Warum einfach, wenn’s auch kompliziert geht? Das Schleswig-Holsteinische Semesterticket

Moin.

In Schleswig-Holstein gibt es jetzt ein landesweites Semesterticket, und das ist im Prinzip was gutes. Nur in der Ausführung macht es unnötig viel falsch.

Das fängt schon beim Bestellprozess an. Das Ticket basiert auf dem Solidaritätsprinzip, es zahlt also jeder, egal ob es genutzt wird oder nicht. Doch nur weil man es bezahlt hat, heißt es nicht, dass man das Ticket auch bekommt, nein. Man muss es erst über nah.sh bestellen. Jedes Semester neu.

Weiter geht es mit der Lieferung: Man bekommt das Ticket entweder als App, oder als Papierticket. Das Papierticket kommt per Post, und man kann es sich im Falle eines Verlusts einmal pro Semester für 35€ neu zusenden lassen. Sobald man sich für eine Ticketvariante entschieden hat, kann man im Semester nicht mehr wechseln.

Vielleicht klingt all das im Vakuum wie eine halbwegs vernünftige Lösung, über die man sich nicht weiter aufregen muss. Aber verglichen zu den Lösungen, die bisher verwendet wurden, ist sie arg stelzig und bürokratisiert.

Ich präsentiere: Den Studentenausweis.

Der Studentenausweis ist ein regelrechtes Schweizer Taschenmesser. Er hat natürlich Hochschule, Namen und Bild drauf, aber auch Matrikelnummer (für Prüfungen), einen RFID-Chip (für Chiptüren und Mensa), einen Strichcode (für die Bibliothek) und ein wiederbeschreibbares Thermodruckfeld für das Semesterticket.

Ja, richtig gelesen. Auf dem Studentenausweis ist schon ein Semesterticket drauf, und das galt bisher (und gilt weiterhin in Flensburg und Kiel, aber nicht in Lübeck) für den ÖPNV innerhalb des städischen Verkehrsverbundes, jeweils für ein Semester. Am Anfang eines jeden Semesters kann man mit dem Ausweis zu einem Validierungsautomaten gehen, der die Karte nimmt, ein bisschen brummt, und dann das Datum vom “Gültig bis” ein halbes Jahr weiterschiebt.

Da stellt sich bei mir nur eine Frage: Warum?

Warum wird nicht einfach der Studentenausweis weiterverwendet?
Warum die strikte Trennung zwischen Papierticket und Handyticket?
Warum gibt es keine Möglichkeit für einen PDF-Download mit QR-Code, wie es bei nah.sh Online-Tickets möglich ist?
Warum kompliziert, wenn es auch einfach geht?

In Defense of Redesigns

Moin.

Every time a site updates it’s design, it seems like the internet comes together to unanimously complain about it. And mostly, these complaints are justified, after all, redesigns completely disrupt normal usage. But are the users right and should we stick to the old designs?

And to get the conclusion out first: Complaining constructively during the redesign phase is the best way to get heard. However, some of the more common complaints will be ignored, and here I’ll go through the why.

“It looks like a mobile app!”

This is intentional. The goal with most redesigns these days is to make it so that you can seamlessly switch between devices and still know how everything works from one device to another. This is hugely beneficial to new users learning the ins and outs of the site. After all, learning it once and applying it everywhere is easier than having to learn how the desktop site, tablet, mobile and TV apps work if they all have a very different UI.

That said, it absolutely is possible to fuck this up. I sometimes see sites with a hamburger menu that overlay the entire site once you click on it. This never is necessary on desktop. Using a dropdown, or, if the menu needs to be more persistent, a topbar/sidebar is better in these cases.

“There’s too much whitespace!”
and
“The buttons are too large!”

Whitespace, colors and images are a deliberate measure to make an information flood more manageable. As an example for this, compare these two scans of newspapers, from 1973 and 2011

1973: 10 headlines, tiny news index in the bottom center, columns separated with lines (except bottom right), relatively small images
2011: 6 headlines, news index takes up the lower 15% or so, columns separated with whitespace, sometimes lines and whitespace, top image primary eye catcher

Whether you use a line or whitespace between columns doesn’t matter if you really want to read an article. But it does really matter if you don’t want to feel completely overwhelmed by everything presented at once on a page. And this holds true not only for newspapers, but also for websites: A newspaper only allows you one function: You can read it. But god knows how many things you can do with a website.

So again: The point of the added whitespace and larger buttons is to make it easier to use the site for new people.

“They removed customization!”

Customization options always have two issues: For one, every option doubles the number of ways a thing can break, and at some point, it’s a bug bonanza. For another, deep customization makes it difficult for new users to find their way around the site.

For example, imagine a “follow” button that can be customized in appearance and position. If it sometimes is a green button in a corner, a red button sticking at the top of the screen, and sometimes an image saying “subscribe”, the simple task of clicking the follow button devolves into an extensive hide-and-seek game with a digital chameleon.

aside: about HTML customization

Regrettably, customization via HTML and CSS these days isn’t as easy as it used to be. Back in the day, you’d put <tags> around things to do something for you. Back in the day, everyone was on 1024×768. Back in the day, there were no smartphones. This meant that you could easily learn a “streetHTML” that did the things you wanted, tested them on your computer, and had a thing that would be roughly consistent with how everyone else saw it.

That isn’t the case anymore. streetHTML gets more and more broken by the actual standards, which have you put <tags> around things that do nothing, only to then specify somewhere else in CSS what those tags do. As for screens, not only is there a wider range of monitors around these days, but some of these monitors are an entirely different orientation usually – phones. And hobby coders tend to do things with a “works for me” attitude: Willing to make things look good for them, but not even considering the option to test on a phone, because, who uses a phone to browse that website anyways?

Usually, the answer to that question is: Half of the viewers. So, as a website owner that offers HTML/CSS customization, you now facing the choice between having a thing that may turn simple things into hide’n’seek games, potentially look awful for half the viewers, and has gotten a lot more difficult to use since you first implemented it in 2004 — or simply axing it.

There is only one sane option here, even though it unfortunately means that you are losing what makes the internet interesting, as well as a tool that teaches kids how to code (Neopets was more effective in getting girls to code than any government-sponsored thing, I dare say).

“Make the new design optional!”

This means that the developers have to work twice as much to keep everything not-broken, while also having either version used half as much as the userbase splits into people who use the new vs old design.

Maintaining this is possible. For example, Wikipedia still lets you choose it’s old “Monobook” design, or some more exotic ones. But even Wikipedia removed all designs except one from its core, kept a few bundled as long they were maintained by external volunteers, and completely killed off some designs.

Overall, the more different designs the site has to maintain, the harder it becomes to quickly develop new things that actually would be beneficial to everyone, so typically, after a transition phase, the old design gets axed.


You may have noticed that a lot of these explanations boil down to “it’s good for new users”. But what about old users? Users that have been on the site for long, have created the content that brought the site to where it is today? Shouldn’t the site cater to these people first and foremost?

The answer is no. If you have a site consisting of a bunch of long-term users, but which doesn’t attract new users because of its design, the site will stagnate. Which in itself wouldn’t be much of a problem; being level means you can continue operations as-is. But these long-term users will move on eventually. Either because their interests shift, because their new job no longer grants them the time to contribute to the site, or because they die. At which point, the site will slowly shrink and die as well, especially if it has large enough server cost due to hosting a decade worth of image and video content.

This is why redesigns are necessary. This is why some complaints never are heard (or at least never acted upon). And this is why long-term users don’t get the attention they’d deserve. Website owners must attract new users, else the site dies.


All that said, there’s one thing which I’d like to say to any site owner redesigning their stuff:

COMMUNICATE!

If you don’t want to piss off your existing userbase, you have to communicate your vision with the redesign. And I’m not talking PR-bullshit here, you won’t win people over with a sugary landing page on how this new design gives endless possibilities when you are taking customization features away. No, a redesign requires a level conversation with your userbase that makes it clear what you’ve been working on (changelogs), what you will be working on next (roadmap), what the overall goal is and most importantly, being human about it.

And Users:

CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM!

The following:

“please bring back x”
“make it look y”
“I hate this”

aren’t helping anyone. They don’t help you because there’s no chance that the redesign won’t be happening, and they don’t help the site developers because they’re missing crutial information:

  • What are you trying to do on the site?
  • Why? and
  • How are you currently doing this?

(from Never Ask What They Want — 3 Better Questions to Ask in User Interviews)

If you can answer these questions in your feedback, it becomes so much more actionable than “please bring back this feature”.

For example, imagine a site that used to have a pop-up which you closed by clicking on a triangle to the left and dragging the pop-up-slider down.

from Tantacrul’s Music Software & Interface Design: MuseScore – A good video. You should watch it.

Imagine now that the redesign no longer has the little triangle. If you say “please bring back the triangle”, you may or may not get it back, but the devs won’t be any wiser as to why you need the triangle.

But if you instead say:

“I’m trying to close that popup as quickly as possible, because I want to look at the content and the popup isn’t relevant to me. Before, this was done using the triangle and pop-up slider”

the devs now know what you want to do and why you want to do it, so they can build a new feature for it (maybe that x shouldn’t be just decorative?), but also know how you did it before, so they can check whether or not the old solution is sufficient.

Of course, this popup example is trivial. But most things are more complicated than this and really benefit from constructive criticism. So:

Users: if you want a redesign to improve, do keep your criticism constructive.

Website owners: if you prefer constructive criticism over endless shitstorms, listen to the criticism and be transparent about your actions.

Writing a fanfic – an experience report

Moin.

I recently stumbled about a weekly flash fiction contest thingy on Deviantart, this time, the contest was based around writing something that has to do with your favourite video game. Fanfic it is.

Initially, I thought this would be easy because every time I consume media, it spooks around in my mind, essentially being free inspiration, but so far, I didn’t think the stories that came out of it were worth it.

Because, what my brain does with the prompts coming out of other media isn’t necessarily a premise for a good story. Instead, it’s trying to insert me into the action and have me act in a way that “saves” the protagonists. In other words, it destroys an interesting narrative in favor of a Mary Sue. Fantastic, exactly the sort of thing I want to post as a 20-something year old studying media. I tried it anyways. And failed.

I took a game without a real story – Dota – and tried squeezing out a fanfic about one of my favourite characters in it, Phantom Assassin.

Now, what I should’ve done here is: Take the concept of the character, not the character itself, put it into a nice premise and write a story based on it.
But what I did instead was: Dive head-first into your favourite aspect of the character, which is explained in this Loregasm video.

<in-lore> Basically: She’s an assassin, getting her orders from some veiled oracle and executes these orders without question. But secretly she wonders why she has to kill all those people, then meets The Oracle, who promises her insight to all her questions if she only kills anyone who wants to kill him. According to the video, the two oracles are identical to each other, she’s being sent across an endless goose chase across the multiverse and due to the inter-dimensional travels loses the one thing she actually values, her name, and becomes the Spectre, another Dota character. </in-lore>

And this is where I went full fanfic and combined a sort-of Mary Sue with an all-knowing explainorama charcacter, resulting in this mess: https://www.deviantart.com/leowattenberg/art/A-False-Promise-805787925

I did my best to pull out of it and have somewhat interesting character interactions and developments (at least as interesting as you can make those in flash fiction), but overall, I just couldn’t get away from the template that is the original Loregasm video.

Anyways, the takeaway for me is that fanfic isn’t my domain. Good thing I tried that myself though.

Learning Blender: A crash course experience

Moin.

At my uni (FH Kiel), every semester there’s 2 weeks of “do whatever that isn’t in your usual curriculum”. So if you’re studying electrical engineering, you can get ECTS identifying mushroom or something. For me, it wasn’t as far fetched, but there is no “how to blender” course in my curriculum. And what a course it was: 5 days, 6 hours per day intense blenderization. And this is a result:

Now, I could write a rather boring “We did all these awesome things and it was great” blog post, but I think it’s more interesting to focus on the mistakes I made and the lessons learned.

  • When making an array of things and the elements don’t quite line up, check why this is instead of just reducing the distance between objects. Getting rid of overlapping objects flickering once you’ve applied that array is annoying and tedious at best.
  • Modeling is the most boring part of it IMHO. Which is probably why I never could get over the first steps of the various online tutorials there are; the issue never was as much that I couldn’t make that goddamn donut, but rather that I didn’t see why I should be making one.
  • Once you understand the node editor, texturing and shading is awesome. It turns the most boring white/grey wasteland into at least Half Life 1 territory.
  • When setting keyframes, using LocRotScale may be the easiest thing to muscle memory (just do i > c), but it does make things messier to find later on
  • Eevee is awesome. When they introduced it, I was wondering why everyone was so excited about having a thing that approximates lighting instead of actually calculating the real rays, especially now that raytracing whatever is actually a feature in some GPUs. But I didn’t factor in just how much faster eevee is than cycles: Instead of 6 hours to render, it takes 6 minutes. Instead of waiting 15s for the viewport peview to render, it takes <1s.
  • Working cleanly pays off. Even my little project has close to 100 objects. Naming and ordering your stuff as it gets created makes finding it later on when you edit it so much faster.
  • Arrays don’t have collisions and such. I’ve watched a ball phase through the ground way too many times before I figured that out.
  • Hotkeys, oh my. Even though I edited my fair share of videos, I never was quite the shortcut user. I only used the obvious ctrl+s/x/c/v/z/y, with a handful of editing specific ones (eg. cut/trim) added to the mix, but I never could be bothered learning all of them. In blender meanwhile, using hotkeys isn’t only faster, but also more convenient: There’s just so much stuff to remember the position in menus of, you might as well just remember the hotkeys.
  • Actually remembering the hotkeys by using blender is either going to become a hobby of mine, or I’ll forget how everything works again. Because there’s no way I’ll remember Tab > 3 > Click on a face > Ctrl+L > move mouse to different viewport > a > g > x > click on another face > … without constantly using it.
  • Smoke and I don’t understand each other well. In an empty project, it’ll work just fine, but as soon as I use it in my actual project, something fucks up somehow: Maybe the flames are too strong. Or too weak. Or disappear completely once the object changes position. Or emits smoke the entire time despite the domain only actually doing smoke stuff a hundred frames later on. And so on, and so on, and so on. This actually is one of the main differences between the YouTube version and the loop version on gfycat: I found the fire too weak in the initial render, however, upon changing it, everything went awry so I decided using a crappy particle effect instead of the fire just so I could create any sort of illusion that the bucket was a trash bin.
  • You can import any file you like, but no .blend files. For that, you have to click “Link”, or “Append”. Or simply copypaste.
  • Probably more, but it’s 2am, and I really should go to bed now.
  • But not before I give huge shoutouts to:
    • Silas Fuchs, for being my mentor for this week
    • Ian Hubert, for introducing me to blender way back in the day with Tears of Steel and Dynamo Ep1, as well as providing a worthy asset to finish off this little animation.
    • Anyone who’s criticised or complimented me when showing off this little animation
    • All those people who made the textures and sounds effects I carelessly downloaded with total disregard for ownership. I’ll try getting around to crediting all of you in the video’s description tomorrow!
The video: With sound, Ians Readerboard and 200% more particle effects.

Pornhub is not the savior of online video, and vimeo is not an alternative to YouTube

The discussion often goes as thus: YouTube sucks and is getting worse. Making a competitor is difficult, you need a big infrastructure for it, and Pornhub apparently has it and just would need to quickly make a copy of its website, rename it and open it for uploading of normal, SFW content.

But Pornhub neither has the right business model, nor the right infrastructure for this.

Pornhub’s parent company, Mindgeek, is not only a platform operator. It also owns lots of the studios that upload to Pornhub: Brazzers, RealityKings, DigitalPlayground, and others. Pornhub acts as a trailer site for these studios, with the “uncut” videos only being available via a 10 USD/month Pornhub Premium, or a 30 USD/month studio subscription. Further, the ads seen on Pornhub are served through the trafficjunky network – which is also owned by Mindgeek.

With this model, Mindgeek managed to put itself into a position where they are to porn what YouTube and Netflix combined would be for normal video. Competitors do exist, especially for their studio business, but the studios have to go through Pornhub if they want to get recognition by non-paying users, or money through Pornhub premium. For their platforms, a lot of what seems like competition actually isn’t: RedTube, YouPorn and others are owned by Mindgeek, too.

However: This model translates poorly to non-porn. The production cost of premium movies is astronomical compared to premium porn: Just think of the number of settings and actors typically involved. And the willingness of customers to pay 30 USD/month to access the works of a single studio is rather low.

On top of that, while Pornhub has lots of viewers, Pornhub only has 8 million videos uploaded. For comparison, people who

  • Were playing Call of Duty: Black Ops
  • On the PS3
  • Between 2010 and 2015 and
  • Wanted to share a funny clip with their friends
  • Without creating their own YouTube account

uploaded 1 067 410 videos to the default CODblackopsPS channel on YouTube. In other words: A decade ago, one game could get a video volume on YouTube in 5 years that’s in the same order of magnitude as all of Pornhub is over its life.

So, overall: Pornhub is nowhere near having an infrastructure that could compete with YouTube, and even if it had: Why would they? Free video hosting still is expensive. And it still comes with a huge portion of legal and moral issues attached: Copyright, now with Article 17. Spam. Terrorist propaganda. Hate. Gore. Livestreams of shootings. Pedophiles.

Who would risk a dominant position in an industry that probably won’t go away anytime soon to get into this space voluntarily?

Speaking of which:

vimeo is not a YouTube competitor.

YouTube is a free platform where you can upload videos in a decent quality, livestream and make money.

Vimeo is a platform where you need to pay to upload any meaningful amount of data, and 70 EUR/month if you want to livestream. The only way to make money on it is to sell access to your videos just like you’d sell DVDs.

Vimeo is not a YouTube competitor.

Their video quality is great though.

Zeitumstellung, Powernapping und der Bungsberg: Ein Kommentar

Alle halbe Jahre wieder findet eine leidige Diskussion über die Zeitumstellung statt. Eine Zeitumstellung, die sowohl im Krieg als auch in den 80ern eingeführt wurde, um Energie zu sparen. Eine Zeitumstellung, die dieses Ziel komplett verfehlt.

Stattdessen werden nun irgendwelche vage gesundheitliche Argumente hervorgekramt, die alle nach genauerer Betrachtung zerbröseln: Zwar gibt es am Montag nach der Zeitumstellung mehr Todesfälle, in der gesamten Woche aber nicht. In anderen Worten: Wer aufgrund der Zeitumstellung verreckt, hätte die Woche auch sonst nicht überlebt.

Und egal, welche theoretischen Vorteile die Sommer- bzw. Winterzeit mit sich bringt: Etwa die Hälfte der Bevölkerung wacht nicht ausgeschlafen auf. Das Problem ist nicht die Zeitumstellung, das Problem ist, dass die Gesellschaft gesundheitsschädliche Arbeitsstrukturen erzwingt: Starre Arbeitszeiten, die ohne jeglichen Grund von einem verlangen, vor der Morgendämmerung aufzustehen. Ohne diese Strukturen hätte die Zeitumstellung keine Auswirkungen auf irgendwas.

Der selbstgeschaffene Schlafmangel ist, anders als die Zeitumstellung, kein halbjähriges Trivialproblem. Er ist ein permanentes Problem, das einen signifikanten volkswirtschaftlichen Schaden verursacht: Durch gesenkte Produktivität gehen in Deutschland 200 000 Arbeitstage pro Jahr verloren, was einem BIP-Verlust von 52 Mrd. € entspricht. Nur durch Schlafmangel.

Doch die Produktivität ist nicht die einzige, die leidet. Viel schlimmer erwischt es die Kreativität. Das wird besonders beim Jetlag deutlich: In diesem mental eher vegetativen Zustand kann man zwar noch durchaus funktionieren und Befehlen von Sicherheitspersonal und Wegweisern folgen, aber ansonsten ist die Birne eher Notleuchte als Ideenflutlicht.

Der kollektive Schlafmangel wäre über viele Wege bekämpfbar: Flexiblere und kürzere Arbeitszeiten, eine Kultur, die den Mittagsschlaf auf der Arbeit nicht nur zulässt sondern fördert, vielleicht sogar eine Verbesserung der Luft-, Licht- und Lärmsituation.

Das Konzept von Powernapping und Mittagsschlaf führt dann auch wieder das Zeitumstellungsargument „mehr Tageslicht haben“ ad absurdum. Es ist gesünder und produktiver, ein paar der hellsten Sonnenstunden auszulassen, um mitten am Tag zu schlafen. Warum dann auf Teufel komm raus versuchen, den Tag so zu drehen, dass man mehr Sonnenstunden hat? Damit abends beim Fernsehgucken die Sonne noch blenden kann?

Die Lösungen, die die Zeitumstellung zu bringen scheint, sind höchstens symbolisch. Was auch sonst, schließlich wird die Uhr ja nur ein wenig vor- bzw. zurückgedreht. Es ist so, als wollte man den höchsten Berg der Welt suchen und nur den Bungsberg finden. Es gibt einfach bessere Lösungen als die Zeitumstellung, und das Verfolgen dieser Lösungsansätze macht die Zeitumstellung überflüssig. Genauwie der Bungsberg überflüssig wird, sobald man eine ernstzunehmende Skipiste in Schweden oder der Schweiz findet.