Now on The Pastry Box: Can’t

This month’s post on The Pastry Box is about using the word “Can’t”. When we use can’t, we frequently mean “won’t” or “haven’t considered” or “don’t want to”. My argument is that we should try to reserve “can’t” for times that you actually are not able to do a thing — for example, when you can’t talk to a satellite any faster than the speed of light.

Grace Hopper illustrates what it means when you can’t do something, at 4:23 in this video. (The rest of the video is worth watching too.)

I hope the next time we say we can’t do a thing, we mean we can’t do a thing — and if we won’t or haven’t considered or do want to do it, we’ll say that instead.


Today’s WTF design decision of the week goes to the survey designers for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, who decided purple text with a green background color was a good idea.



Me (working on a month 3 of the same huge prototype): OK, so I need this cell to be 110px wide…

Internet Explorer 8: OH HAI I see you want this last cell to be 110px wide. I can do that no problem but first Imma gonna shift the contents of the cell to align left, mmkay?

Me: What?!? No!

Internet Explorer 8: Yup.

Me: Okaaaaay, what if I add a class=”right”, will you put it back?

IE8: Nuh uh.

Me: Align right? tbody class=”right”?


Me: (searches web frantically….) OK, this makes NO sense, but this cell’s in a table with a width of 100%…. so if I set the width of the cell to 13% instead of 110 px…?

IE8: Hey, I see you want to make the width of this cell 13% so Imma gonna put this cell back to right alignment, mmkay?

Me: I hate you.

Pet peeves: Review pages you can’t review

There’s security, and then there’s stupidity.

We’re all familiar by now with the security pattern where you set up 2-3 questions that “only you” will know the answer to (well, only you and people who know you really well, anyway) in addition to your username and password. It essentially sets up a two-password system. If you can’t answer the first password (your security question’s answer) you never get to the second password, thus securing it.

Or something.

I have a lot of problems with that security pattern, which I won’t get into here, because this post isn’t about the security, it’s about the stupidity. It’s security when you ask me to set up a double-password system. Since it’s critical information, it’s good design and good sense to ask me to review the information before I submit it, and print it for my records. One password is hard enough to remember, but this pattern essentially asks me to set up three.

It’s stupidity when you decide that your security policies need to be strong that when you ask me to review my information for accuracy, you obscure the answers to my questions.

And yet… that’s what we have here.
Asterisking out the answers to the security questions? Not helpful when part of reviewing is confirming that I spelled them right!
I’m willing to guess that the vast majority of people are not dumb enough to fill out a registration form for a medical billing website on the Jumbotron of their local stadium, or anywhere else that would allow a significant number of people to view the process. So why make that registration even harder by blocking the review of critical account-access-granting information? It’s security absurdity.