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Popup windows OK for people with lousy browsers

Gotta say I’m agreeing strongly with Jakob’s findings in regard to ‘non-web’ documents in the web browser. Users are accustomed to a different set of controls —a different user agent altogether— when dealing with PDFs, Word documents, or spreadsheets, and are easily startled when these formats are displayed in the browser window as if they were ‘just another web page’. Web page goes in web browser, PDF goes in Acrobat, Word document goes in Word. Who would mess with something that simple? Well, Adobe and Microsoft would. Go figure.

The solution? Pop these non-web-natives open in a new window with minimal chrome, so when the user hits the ‘X’ button instead of ‘Back’ (believing they’re in a specialized program, not the web browser) they won’t lose their original browser window. It makes sense. The sad part is that this is a guideline created to work around somebody else’s colossally stupid design decision: namely the decision to view PDFs, Word documents, and spreadsheets in the browser window at all. But don’t worry: if you aren’t using Internet Explorer, chances are you aren’t suffering this lousy design.

…which is where the guideline falls flat on its ass.

Using Firefox —or any non-IE browser, really— clicking a link to a .doc file will download the file, not view it. So if, thanks to Nielsen’s handiwork, my clicking pops open a new window just to facilitate this downloading, I’m going to be unhappy. And with everyone well aware of what my stance is toward Internet Explorer, you can tell I don’t give a fig if its users get a lousy user experience. They’re already getting one, ignore the guideline.

This whole ‘view it in the browser instead of a dedicated app’ business is something Mac OS X browsers have been blessedly free of, at least until 10.4, when inline PDF viewing became a ‘feature’ of Safari. Curses. By cutting out the middleman, Apple has saved Joe User from complications like a toolbar, a paginated preview drawer, the ability to search the document, keyboard shortcuts like zoom, and many more. Oy.

Thankfully this can be overcome with a little Terminal work to restore Safari’s PDF-handling to its former sensible state:

defaults write WebKitOmitPDFSupport -bool YES

God bless hidden preferences.


Coming from a country whose natural wonders are basically all it has (forgive me Jørn), whose original inhabitants were still patting themselves on the back for eliminating the continent’s megafauna before boatloads of Europeans arrived to massacre them, and whose modern culture is a pretty vulgar imitation of America’s own cultural train wreck, a city like Rome is a mind-bending experience. Thousands of years of history and hundreds of years of literary and cinematic expectations suddenly crystalized in a very real, very tangible collection of buildings and people and plazas; a city literally built for exploration and adventure. It’s incredible. And it lives up to the hype.

As the penultimate stop of our world tour and the last in a non–English-speaking country, Rome was something of a last hurrah for us. Knowing we were booked to spend the following week in London with friends —about as close to home as you can get anywhere else in the world— Rome became, at least in our minds, the end. We were getting homesick and we were way overblown on our budgets, but we needed to see the Empire’s crowning glory first. In particular, we needed to do our own Angels and Demons tour of Rome, since we’d all gone Dan-Brown-crazy over the course of the trip.

For those who haven’t read it, Angels and Demons is pretty typical Brown fare; it isn’t bad, just formulaic, but over all remains a decent holiday read. Robert Langdon traipses around Rome solving a thousand-year-old riddle that takes him through all manner of well-known (and not-so-well-known) Roman landmarks: the Pantheon, Chigi Chapel, St Peter’s Square, the Vatican, Santa Maria della Vittoria (housing the Ecstasy of St Theresa), the Fountain of the Four Rivers at Piazza Navona, and finally… Castle St. Angelo. We followed in his fictional footsteps, noting discrepancies along the way, and had quite a time of it. What can I say? We’re dorks.

The Vatican was, shall we say… disappointing. I’m not real big on frescoes, and I’m even less impressed by herds of unappreciative gawkers trampling through hallways in a manner completely hostile to stopping and looking, but such is life. The Sistine Chapel was impressive, but again… frescoes. The remainder of the sights (as above, plus Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the ruins, and Circus Maximus) were a delight, and ones I would gladly see all over again.

Loud and enthusiastic recommendations from a friend who had been to Italy with his girlfriend the summer before said there were plenty of great pub crawls to be done, particularly the Colosseum Pub Crawl — starting, oddly enough, right outside the Colosseum. We took his word for it, obviously, and matched the right flyer to the right pub crawl (there are dozens spanning the entire city, every night of the week, it’s incredible) before donning our now-overworn fancy pants and shirts… shellacking our hair as is the custom of our people. On approach, the sky was dark but for the amphitheater’s lit arches, and we found five or six strangers of various nationalities drinking beer and chatting amongst themselves. Obviously pub crawls aren’t real big business in the dead of winter, but a fresh case of beer and a few bottles of wine made the night shine with promise.

Things became kinda blurry right after that. Our tall, thin, Nigerian guide (name forgotten) knew how to drink, and he knew his way around Rome in the dark, so it was comforting to know he was in charge. Riding buses with beers in hand in lieu of tickets would probably be more cause for concern if he hadn’t given us his sage advice, “if the guy comes to check tickets, just follow my lead. If I’m off the bus already, it’s too late”. If I could tell you which bars we went to, I would. Every now and then we’d spot a familiar landmark, but we were ultimately at the mercy of our gracious host. Walking home at four in the morning without him: not so cool.

The remainder of the time we spent in Rome was a blur. Scotty and Jimmy decided to ‘pop over’ from London for the weekend (for just a few quid, bastards) and join us in our adventures, swelling our ranks even further than the two Aussie girls we’d picked up had already done. There was fine dining, shopping, throwing parties in our room (much to the hotel manager’s displeasure), and a helluva lot of walking. It might just been the nostalgia talking, but I’d have to say Rome was one of the highlights of the trip. Ah, Roma.

(PS- I’m very much aware at how overdue this entry is)