Hexbyte Glen Cove Good accessibility is good web page design thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Good accessibility is good web page design

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Accessibility isn’t something that should be added onto a web page, it should be baked in.

With yesterday being International Day of People with Disability, accessibility advocates were been out in force to fight the good fight. My tip: for another twelve months, the message will go unheeded, again.

But this year, at least one castle have fallen to the forces of properly accessible web sites: Telstra announced that it is removing CAPTCHA from its web sites and will start to include accessibility requirements in tenders that the company issues for IT solutions in the future.

Kudos to Telstra for making the move, and I look forward to seeing what actions the giant Australian telco takes to handle spam in its comment threads and forums. Finding a replacement for CAPTCHA that keeps spam low, and is fully accessible, has been to this point as successful as attempting to locate a Lost City of Gold.

One article that passed by my eyes is found on the pages of AusRegistry, in it are ten website accessibility tips that should be done for every site that you work on.

In the list are basic tenets such as using valid markup, descriptive links, text to convey any meaning set out in images or colour, and adding useful alt tags for images; as well as some more useful tips such as using form labels so that screen readers can understand the context of a form, and making sure that there is enough contrast between foreground and background colours to cater for users that are colour blind.

A prime example of good web design being good accessibility practice is the recommendation to use semantic markup to structure HTML content. Not only does it help assistive technologies understand the structure of your content, properly organising a page with a hierarchical structure will make styling it with CSS easier, and allow the full usage of CSS clauses and selections.

One way to test the accessibility of your web site is to try to use it in a console browser, such as Lynx. Looking at your page in text-only mode has the added benefit of showing how your page looks to search engine spiders and bots. Need to know why it is best to show your main content up front and as much of the right/left hand columns, headers, and footers to the end? Lynx will show you why.

Another good test of accessibility, and one that is more often a never-ending vain of frustration, is trying to navigate a web site using only the keyboard. I did this on one of my machines for a number of months, and it showed that many designers decided that the humble taborder is not worth worrying about. Worry about it, you’ll never know when you’ll need it, and you’ll be helping out people that rely on it everyday.

To finish off the accessibility suggestion list were a couple of great ideas: captioning videos, a great idea, but one that can be painful in practice to implement; and providing alternate versions of PDF documents in HTML or RTF, as browsers such as Firefox and Chrome embed quick and simple PDF viewers, the accessibility extras offered by Adobe’s Reader software often to not make the switch.

The really annoying part with many of these suggestions though, is that they should not be part of an attempt to make sites accessible, they should be an ingrained technique for creating good web sites.

These simple ideas to create an accessible, structured, and valid w

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Take your app on the road, put it in a car thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Take your app on the road, put it in a car

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Looking for a new market or adding a unique edge to your app? Then support for in-car usage could be just the ticket.

As jurisdictions clamp down on in-car usage of mobile phones, many drivers’ only interaction with their mobile devices is controlling Bluetooth audio playback from steering wheel controls, if they are lucky enough to have them.

Auto makers are taking different tacts with mobile technology usage: BMW has its ConnectedDrive connectivity, Audi has an interesting take with an augmented-reality manual, and Ford has its SYNC platform.

Over the weekend, TechRepublic was invited to take part in a 24-hour hackathon with Ford to try out its AppLink system, which allows for regular iOS and Android apps to integrate with the SYNC’s voice recognition and the vehicle console monitor. Ironically, although SYNC is made by Microsoft and runs Windows Embedded Automotive, there is no support for Windows Phone — and support for BlackBerry devices recently ended.

The process of putting AppLink into an app is relatively straightforward; once registered on Ford’s developer portal, for Android, it is then a case of downloading the library into your project and using the handful of APIs available to control the car’s display text and create audible alerts.

Currently, the API is rather limited, with display text only allowing approximately 20 characters on two lines. The text does not scroll, but Ford has a beta of its next edition of AppLink that adds support for this. Consequently, the easiest way to inform the driver is via text to speech.

This is a handy feature, as the system used by Ford does not have a display within the driver’s instrumentation in the dash, like that seen here, and the screen mounted in the dash is not touchscreen, instead having to be controlled with a plethora of buttons.

It’s a system that reeks of Microsoft-design principles, and after a weekend of using the system, I am glad I will no longer have to mash the menu button to access commands in the app I was creating, rather than having the commands and menus relevant to the app on-screen, or a simple one menu button press away. This should be negated by the use of voice commands, but the test units I was working on only had US English available, and found my Australian accent and word usage rather confusing.

A unique aspect of apps that use AppLink is that Ford dictates that the app have a lock screen when it is paired with the car. It makes sense and is regarded as a safety feature — force the driver to keep their hands on the wheel and navigate the app without needing to touch the paired device. It does mean that the discoverability of app features sinks to rock bottom, and, as I mentioned previously, going into the menu of an app is an arduous task. Hopefully the next version of AppLink will rectify these shortcomings.

With all that said, the idea of extending existing apps into cars is a good one, and it would be nice if there were a common platform to allow app developers a single target to aim at. To that end, earlier this year, Ford open sourced AppLink to the GENIVI Alliance, which is a consortium of auto manufacturers and technology vendors looking to produce a Linux-based in-car infotainment system. But given the slow pace with which the auto industry moves compared to the technology industry, I wouldn’t be expecting any Earth-shattering announcements anytime soon.

At the end of the hackathon, a motley collection of apps were produced, from geo-fenced reminders to bush fire warnings systems, to apps that turned an iPhone into a dashcam that uploaded videos to YouTube.

The winner of the “best new app” category for an app created within the hackathon’s 24-hour duration was the team from MYOB, which used its company’s API to create an app for mobile workers to receive and control job items, and even send invoices upon job completion while out on the road servicing customers.

Taking home the gong in the “best existing app” category for integration AppLink into an already built app was the crew from Millipede, who took their car log book app and added in AppLink’s voice commands.

Besides the sleep deprivation experienced from the event, the overwhelming feeling was how much better every app’s user experience could be with a couple more features added to SYNC.

App makers are not likely to hit the monetisation jackpot with an in-car app,

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Navigating the morass of systemd, NetworkManager, and GNOME 3.10 thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Navigating the morass of systemd, NetworkManager, and GNOME 3.10

Hexbyte Glen Cove

The world of Linux: Where making a laptop engage its wired connection when attached to a dock is an exercise in frustration.

As a recent beneficiary of a laptop upgrade, I took the opportunity to re-examine my choice of Linux distribution that I use day-to-day. After a year of Arch Linux, and that distro deciding to move to the systemd init system, plus the depreciation of the far from impressive PreUpgrade tool in favour of a new upgrade experience on Fedora called FedUp, I decided that I would return to the land of Fedora.

Arch was, and still is, a very good Linux distribution — the community is good, and the Arch User Repository is as good as people say it is. In retrospect though, it was the move to systemd that made me decide to move on from Arch.

Changing an init system on an already installed system is just asking for trouble, but eventually when a confluence of issues regarding GNOME and Arch made it impossible to continue without making the transition to systemd, I duly followed. The process was not as torturous as it could be, as I’d already made the switch previously at home with my Gentoo box, so I had some idea what I was in for.

But after transitioning over to systemd, it is a brave user that blows away all the remnants of the old init system that they were using, as there is generally one or two services that do not work with systemd, or are so tightly integrated with the existing init system that you may need to wait a release or two to get systemd compatibility.

In essence, what you end up with is a hybrid system that doesn’t know whether it is Frankenstein’s monster or Kuato from Total Recall. And thanks to my home Gentoo box, I’d already had one of those things in my life already, hence I decided to go full systemd, and give Fedora another shot.

At the same time that I was returning from the world of Arch Linux to Fedora, it had acquired a dock to go along with the new Lenovo laptop — even though it is a laptop, it does spend most of its time attached to monitors, keyboards, and other peripherals, so it made sense to end the ritual of plugging and unplugging the same cords at the start and end of each day.

Everything on the dock worked as it should, with two notable exceptions: having a network cable connected to the ethernet port on the dock did not fire a cable connection event, and it is impossible to record from auxiliary audio line on the dock if a pair of headphones are connected to the laptop itself.

How things used to be in GNOME 3.8

Image: Chris Duckett/TechRepublic

The latter I have slowly turned to live with, because it is not often that I need to record from the auxiliary line, and is easily fixed by removing the headphones from the jack.

The former issue, despite the effect that a lack of connectivity has on modern desktop usage, was actually quite easily solved by quickly shooting the mouse to the top right of the desktop and clicking on the network icon of my GNOME 3 desktop to force enabling of the wired connection.

It sounds like a lot of movement, but it was really less than a second of work, and it wasn’t too much trouble — if it was a bigger deal, I would have investigated why the connection was not being enabled at boot each day.

What forced me to dig deeper was the attraction of trying out Fedora 20, Heisenbug, which was currently in beta.

As with every Fedora release, an upgrade to the latest release of GNOME occurs, and time I was updated to GNOME 3.10.

New and “improved” network settings in GNOME 3.10

Image: Chris Duckett/TechRepublic

GNOME developers will do what GNOME developers do so well, and that means removing features with startling regularity. Consequently that little icon that I had relied upon at the start of each day was removed, and in its place was a wi-fi icon — wired connectivity had been exiled to the GNOME network settings panel.

Now I was forced to work dig into the inner workings of network connectivity involving NetworkManager and systemd.

A natural place to start would be the configuration file for NetworkManager, /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf, but it contained only a one line reference to a Red Hat plugin, ifcfg-rh, that meant that all network configuration scripts would be stored in /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/

Thanks to the changes in udev-197, network interfaces in Linux now have “predictable” names, gone is the eth0, eth1 names of old, and in its place is enp0s25 (in my particular piece of hardware). Therefore, in order to configure this interface, we need to edit /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-enp0s25.

To get the network interface to come up on boot, all that is needed is to add ONBOOT=yes to the file.

It’s not much work once you know where to look, but it is not as simple as toggling a default connection status in the graphical interface that used to exist in GNOME, nor is it quite as straight forward as manipulating network settings Gentoo, but much of that can probably be put down to familiarity with that distro.

And if NetworkManager ever gives you too much grief, you can always throw it away and replace it with wicd.

Update: Adam Will

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Thousands of seals found dead in Namibia thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Thousands of seals found dead in Namibia

Hexbyte Glen Cove

An estimated 7,000 Cape fur seals have been discovered dead at a breeding colony in central Namibia, scientists said on Saturday.

Conservationist Naude Dreyer of the charity Ocean Conservation Namibia began noticing dead seals littering the sandy beaches of the Pelican Point colony near Walvis Bay city in September.

Then in the first two weeks of October he found large numbers of seal foetuses at the colony, Dr. Tess Gridley from the Namibian Dolphin Project told AFP by phone.

Fur seals normally give birth between mid-November and mid-December.

Gridley estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 female seals had miscarried young with more still being found.

The cause of the mass die off is yet to be established but scientists suspect anything from pollutants or to malnutrition.

Some of the dead females found were “thin-looking, emaciated, with very little fat reserves”, said Gridley.

Scientists are collecting samples for testing.

In 1994 some 10,000 seals died and 15,000 foetuses were aborted in a mass die off that was linked to starvation suspected to have resulted from a shortage of fish as well as from a bacterial infection at another breeding , the Cape Cross, some 116 kilometres (72 miles) north of the central tourist town Swakopmund.

Annely Haiphene, in the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine resources, told AFP she suspected the seals died from “lack of food” but will wait the outcome of the tests.

© 2020 AFP

Thousands of seals found dead in Namibia (2020, October 24)
retrieved 26 October 2020
from https://phys.org/news/2020-10-thousands-dead-namibia.html

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Metal deposits from Chinese coal plants end up in the Pacific Ocean, research shows thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Metal deposits from Chinese coal plants end up in the Pacific Ocean, research shows

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Emissions from coal-fired power plants in China are fertilizing the North Pacific Ocean with a metal nutrient important for marine life, according to new findings from a USC-led research team.

The researchers believe these metals could change the , though it’s unclear whether it would be for better or worse.

The study shows that smoke from power plants carries and other metals to the surface waters of the North Pacific Ocean as westerly winds blow emissions from Asia to North America. Peak measurements show that up to nearly 60% of the iron in one vast swath of the northern part of the emanates from smokestacks.

“It has long been understood that burning alters Earth’s climate and ocean ecosystems by releasing into the atmosphere,” said Seth John, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of Earth sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “This work shows fossil fuel burning has a side effect: the release of iron and metals into the atmosphere that carry thousands of miles and deposit in the ocean where they can impact marine ecosystems.”

“Certain metal deposits could help some thrive while harming other life,” he added. “There are inevitable tradeoffs when the ocean water’s chemistry changes.”

The study was published on Thursday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers from USC, Columbia University, University of Washington, MIT and the University of Hawaii, among others, collaborated.

USC-led team confirms that ocean metals stem from China

While wind-blown mineral dust from deserts has long been considered an important source of iron to open ocean waters, the new study shows how manmade sources contribute important micronutrients that plankton and algae need. Moreover, the study shows how fossil fuel burning affects not only global warming but marine environments, too.

Previous studies have shown widely divergent estimates about how much iron is carried from various land-based sources to the ocean, especially from anthropogenic sources. Iron is a key limiting factor for marine productivity for about one-third of the world’s oceans.

Instead, the USC-led research team measured metals in surface seawater. They focused on a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles north of Hawaii and about midway between Japan and California. The region is downwind of industrial emissions in east Asia.

In May 2017, they boarded a research vessel and took water samples along a north-south transect at latitudes between 25 degrees and 42 degrees north. They found peak iron concentrations in about the middle, which corresponded with a big wind event over east Asia one month before. The peak iron concentrations are about three times greater than background ocean measurements, the study shows.

In addition, the scientists found elevated lead concentrations coincided with the iron hot spots. Other research has shown that most of the lead at the ocean surface comes from manmade sources, including cement plants, coal-fired and smelters.

Moreover, the metals in the seawater samples bear telltale traces of Chinese industrial sources, the study says.

“When we collected samples in the ocean, we found that the iron isotope and lead isotope ‘fingerprints’ from seawater matched those of anthropogenic pollution from Asia,” said Paulina Pinedo-Gonzalez, a USC post-doctoral scientist and study author who is now at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

Finally, the scientists also ruled out upwelling from the deep ocean as a source of the metals by testing at depth.

What does the abundance of metals mean for marine life?

The study has important implications for marine life in the ocean. The North Pacific notably lacks iron, a key micronutrient, so an influx of metals and other substances can help build the foundation for a new ecosystem—a ‘good news, bad news’ outcome for Earth.

“Microscopic iron-containing particles released during coal burning impacts algae growth in the ocean, and therefore the entire ecosystem for which algae form the base of the food chain,” John explained. “In the short term, we might think that iron in pollution is beneficial because it stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, which then take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as they grow to offset some of the carbon dioxide released during the initial burning process.

“However, it’s totally unsustainable as a long-term geoengineering solution because of the deleterious effects of pollution on human health. Thus, the take-home message is perhaps a better understanding of an unintended side effect of coal burning and the ways in which that can impact ocean ecosystems thousands of miles away.”

More information:
Paulina Pinedo-González et al. Anthropogenic Asian aerosols provide Fe to the North Pacific Ocean, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2020). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2010315117

Metal deposits from Chinese coal plants end up in the Pacific Ocean, research shows (2020, October 23)

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