Monthly Archives: February 2013

CBC website interface needs work

Subject:   CBC website interface needs work
From:   “Elliot Smith” <>
Date:   Mon, February 18, 2013 5:46 am
To: (less)
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Dear CBC person:

I am writing you with a concern that more than likely isn't within your
sphere of responsibility...  I'm writing about user interface.  The user
interface for the CBC radio web site is nuts.  I'm guessing that it got
designed by a committee, I'm guessing that the design was more a product
of procedure and due process than of common sense.  If you could take a
minute to take your own personal common sense out for a spin, and examine
this question, you might find that you agree with this concern... or you
might find that you disagree...  Either way, whatever initiative you can
personally muster and bring to bear on this concern would be better than
the endless string of transfers and referrals and total lack of initiative
and ownership that I've encountered so far in attempting to bring this
concern to the attention of CBC...

What is the concern?  Well, ironically enough, my concern stems from my
interest in the CBC programme "Ideas," although, this concern probably
applies to all CBC programmes.  (I haven't actually checked as whenever I
visit the CBC web site I'm generally too distracted from fighting the
website interface just trying to find some "Ideas" episodes to have any
energy (or motivation) left over to want to explore any other CBC

I live in Chicago, and the local PBS stations broadcast your "Ideas"
programme on a regular basis.  Every now and again I would happen upon
"Ideas" whilst driving to or from my job, and I would sometimes be so
impressed with your "Ideas" program that I would go home to listen to the
entire program via your web site, and I would even sometimes e-mail a
friend or colleague a link to the "Ideas" episode in question.  There's
only one problem.  The interface on the "Ideas" web site is junk, so much
so that actually listening to the "Ideas" program poses real and
significant obstacles for most users.

To get around CBC's junky website interface, I sometimes have to download
the programme, often with the help of 'ripping' software which 'rips' the
programme from the streaming audio player, (since often no podcast aka MP3
file is available to download) and then I have to upload the program to my
own web site so that I can provide my friends with a link to an MP3 file
of the program in question.  You don't need to make life this difficult
for your listeners...

Yes, CBC's website interface is junk.  Strong language, maybe.  But it is
what it is.  This is how I, as a listener, feel about the CBC website
interface...  I would venture to say that many of your listeners who have
ever tried to download a simple podcast from your website probably feel
the same way:

There is on your web site what I would call a 'streaming' player.  This is
the player that pops up in the listeners web browser when they click on
the "listen" link for a programme...  This unfortunate 'streaming' player
doesn't provide random access to rewind or fast-forward the programme...

Perhaps some of you are old enough to recall the cassette tape, and before
that, the record player.  Imagine if you will, that you have ordered a
copy of a CBC "Ideas" episode, and you have received it on cassette tape. 
Imagine playing it on a cassette tape player.  Imagine being distracted
whilst listening to the programme, hitting "stop," answering the phone, or
doing whatever, and then coming back to the programme later on.  Now what
do you want to do?  Do you want to hit play and resume listening where you
left off?  No... You want to hit "rewind" and go back about 30 seconds or
so to re-find the context, the overall place where you left off...  With a
cassette tape, this is easy to do.. the longer you hold down the rewind
button, the further back you go in the programme...

Now, try doing this in your streaming audio player on your web site.  It's
sort of possible, but it's clumsy as all hell.  Instead of being able to
rewind a precise amount, proportional to how long you hold down the rewind
button, you are only able to rewind a random amount, by sliding the caret
on the slider which is so sensitive that the slightest twitch of your
mouse pointer moves it several minutes too far one direction or another...
You have to repeat this process of rewinding and fastforwarding random
amounts until you get lucky and you find the point which you are seeking,
or, more likely, until you get lost and frustrated.

Congratulations.  Decades after the advent of the analog tape recorder,
you've found a technology which is substantially inferior.  The low cost
of this digital technology as compared to the more expensive analog
technology of the tape recorder means that you can now saddle ALL of your
listeners with this stupid interface and the unfortunate listening
experience that comes with it.

This inability to easily rewind the audio is but one example of the
inadequacy of your streaming audio player.  There are other specific ways
in which your streaming audio player produces an unfortunate listening
experience.  I won't bore you (and myself) with an in-depth explanation of
every way in which your streaming audio player falls short.

User interface design is both a science and an art.  Think of it like
building design... There are certain basic rules... (stairs have to be
spaced evenly, one step should not be shorter than the other steps... hand
railings need to be at a certain height to be of use to most people...
doorways have to be a certain minimum width and height, etc etc...)  There
are books of arcane rules about building design...

My purpose is not to write a book for you.  My purpose is to merely point
out that it's quite apparent that whoever puts together your web site
needs to find a book on user interface design, and read it...  That would
be a start.  User interface design is both a science AND an art, but to
start with, how can you impart any sort of artistic sensibility into the
design when it's so fundamentally flawed to start with....

None of these problems with your streaming audio player would be a problem
if you simply made the episodes available to download, in a standard file
format, so that your listeners could listen to the radio programs using
their own software.  There is software out there that doesn't suck, and
even if CBC doesn't avail its self of such software, many of your
listeners do have decent software at their disposition.  To be able to use
their own decent quality listening software to listen to a CBC programme,
all your listeners would need is a copy of the programme in a standard
file format, such as MP3.

To your credit, it is possible to download an MP3 file of some of the
"Ideas" episodes.  But only some.  Invariably, it's really hard, and
sometimes impossible, to find the MP3 download for a particular episode,
especially the episode that most recently aired.  You have the proprietary
stupid streaming audio player copy right here on your web site, and
meanwhile, the MP3 download copy is... completely elsewhere on the web
site, and, I might add, not easy to find.  An abundance of links to
"download podcasts" turn out to be teasers that are dead ends which DO NOT
in fact allow the listener to download the desired podcast...  What...
the... hell?  Seriously?  Words fail me at this point.  To explain to you
how this is unacceptable is like a traffic cop trying to explain to a
pedestrian how failing to use the crosswalk to cross a busy street is
unacceptable.  If you don't understand the concept innately, then you're
probably drunk.  Or high.  Or both.

Yes.  I know that CBC is on iTunes, and that your radio programmes are
apparently available to download there.  No, this is not a solution for
many of your listeners.  Most people in the world don't have an iTunes
account.  iTunes is a proprietary 'network.'  iTunes is not the same as
the internet.  Out here on the internet, there are various standard file
formats which afford maximum compatibility with the software and hardware
that your listeners have at their disposition, and one of those formats is
the MP3 format.  Your "podcasts" are nothing more than MP3 files.  This is
great.  This will work just fine for all of your listeners.  Now, if
somehow, someone at CBC could realize that anywhere in the interface where
there is an option to bring up a programme in that unfortunate proprietary
steaming audio player, there should also be an option to download the MP3
file of the same programme, without having to go on a wild goose chase for
said MP3 file... if someone could just realize this... and then if said
someone could just act on this realization... then listeners could
actually... listen to your programmes a hell of a lot more easily, with
absolutely minimal frustration and difficulty.  Hey.  What a concept, huh?
 If anyone could implement this, I'd appreciate it.

I've been complaining about this for a while, but, evidently, CBC doesn't
respond to listener complaints and suggestions, or, perhaps, the process
that created the failed web site interface is the same process that
processes listener feedback.  Hence the reason why I have circumvented
your listener feedback process and I've gone in search of contact
information for people who might actually get the importance of not having
substantial barriers between listeners and the programmes they want to
listen to.

Best of luck,

-Elliot Smith, interface wonk

Ideas — Paperback Love


Toronto writer Erika Blair (a.k.a Greg Kelly) explores the myths and realities of romance fiction in 1992.

download mp3:

Bertrice Small:

I think the reason that women read romance, and this goes for any of the subgenres within the genre, is that women are looking for a happily ever after, we give you boy meets girl, they fall in love, and they end up one way or another happily ever after, and women want this, and I think men want this too.  No, I don’t think romances create wild expectations.  The wild expectations that most women have are to find the right man, to have a happy home, to possibly have a good career.  The one thing I think it gives them to shoot for is that they see in the better of the books written in this genre that there can be normal relationships between men and women, and I think that’s something in this day and age to shoot for.


David Reef:

One understands perfectly well that the feminist revolution, that is, women in the labor force, women in the professions, is one of the great advents of the 20th century, and even the romance novel is going to reflect it to some extent.  That is to say, a new set of perhaps more progressive cliches have replace an older set of more reactionary ones seems to me perhaps a slight improvement but scarcely anything to crow about.  I think the interesting criticism of romance novels is not that they are a particular kind of fantasy, but that they are completely unreal.  The trouble with this work is that it’s psychologically reductive, that it pedals notions of how life works out that have nothing to do with how it works out even when it works out well, there’s no notion of the tragic, there’s the disaster: he leaves her, she doesn’t get the job, whatever the formula is, there’s no notion that things are difficult, that people age, that life is complicated, that it’s full of salt as well as sugar.  It seems to me that that’s what’s wrong with these books, not whether they have the correct line on women becoming partners in law firms.


David Reef:

One of the things that distinguishes good writing from bad writing in English is simply the good writer’s ability to be spare with the details, to know when the reader can do the work.  The romance writer will never do that.


Angela Miles:

I think we have to look at this fantasy, and also look at the reading, the huge amount of romance reading that women do, as a very successful coping mechanism in very very difficult situations.  In dialogue with readers I find that very often they will have periods of intense romance reading [which] may coincide with the birth of their first child, or having three children under five, or being an undergraduate, and with women the kind of pressure tends to be a pressure where they can’t justify taking time for themselves.  Women have said to me they’re better than drugs and alcohol.  They serve the purpose of escape.

David Reef:

I think if you look at these not as books but as products, or if you like as comic books, you’ll get a much better sense.  No one is surprised that in Japan these things called Manga which are these mass circulation comic books, sort of softcore porn slash adventure comic books are read by millions of people.  It appeals to our baser natures, and that’s what Hollywood does, and that’s what romance books do.  You know, if you said unhappy people also like to eat vast quantities, they like to stuff eclairs into their mouths, I really don’t think that anyone except perhaps an eclair manufacturer would suggest that this was very good for them or was to be encouraged or had some political justification.  I still maintain that they are, however consoling they may feel, they’re a kind of false consolation, and like any opiate they make you feel worse in the long run.

Angela Miles:

One of the needs that women have is a need for nurture, really. It’s something that I would say most women in this society are deprived of and really can’t expect after a fairly young age. Our society is structured in such a way that women give that out to children and to men, and really can’t have much expectation of getting that back, and the romances are full of males nurturing females.  The heroes are always independent, that is, not dependent and not requiring nurture or a lot of care and attention from the woman, but are in turn paying a lot of attention to her and nurturing her.  Now, once you’ve said that the hero is a mother figure, it shrieks out at you, you read him being bossy and exasperated in ways that are very much like a mother.  Occasionally I’ll find myself longing for that feeling of escape.  I don’t particularly resist that longing because what the romance fantasy shows when it’s analyzed in terms of an understanding of the hero as a mother figure is the depth of that need and the potential for social change when we can recognize that our nurture does come largely from women, and that we need to in fact develop our woman identification and our woman power.

Harlem Shake – cats and water

FAT Chance Beating the Odds Against SUGAR, PROCESSED FOOD, OBESITY, and DISEASE

FAT Chance Beating the Odds Against SUGAR, PROCESSED FOOD, OBESITY, and DISEASE
Robert H. Lustig, M.D.

Time To Think Outside the Box

“We just eat too damn much.”
–Governor Tommy Thompson (R-Wisc.), U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Today, NBC, 2004


Indeed we do. That’s it, thanks for buying this book, you’ve been a great audience, I’m outta here.

Well, that’s what the U.S. government would have you believe. All the major U.S. governmental health agencies, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Surgeon General, say that obesity results from an energy imbalance: eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity. And they are right–to a point. Are we eating more? Of course. Are we exercising less? No doubt. Despite knowing this, it hasn’t made any difference in the rates of obesity or associated diseases. More to the point, how did this epidemic happen and in such a short interval of just thirty years? People say, “The food is there,” and it is. But it was there before. People say, “The TV is there,” and it is. But it was there before, and we didn’t have this caloric catastrophe. There’s more to this story, way more, and it’s not pretty.

Everyone blames everyone else for what has happened. No way is it their fault. Big Food says it’s a lack of activity due to computers and video games. The TV industry says it’s our junk food diet. The Atkins people say it’s too many carbohydrates; the Ornish people say it’s too much fat. The juice people say it’s the soda; the soda people say it’s the juice. The schools say it’s the parents; the parents say it’s the schools. And since nothing is for sure, nothing is done. How do we reconcile all these opinions into a cohesive whole that actually makes sense and creates changes for the better for each individual and for all society? That’s what this book is about.

Food is not tobacco, alcohol, or street drugs. Food is sustenance. Food is survival. Most important, food is pleasure. There are only two things that are more important than food: air and water. Shelter’s a distance fourth. Food matters. Unfortunately, food now matters even more than it should. Food is beyond a necessity; it’s also a commodity, and it has been reformulated to be an addictive substance.

This has many effects on our world: economically, politically, socially, and medically. There is a price to pay, and we’re paying it now. We pay with our taxes, our insurance premiums, and our airline fares–nearly every bill we receive in the mail has an obesity surcharge that we underwrite. We pay in misery, worsening school scores, social devolution, and we pay in death. We pay for all of it, one way or another, because the current food environment we have created does not match our biochemistry, and this mismatch is at the heart of our medical, social, and financial crisis. Worse yet, there is no medicine for this. There is no edict, ordinance, legislation, tax, or law that can solve this alone. There is no quick fix, but the problem is resolvable if we know what’s really going on–and if we really want to resolve it.

In his 2004 book Food Fight, Kelly Brownell of Yale University talks about obesity and the “toxic environment” we now live in, a euphemism for our collective bad behaviors. I am going a step further. I’m interested in whether there is something actually toxic, I mean poisonous, going on here. Even laboratory animal colonies have been getting fatter over the past twenty years!

Every good story needs a villain. While I am loath to reveal it this early in the book, I won’t keep you in suspense. It’s sugar–the Professor Moriarty of this story, a substance that now permeates nearly all food and drink worldwide. It’s killing us…slowly, and I’ll prove it. Every statement throughout this book is based on scientific study, historical fact, or recent statistics.

I’m a physician. We take an oath: primum non nocere (first do no harm). But there’s a paradox in this statement: when you know the final disposition–that the outcome is going to be bad–then doing nothing is causing harm.

I certainly did not start out as an advocate. I wasn’t looking for a fight. I didn’t come to this controversy with a preconceived agenda. Indeed, I was fifteen years into my medical career before I stepped up to deal with obesity as an issue. Until 1995, like my medical colleagues, I did my best to avoid seeing obese patients. I had nothing to tell them except “it’s your fault” and “eat less and exercise more.” At that time, seeing an obese child with type 2 diabetes was an anomaly. Now it is an almost everyday occurrence. The problem of obesity is now inescapable in medical practice. You can’t avoid it any more.

The concepts elaborated here didn’t just wake me from sleep one day in a divine revelation. This book is the culmination of sixteen years of medical research, medical meetings, academic discourse with colleagues, journal clubs, policy analysis, and a whole lot of patient care. I have no conflict of interest in espousing the information here; I am not a pawn of the food industry or a mouthpiece for any organization. Unlike many authors addressing the devastation of obesity, I don’t have a product line designed to enrich my bank account. UI came by these views honestly and through rigorous data analysis. And the data are out there for everyone to examine. I’m just putting them together somewhat differently.

As a scientist, I have personally contributed to the understanding of the regulation of energy balance. As a pediatrician, I get to watch the interaction between genetics and environment that causes obesity play out in my examining room every day. And now, as a fledgling policy wonk, I have seen how the changes in our society have sprouted this global pandemic. It is this panoramic view that allows me to connect the dots for you, and they don’t connect in the way you’ve been told.

To blame obesity on the obese is the easy answer, but it is the wrong answer. The current formulation of gluttony and sloth, diet and exercise, while appreciated by virtually everyone, is based on faulty premises and myths that have taken hold in the world’s consciousness. Obesity is not a behavioral aberration, a character flaw, or an error of commission. When we think about the ravages of obesity, our minds often go first to adults. But what about kids? One quarter of U.S. children are now obese; even infants are tipping the scales! Children don’t choose to be obese. They are victims, not perpetrators. Once you understand the science, you realize what applies to children also applies to grown-ups. I know what you’re thinking: adults are responsible for their own choices and for the food they give their children. But are they?

An esteemed colleague involved in the obesity wars once said to me, “I don’t care what’s causing the obesity epidemic. I just want to know what to do about it.” I respectfully disagree. In order to pull ourselves out of this ditch, we have to understand how we drove into it. Indeed, our current thinking is based on correlation, supposition, and conjecture. I wrote this book to persuade you, the reader, to take up this cause, for your own health and for our country’s. However, you can’t truly advocate for a cause unless you know what is going on. And you can’t disagree with me until you know all the facts. And that means the science. After you’ve read this book, if you think it’s a crock or that I’m a crank, tell me. I want to know. In fact, I’ll make a promise to you right now: there is not one statement made in this entire book that can’t be backed up by hard science. My reputation in the field is built on the science. It’s also my protection against those who would try to discredit me, including the food industry and, as you will see, the federal government. Indeed, it’s the only reason I haven’t been discredited yet. And I won’t be, because I stick to the science. Now and forever.

However, in four places in the book, I let my imagination run wild. I will try to explain how obesity fits within the process of evolution, how our evolutionary biochemistry works to keep us alive, and finally how our food environment has altered that biochemistry to promote this global catastrophe. These fits of speculation will carry the section heading “Deconstructing Darwin.”

This book is targeted at the patients who suffer, the doctors who suffer along with them, the U.S. electorate who pays for this debacle, the politicians who must take up arms to dig us out of the mess that has been created out of our economy and our health, and the rest of the world, so they don’t make the same mistakes (although they already have).

In part 1 of this book, I will challenge some of the theories you’re used to hearing in the media, and indeed from the medical profession. Parts 2 and 3 will focus on the science of obesity, and how the body deals with energy burning versus storage. No, you don’t need to be a biology or medical expert to understand the science. I’ve worked hard to reduce it down to its essence, and to keep it interesting, light, and accessible. In part 2, I’ll also explain how your brain has developed, evolutionarily and in utero, to thwart your attempts at dieting. You truly are hormonal when it comes to the foods you crave, just not in the ways you think. Part 3 will elaborate on the science of fat tissue, and when and how it can make you sick. In part 4, I will prove that our current environment is indeed “toxic.” I will show how the “American diet,” which is now the “industrial global diet,” is killing us…slowly. I will identify the poison and the antidotes, why those antidotes work, and why they’ve been added to or removed from our diet for the food industry’s purposes. Part 5 elaborates what you, as an individual, can do to protect yourself and your family by changing your “personal environment.” Finally, in part 6, I argue that governments around the world have been co-opted by the food industry, and I will outline how they must instead partner with the populace and exert influence over the food industry to stop the obesity pandemic before we all reach the medical and financial Armageddon now within sight.