Please Tell Us About Site Anomalies + Three Fixes for Readability Issues

Dear readers,

Most of you seem happy with the new version of the site. It still needs some tweaks. Part of that is due to the fact that we could not run some plugins in a staging site. And one of the plugins (for comments) crashed the site in a major way and had to be disabled until we can debug or rewrite it.

The thing you need to do RIGHT NOW if you are having problems is clear your cache. If you have a cached version of the site, it can interact with the live version in nasty ways (I had that happen on the staging site). So that really is essential.

Known Issues

Broken/light font. One fix that has completely ended readability problems for some readers on older PCs (some of you are getting font that is very light and/or broken looking). And I mean completely.

The instructions vary depending on what version of the Microsoft OS you are using, but they aren’t hard. See Windows fonts are poor quality and not smooth.

It is also possible you disabled font smoothing, which is the default. For instance, bob reports:

So, I went into win 7-

System properties

Selected “smooth edges of screen fonts”

That did solve it.

Others with older win machines may have unchecked that box too.

Small font. Another complaint we have gotten from some readers is that the font on the new site is small. This is extremely puzzling to us because the new version of the site replicates what the old site had exactly on text font except for the two changes described below. Neither seems capable of producing itty bitty font for some people. And we didn’t get complaints in our last preview prior to launch.

For the moment, please make your font size large in your browser (you should have a way to do that in the controls, it typically displays in the address line area).

One fix some of our readers use with ALL sites and they like it quite a lot is NoSquint (number three in this article). That give your more ability to tune sizes.

Now more detail on the few changes we did make. The template tells your machine what fonts to use. On the default sequence, you are supposed to get Optima. Optima is a highly readable and very pleasant font. Mac users will see the site in Optima, since that’s installed on all Macs. It is NOT commonly installed on PCs. So the style sheet then has a default sequence: “If no Optima, then Calibri. If no Calibri, then…”

On the old site, Arial was the next font after Optima. I think Calibri is actually more readable, but to eliminate the font default sequence as a possible culprit for the font size weirdness, we’ll revert to the old site sequence for a bit.

We also eliminated black black as the text font color and went for a very slightly off black. That is actually supposed to be easier on the eyes than a pure black. Some sites use off black for the main text, see Yanis Varoufakis an example. even uses grey text.

So if clearing your cache and making sure font smoothing is enabled properly does not resolve the readability issue, please tell us what operating system and browser you are using.

Our options then become:

1. Licensing Optima so you all get it downloaded with the site. This is not commonly done (licensing fonts) because sites are charged a monthly fee based on traffic and it would be a not trivial number in our case.

2. Having Kristen implement a way for you to adjust the font size in NC only. This seems like a lot of work when from what I can tell, these toggles are not that common, hence most readers don’t know to look for them, so new readers probably won’t either. And you can achieve much the same result with TruSight. But if we have enough readers still reporting problems after trying these remedies, we’ll move to Phase II.

Other known issues. This is on our list:

1. Font size when drafting comments too small

2. Too much white space (vertically) in comments area

3. Links in comments area pale grey rather than orange

4. Feature for reading out posts got lost and needs to be restored

5. Some HTML tags not working properly (for instance, we use bold and italics for our author taglines in cross post; the bold weirdly seems not to work in those cases).

We have a bunch of minor aesthetic fixes, we’ll spare you those (for instance, the old title headers were bold. Kristin made them not bold. But if we make them bold, it looks weird not to have “Recent Items” be bold too. I also think there needs to be a little more white space under “Recent Items” and the dot points should be indented).

Reporting on Problems and Suggestions

First, please be sure you have tried the remedies above if you are having problems.

If you still have problems:

1. Tell us what OS and browser you are using

2. Tell us what the problem is

If you have a suggestion, label it as a suggestion and tell us that too. If you made a suggestion on a previous post, don’t hesitate to copy and paste it here. It is MUCH MUCH easier for us to have everything in one post so we can create a punch list (and conversely, we might miss your input if it is spread around on a bunch of posts.

Thanks for your patience and help!

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  1. LucyLulu

    No problems here on Win 7 and latest Firefox, the site looks awesome! Though the “cite” tag appears to be a hidden attribute, the “b” and “strong” tags appear to be redundant, and the “em” tag is non-functional, at least in post preview mode (minor quibbles fer sure!).

    Helpful Suggestions:
    Handy Keyboard Shortcuts to use in Firefox
    Ctrl + “+” zoom in
    Ctrl + “-” zoom out
    Ctrl + “digit 0” reset zoom to default
    Ctrl + Shift + “t” reopen last tab closed
    Ctrl + Shift + “n” reopen last window closed

    From Mozilla Support, Changing Fonts, Sizes, and Colors in Firefox – (all browsers have similar capabilities, changes here will apply to all websites)

    Fonts & Colors

    Default font and Size: Web pages are usually displayed in the font and size specified here (measured in pixels). However, web pages can override these choices unless you specify otherwise in the Fonts dialog. Click the Advanced… button to access the Fonts dialog and to change this and other fonts options.
    Fonts Dialog

    From the Fonts for drop-down list, choose a language group/script. For instance, to set default fonts for the West European languages/scripts (Latin), choose Western. For a language/script not in the list, choose Other Languages.
    Select whether proportional text should be serif (like “Times New Roman”) or sans-serif (like “Arial”). Then specify the font size you want for proportional text.
    Specify the font to use for Serif, Sans-serif and Monospace fonts. You can also change the size for Monospace fonts.

    You can also set the minimum web page font size. This is useful to prevent sites from using overly small fonts that are barely readable.

    Allow pages to choose their own fonts, instead of my selections above: By default Firefox uses the fonts specified by the web page author. Disabling this option will force all sites to use your default fonts instead.
    Character Encoding for Legacy Content: The character encoding selected here will be used to display pages that don’t specify which encoding to use.

    Colors Dialog

    Text and Background: Here you can change the default text and background color to be used on web pages that haven’t specified that information. Click on the color samples to select colors.

    Use system colors Check this option to use the colors defined in your operating system settings instead of the colors specified above.

    Link Colors: Here you can change the default colors for Web links. Click on the color samples to select colors.

    Underline links: By default, links are underlined on web pages. Uncheck this option to disable this. Note that many sites specify their own styling rules and this option has no effect on those sites.

    Allow pages to choose their own colors, instead of my selections above: By default, Firefox uses the colors specified by the web page author. Disabling this option will force all sites to use your default colors instead.

    1. Ned Ludd

      According to the spec:

      The b element should be used as a last resort when no other element is more appropriate… stress emphasis should use the em element, importance should be denoted with the strong element, and text marked or highlighted should use the mark element.

      Both <b> and <i> are vestiges of the early days of HTML; their use today is “problematic”.

      Minor problem: in the preview, there is an extra blank line under the blockquote.

      1. Ned Ludd

        Firefox 25.0.1, Linux Mint. The extra vertical whitespace under the blockquote appears in my published comment, as well. This might fall under the topic of “Too much white space (vertically) in comments area”.

      2. bob goodwin

        b tag is common in comment sections, like this. I have seen them stripped and replaced with styles, but that is hard. I have never tried, but you may be able to put styles on b in the stylesheets that are browser aware. I don’t know another way to get cross platform compatibility on early HTML tags.

        1. Ned Ludd

          I’m happy as long as <strong> and <em> stick around. Though I haven’t tried emphasis yet; LucyLulu wrote that it was non-functional.

          In Firefox 26.0 on Windows 7, the <em> tag emphasizes text as expected in the comment preview.

          I wanted to clarify about <b> and <i> in response to what LucyLulu wrote, mistakenly calling <b> and <strong> “redundant”.

  2. psychohistorian

    You are to be commended for such attention to detail and acceptance of feedback from all readers.

    No problems but I am mac 10.8.5 and Opera 12.5

    I like the off black text better, thank you and my other earlier concerns seem to have been addressed as well.

  3. Ronald Pires

    Optima may be a favor font on Macs, but it’s nowhere to be found on Office 2007, which comes with an installed font set of about 200, so in fact I can’t even give you the exact font size I’m seeing. The main text seems to have a fontsize of 9. which requires young eyes to see with comfort. The entered comment fontsize is even worst; probably an 8, which is downright painful.

    Note that Calibri is a very small font on PC. I use it frequently when I was to downsize a small portion of text, but even then, I almost never go below a fontsize of 11. I would definitely never use it as a first default. (Could this be what changed from the older version?)

    As for my configuration. Windows 8 (as bad as its reputation), Office 2007, both as vanilla as they came from the box. Screen diagonal = 15 1/2 inches (intentionally pretty wide to avoid sight problems in my older eyes).

    Thanks for you attention to this problem. Much appreciated.

    1. Ned Ludd

      Hold down the Control key and tap the equals sign. You can also hold down the Control key and use the wheel on your mouse to scroll up. Both will make the text bigger.

  4. grayslady

    First, my system: two computers, each with Windows XP, SP3, both with latest or updated versions of Opera, Firefox, and IE8. The computer on which I normally read NC is a three-year old, higher end HP laptop in the kitchen. This morning, I happen to be on my large, custom-built desktop in the study and what a difference! The site looks fantastic on my desktop–MAJOR difference from the laptop. Also, unlike on my laptop, where the font looks best in IE, on the desktop, Opera gives the best rendering (although the font still looks fine on both Firefox and IE, just not as crisp as on Opera). The monitor screen on the desktop is only about 2 or 3 inches wider than the desktop, so I don’t think the screen size is the main reason for the visual changes. Conclusion: the computer itself makes all the difference in site readability, not the browser.

    Otherwise, I agree with readers who notice a lot of white space in the comments section. Also, regardless of computer or browser, the Donate and Subscribe links are pink, not orange. Don’t know if that’s intentional. Doesn’t bother me, but just thought I’d mention it.

    1. grayslady

      After reading the link above on fonts, I remembered that my desktop has a higher end Nvidia graphics card to support a CAD program that I run, whereas the laptop is an off-the-shelf product. That’s probably the real reason NC looks perfect on the desktop and not as good on the laptop.

    2. Ned Ludd

      Yep, the fuchsia is intentional. I like it myself.

      For Windows XP, check your “ClearType” settings. They may be different on your laptop and desktop.

      • Go to Display Properties.
      • Click the Appearance tab.
      • Click the Effects button.
      • Look for the setting: “Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts”. It is probably different on your laptop and desktop.

      This image shows what ClearType looks like. Microsoft also has a ClearType Tuner.

        1. grayslady

          Just turned on the laptop. I was using Standard rather than Clear Type! Then used the tuner (thanks for the link) and site now reads easier, especially since I used the tuner to select a soft black/dark gray font color for normal black and white. New NC font still appears slightly smaller on the laptop than on the desktop, but, overall, very readable now.

    3. ambrit

      Dear greyslady;
      I don’t know if you are up to speed on the XP ‘retirement’ or not. (If so, apologies, and ignore the rest.) The latest I’ve read is that Microsoft will stop support for XP on 8 April 2014. Which means no more security upgrades. Which means crooks run wild. I’m presently looking around for a replacement operating system that this tech unsavvy geezer can use. Good luck.

      1. diptherio

        I recommend Ubuntu. It’s very user-friendly and quite intuitive if you’re used to the older versions of Windows. For the most part it’s “plug-and-play,” with a few minor exceptions.

        I replaced a work-buddy’s Windows 8 (which he couldn’t figure out at all) with Ubuntu and he’s been super happy with it. And no, he is by no means tech-saavy (I had to explain to him that everything on the internet is NOT actually on his computer, but rather on other computers far away, for example). Linux: not just for computer scientists anymore.

        1. Ned Ludd

          I would also suggest Ubuntu. I set it up for my parents, on two of their Macs, when I got tired of troubleshooting crashes in OS X. I personally would wait until version 14.04, which comes out on April 17,&nbsp2014. That will be a Long Term Support release, which is typically more stable than the regular releases.

          As for installing Ubuntu – while it is easy to install, things can go wrong, so I recommend finding someone who enjoys tinkering with computers to install it for you.

      2. grayslady

        Thanks, ambrit. I knew about the support issue with XP. Unfortunately, I have a $2000 CAD program that I can’t afford to replace that will only run on XP, as far as I know. So I may be stuck. I will say that since changing from IE to Opera as my primary browser, I’ve hardly had any virus issues so maybe I can just stay under the radar.

        1. Ned Ludd

          You can run Windows XP from within Ubuntu using free software called VirtualBox. I use this to run legacy Windows programs on my main computer. You need your Windows XP installation disc to set this up, since you’ll be installing Windows XP after you install Ubuntu.

  5. Gonzalo Lira

    On a Mac running OSX 10.6.8, using Safari 5.1.10, there is no left-hand margin: All text and bullet points are on the very edge of the Safari window.

    Hope this helps.


  6. Bill the Psychologist

    “One fix some of our readers use with ALL sites and they like it quite a lot is NoSquint (number three in this article). That give your more ability to tune sizes.”

    Note that NoSquint allows a universal TEXT ZOOM AND FULL ZOOM, meaning that you can change just the text on all sites, but also just the text on individual sites, and it will remember the changes by default. You can also change the default so everything reverts when the browser closes.
    It also allows you to change the color of links, both universally and individually.
    For me, the new orange link color was a bit too light, but then I cleared my cache and now they’re better.

    I preferred the old orange text font which I think you said is Ariel. That font also offers Ariel Black, which maybe could be used on the links to make them a bolder color.

    Anyway, as is, things look great and I use NoSquint a lot anyway, so I can change almost anything, in conjunction with Firefox tweaks, which I also use for all sites.

    Thanks again for all your hard work.

    1. Bill the Psychologist

      Just looked at the site after walking my dogs, and it looks just like the old now, in terms of my readability, including the font and orange color………really great !

  7. ltr

    I complained about faint type and smallness yesterday, but I am delighted to find both problems gone today. The type is clear and properly sized for easy and pleasing reading. I am so grateful.

  8. Chris Maukonen

    First I don’t do Windows !

    However I like the new site. To me it’s very readable. Too bad I can’t type for beans.

  9. Jeff N

    here is a pic – notice how the links I’ve already visited are blue in the “recent items” section, but they never turn blue in the feed (?) part

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You can opt out of that.

      On the upper left, you should see an itty bitty icon. That is “View Desktop Version”.

      If you choose that from your iPad, that choice persists for a month. So you just need to remember after the month expires to reenable.

  10. Alison J

    With Mac OSX Snow Leopard + Safari or Firefox (latest), just three comments on an otherwise nicely redone design:

    (1) No left margin – all text smack against left of the page
    (2) When using Ctrl + to make fonts bigger (which is now necessary for me in order to read without straining), the type face in posts does increase but the typeface at the top (list of today’s posts and links) remains unaffected (and small).
    (3) Off-black color is not so easy — black-black much better.

  11. Brett Merkey

    Neither in Windows Firefox 20 nor Safari 5 do I see any left margin. This makes page text look awkward. Safari is a bit worse in that respect–with list bullets actually cut in half. Whitespace needed there. Good job. I’m not into re-designs because the usability result is usually worse for most commercial sites.

    Brett Merkey

    1. Ned Ludd

      Upgrade Firefox. If you are running an old version of any browser, any website can infect your computer with malware, log your keystrokes, and steal your passwords.

      Click on the Help menu. If you see a menu item for upgrading, click on it. If not, click instead on About and, after a few seconds, information will appear about upgrading.

      1. Brett Merkey

        Pointless and unconstructive comments like that from project managers is precisely why I found re-designs a trial when I had to work for a living. I gave this site proper feedback on a clearly obvious and poorly implemented issue regarding professional standards of typography. In essence, you have told me the problem is mine because I do not have the very latest version of a particular browser.

        Way to go with handling feedback. It is a wonder you did not request I change my O.S. or get an eye examination.

        1. Ned Ludd

          “you have told me the problem is mine”

          I was not trying to undermine your feedback. I was hoping to help you avoid getting infected by malware.

          Good luck with the malware!

  12. ltr

    I have now tried the site on 2 computers using Google Chrome and Firefox and where yesterday, the posts were very difficult to read, today the ease of reading is terrific. I have no idea what the problem was yesterday, but the problem was there on each computer after several attempts to use the site. Again, I am so grateful for this site and for this design.

  13. Sundog

    Using Firefox or Chrome on Windows 7, the left-side margin narrows down to a couple of pixels if I use a sidebar or resize the window to be narrower. The site would be more readable if it maintained a minimal left margin (say, the width of two of m-dashes). Otherwise it seems fine so far to me.

    1. Sundog

      Today there’s an adequate left margin in both Firefox and Chrome when I resize, much improved. Cheers!

  14. gordon

    On Google Chrome / Windows XP I find the orange text hard to read except when it is in large block capitals. Not enough contrast with the white background. That means mostly the links titles and hotlinks. No doubt it’s largely due to my failing, ancient eyeballs, but still…

    Would it be possible to show dates against the category archive items? For example, if I click on “Australia” I get a list of archive items but no indication of their order or age. It would be great if they could be displayed in date order, most recent first and the dates displayed.

  15. Fred

    I read on Flipboard on a phone running Android 4.1.2. Most of the posts are displayed exactly like they would appear on Chrome in my laptop, which is fine on my laptop. But on my phone the font is too small in relation to how busy the page is. However, some of the posts are in a text only format which are very readable.

    How to I get all of your posts on my phone in a text only format?

    Thank you.

  16. Jeff W

    •Minor bug:
    I started entering this comment at 3:38 pm PST but the time stamp on the preview says ”5:45 pm” and just before I had cleared my cache it said “7:06 am.” Those times seem a bit random and feels a bit broken. (Anything ending in :38 at least would make some sense, assuming it’s a time in a time zone somewhere on the planet.)

    •Reiterating my comment on a prior post—suggestion re indented comments:

    The nested comments are great but they would be even better if the entire commenting interface (from Leave a reply down to the preview) were indented to the extent the actual comment will be. Right now if there is original comment A and reply B, if I reply to reply B, the entire commenting interface is indented relative to A—it appears left-aligned with reply B. (My actual posted reply is indented correctly relative to reply B.) The lack of indenting gives me the feeling that I might be replying to comment A, not reply B. It’s just a little disconcerting feeling that I’d rather not have as a user.

    Still, the experience is much, much better than before!

    •I think the wording for leaving an initial comment (not a reply to a comment) is better as Leave a comment. It’s the wording that most of us use, I think, and tracks the wording of the Post Comment button. (And, conversely, the button for posting a reply is better styled as Post Reply.) It’s a really minor point but I thought I’d mention it in case it was something that was easy to change (although nothing ever is, I’m sure).

  17. ltr

    Yves, this is terrific and I could not be happier. Also, that you respond so thoughtfully and considerately to readers findings problems or even thinking they do is telling.

    1. AbyNormal

      Yves & her NC Crew are Special like that!

      “The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
      Henry Miller


  18. bob goodwin

    Still think the site is stunning.
    I got a web page from your ECN, saying the NC server was down last night. It was the middle of the night, and I am in Seattle.
    Should I take a snapshot if I see it again?

  19. Lambert Strether

    In terms of making a vertical scan in the comment section easier:

    1) Consider making the distance above the dotted line between comment maybe 3 points. That will also “tie” it more to the comment it is beneath

    2) Please put the Edit and Reply button on the same line, not two lines. Please put Edit on the right.

    3) There is way too much padding in the name, email, website boxes for entering a comment when you are not logged in.

  20. Alison J

    In Comments, the fonts for the (1) Name of commenter and (2) Date and Time of Comment are many times larger (heavier) than the typeface/font of the comment itself. This creates a top-heavy imbalance visually that is a bit jarring. Perhaps either the font in the comments could be increased and the font for the Name and Date/Time could be slightly decreased to create more balance. Or, perhaps, the Name and Date/Time should simply be smaller than the post text — being so much larger they acquire too much importance compared to the text.

    I also agree with the comments that there is too much white space in the comment areas and also in the identification pre-comment area.

    1. Jeff W

      I agree with your comment about the heaviness of the name and date/time on the comments.

      If anything, it’s better if the name and date/time are a little lighter (a somewhat different tint—the same colors with some white added) than the main text so that they “recede” slightly into the background and don’t compete visually with the main text.

  21. Kevin Carhart

    I think I just saw a 500 error or similar. I clicked on this post, the site anomalies post. What came up was the typical look of a linux error, a few lines of black text on white. The headline said something like “Invalid…” , and it mentioned CentOS. I didn’t copy the message or get a screenshot in time. I clicked the post a couple more times and it has worked.

  22. Foy

    I’m one of those who was having problems what appeared to be a smaller font size on the new site (Win 7, Google Chrome Ver 31.0, Firefox 25.01, IE 10.0.92).
    The font size while appearing different on each of them was smaller than the old site on all of them after going live. But today it looks like a larger, much more readable font size on Firefox and Chrome (they are virtually the same now). It looks ‘normal’ (yesterday I had to zoom on Chrome but today I don’t). IE still has a ‘shrunken’ font, substantially smaller than the other two, but I rarely use that. So if you did change something in relation to the font size yesterday it worked for Chrome and Firefox, on my desktop anyway!

    The new site really looks great! Well done to all involved.

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