Degraded Authors who Blame Others

by editor in Faulty

Consider terms such as degrading and offensive. We at Finding Fault think these words describe subjective feelings and opinions, and should be acknowledged to do so.

But many authors will not take the responsibility of owning their own opinions. Instead, they want somebody else to take the responsibility. We have seen this problem often, and we will point out one recent instance.

A blogger, purportedly writing about “the genre known as ballroom dance”, but really writing about a Broadway show, complains:1

As a result it isn’t easy to say, “This degrades women.” Yet much of it does.

And again:

It does degrade women.

We at Finding Fault are not in the business of deciding what degrades somebody else. (If we find something that degrades us, we will let you know.) We are, however, in the business of finding fault, so we want to point out here that the Writer in question appears to be a guy, so let’s begin by assuming that the show does not degrade him.

Who, then, does it degrade? We would have liked to have seen him mention some interviews with women who felt degraded by that show. Before you claim that something is degrading to somebody, you need to find at least one person who actually feels degraded by it. And by one we do not mean zero. Was he unable to get in touch with any of the performers—who presumably would have been close to the action and subject to its full effect—to ask how degraded they felt? Was he not able to query a few random female attendees to get their opinions?

Could it be that, rather than ask women if they find the show degrading, he is doing their thinking for them and telling them that they ought to find it so?

We also want to know why, if he wanted to see or experience “the genre known as ballroom dance,” he went to see a Broadway show in the first place. Ballroom dance is, fundamentally, about leading and following.2 We think stage shows like the one in question are fully choreographed many weeks ahead of time, and not led and followed. We doubt that there is any significant leading and following in the “the acrobatic manhandling” the Writer complains about or in the manoeuvre of the (allegedly degraded) woman “lifted with her legs in a 180-degree sideways split” that makes him so miserable. All this choreographed showmanship cannot possibly represent ballroom dance in any meaningful way to anybody who has the slightest idea of what “ballroom dancing” really means.

No dance studios or ballrooms nearby?


  1. Article “Ballroom: More Sexily, Less Strictly” by Alastair Macaulay in online periodical “The New York Times” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/13/arts/dance/13ballroom.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all visited 2009-08-23.
  2. “There being no set sequence of steps in modern dancing the responsibility of leading from one figure to another rests entirely with the man. The lady’s part is to follow, whether the man is dancing a figure correctly or not.” (Emphasis in original.)  “Ballroom Dancing” p 21; by Alex Moore, 1939, revised 2008. We found this book in Google Books at http://books.google.com/books?id=oLyyuwr5XHYC visited 2009-08-23.

Wolfram|Alpha Minor Failure

by editor in Faulty

You can find bad web design all over the Internet. We usually ignore it because we don’t want to look like we spend all our time just finding fault.1 But also, a lot of bad web design comes from inconsequential and badly-run companies that come and go, so if you just wait a little, they will soon be gone leaving behind a nice and legible 404 page.

We are hoping, however, that the so-called computation engine Wolfram|Alpha will be around for a while, because its work has so much potential. So we decided to kill two birds with one stone by not only finding fault, but also performing a public service by helping improve Wolfram|Alpha’s output a little.

We found it surprising that Wolfram|Alpha, based on significant funding and research, could contain such a basic error. We looked in its main stylesheet at http://www.wolframalpha.com/css/basic.layout.css and found that it uses a powerful and dangerous design technique called absolute positioning.

  #sidebar {
    position: absolute;
    right: -157px;
   ...
  }

Finding Fault claims no special expertise in web design and CSS, but we do have a high level of skill in recognizing sloppy output. Our Firefox optimized rebuild, called Swiftfox, showed us this mess:

Wolfram|Alpha home page viewed with Firefox optimized rebuild called Swiftfox

Fragment of Wolfram|Alpha home page viewed with Firefox optimized rebuild called Swiftfox

Opera rendered the output slightly differently but it was just as messy:

Wolfram|Alpha home page viewed with Opera 9.64

Fragment of Wolfram|Alpha home page viewed with Opera

On our Google G1 phone with the Android browser, the mess turned into a disaster.

Wolfram|Alpha home page on Google G1 Android phone, magnified

Fragment of Wolfram|Alpha home page on Google G1 Android phone, magnified


Wolfram|Alpha home page on Google G1 Android phone, full-screen

Wolfram|Alpha home page on Google G1 Android phone, full-screen

The Android browser copes nicely with almost any other web site. Here, for example, is BBC News.

BBC News Home Page

All we did that was different from the norm in each case, if you could really call it “different”, was to set our font size a little larger than usual. “Aha!” we imagine hearing Wolfram declare triumphantly. “Larger fonts!! That will do it every time.” Apparently it will.

Wolfram|Alpha has a lot going for it, and we think it shouldn’t put unnecessary barriers in its own way by making simple web design errors like this.

We haven’t mentioned our exact browser versions (you can get them from the filenames) or the screen resolution and font size settings we used. We don’t want Wolfram to just tweak absolute positioning values to make things look right on some screens while screwing them up on others. The right fix is to get rid of the absolute positioning and let the browser flow the output like browsers are designed to do. The browser knows how to make things fit on the screen without overlapping. You just have to let it.


  1. Even though we actually do.