technology developed to limit spam, to actually defeat spam-prevention systems. Recent spam emails have been including captcha-like images that are presumably intended to confuse spam-detection systems.

Oh, and the images are cartoon penises. Hold your mouse over (or click on) the grey image to see the delightfully horrifying image I received in my inbox.

Note: I’ve obscured the image by default not because of prudish sensibilities, but because I just couldn’t have those little guys staring at me from my own weblog.


Chronic Belonging

When I was in grade school, I was in a Church youth group. The group was interesting and fun, and I was able to really feel a part of it. I took comfort in belonging to such a group. My response was to jump in with both feet. If there was a related event, activity, or group, I was always a part of it.

This was the first of what would become a string of attachments to groups that would span much of my life.

A sense of belonging to something, anything, seems to be a basic human need. Even when the thing to which we belong is negative, the belonging itself can feel like a positive. While the need to belong is not necessarily a bad thing, I have found myself to have suffered from a chronic need to belong, often to the exclusion of anything else.

As I entered university, my new fix for belonging came from a band. There were only three of us, but I would have practiced every night if it were up to me. Of course, the music was a draw and it was a fun to create something, but what always pushed me was the need to belong.

Later in life, I came to belong to a new type of group. This time it was a legal entity; a corporation. Of course, it was much more than that; it was a group of peers building something together. Again, I wanted to belong, and as always, I wanted to belong as much as I could.

This worked well for quite a while, as the founding partners were all at a similar stage in life were such a venture really could be their primary focus. When your need to belong to something is this strong, though, it can be troubling when another member finds something else more important than the group. When some of the partners chose to focus on travel or education, even though it was almost always beneficial, this struck at my basic need to belong to the group. How could someone not want to be completely focused on this?

Ed Robertson of the group the Barenaked Ladies spoke in an interview about how deeply he was affected by the departure of one of their founding members during the midst of their early success. I can’t find the quote (it was a TV interview), but Robertson spoke of how it shook his view of what was important to see a member of this thing that was so important to him just walk away from it.

I write about this now because I can understand it in hindsight. That is to say, it’s behind me. I’m still a member of the company we founded almost ten years ago. It is still an important part of my life. However, it is no longer the most important thing in my life, nor do I feel the need to immerse myself completely in it. No longer do the choices of fellow company founders shake my faith in the value of the group.

It’s also easy to understand the origins of this need to belong once you are able to step outside of it. From this vantage point, it’s clear that the need comes, at least in part, from the comfort of sharing values and goals with others. As long as you’re not the only one living your life in a particular way, you can find security in knowing others have made the same choice. Even if it turns out to be a mistake, at least it’s a mistake you’ll make in good company, rather than alone.

Moving beyond this chronic need to belong seems to require a sense of self-confidence. You need to know that you can make good choices even when others make different, or even contrary, choices. It also helps to know that there are some groups to which you will always belong. Having a family of my own now seems to have given me much more security in this regard. I will always be, by definition, a member of my own family.

I finally find myself able to be a part of something, without having to immerse myself completely in it.



The talented Brad, of Brad Sucks, has released a cover of Heart and Soul by Huey Lewis and the News. In addition to being a fan of Brad’s music, I have a special weakness for Huey Lewis and the News. Their 1986 album Fore! was the first cassette I ever bought.

Soon after I bought it, I dropped the cassette case on our cottage porch and and it cracked. I was heart-broken. I switched the case with my parents’ Peter, Paul, & Mary cassette and they were none-the-wiser. It haunts me to this day.


HTML/CSS Web Design/Development Position (UPDATED)

UPDATE: We’re set for this position now – thanks.

My second home and second family, silverorange, is looking for a talented and motivated person proficient with HTML, CSS, and the general tools of web design.

  • A deep understanding of effective, attractive, usable, and standards-based HTML/CSS-based design and layout is required.
  • The position is full-time but temporary (June through December) and dedicated to a particular client.
  • Location is not an issue, but being within the North American time-zones would help.
  • A demonstrable body of work is a requirement – we can’t judge your skill-set over the phone.
  • Communication and writing abilities are key – you’ll be in frequent and direct contact with the client.

If you meet these requirements and are interested, email your information and some links to some of your work to (no phone calls please). UPDATE: We’re set for this position now – thanks.


Staring at the Sun

These photos of the space shuttle Atlantis passing in front of the Sun are astounding.

Photo of Atlantis passing the Sun by Thierry Legault


Proof It to Me

I’ve noticed that my lovely wife has an interesting process when composing email. She actually reads what she’s written before she sends it. It goes something like this:

  1. Write the email
  2. Proofread it
  3. Send it

This is in contrast to my technique:

  1. Write the email
  2. Send it

I wonder how my life would be different if I actually read my emails before I sent them.


Fancy Firefox 3.5 Demo

We made a cool tech demo of some new Video features from the upcoming Firefox 3.5 (which is required to view the demo, of course).

Ambient Video PreviewView the Demo(Firefox 3.5 beta required)