Have I Found America’s Worst Website?, Or, Who Wants to Feel Real Old?


Good Evening:

(UPDATE: It’s worse than I thought. Just tried the website again, only to discover jury instructions for the week of May 27. Nothing else. This is the week of June 2.)

Someday, I would like to serve on a jury.

In the past, I’ve always gotten thrown out of jury duty for one of three reasons: one, I’m on standby status for an entire but never summoned; two, the case was settled out of court as I awaited my turn in the waiting room; and three, the judge threw me out of court because he/she did not think I could serve objectively. Not my fault; if you want me to serve on a jury, don’t call me in for a trial involving either armed robbery or attempted murder.

This week, I face a new obstacle: http://www.sfsuperiorcourt.org, the website of San Francisco Superior Court.

When I used my home computer, an iMac using the Safari browser, the site did not load. When I used my work computer, a Windows machine less than one month old using MicroSoft Internet Explorer, the site still did not load. My co-workers tried their Windows machine and similarly failed. Tonight’s subject for debate: is not a website that you cannot access using either a Mac or a Windows machine, using either Safari or MSIE, America’s worst website?

I used an older mode of communication known as the telephone to discover that I’m still on standby status. After I hung up, I told my co-workers, “Can you believe this? I had to use a landline!” My older co-workers clucked their tongues and expressed sympathy, but one very, very young co-worker tilted her head to one side and scowled.

“‘Landline?’ Is that a telephone that’s attached to a wall?”

Yikes. When “landline” becomes a word too old for a young co-worker, I know I’m old.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Firefox on the Mac accessed the Superior Court website with zero problems. I also have Sea Monkey and Sleipnir for emergencies.


3 responses »

  1. The W3C Validator (http://validator.w3.org/check?uri=http://www.sfsuperiorcourt.org/) agrees:

    “Sorry! This document cannot be checked.”

    I have never seen that before. Usually the W3C Validator—the HTML quality checker made available free by the World-Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the HTML/CSS/etc. world-wide standards organization, presents a list of errors, short or long. As a sweeping, over-simplified generalization, the more errors (the longer the list), the worse the site.

    In this case, there was one error which was *So* bad that the Validator didn’t even want to try:

    “Sorry, I am unable to validate this document because on line 64 it contained one or more bytes that I cannot interpret as utf-8 (in other words, the bytes found are not valid values in the specified Character Encoding). Please check both the content of the file and the character encoding indication.
    The error was: utf8 “\xF1” does not map to Unicode”

    Unicode is the universal character set of the whole world. Every character you’ve ever seen in *any* language (including a few sci-fi made-up languages, as i understand it) has a character representation in Unicode (at least that’s my understanding. Seems a tough goal for some variants of Chinese). To come up with a character error which is outside of Unicode is an impressive error.

    The error was so bad that the Validator refused to even show me the HTML source, so i looked at it in Safari. Looks like the site creator was going for ñ in Español, but somehow they/their software came up with a character so far removed from Earth’s languages that it might be from some far-away part of the solar system.

    Apparently this one error makes certain versions of Safari and MSIE give up. My Safari 5.1.10 on OS 10.6.8 Snow Leopard happily loaded the page (i didn’t try using it) with no complaints. Newer isn’t always better: i have a perfectly legal SVG image on my own site’s home page which very old (4.1.3) versions of Safari and most versions of Firefox can display, but newer WebKit-based browsers such as newer Safari and Chrome wholly refuse to display.

    This isn’t America’s Worst Website, because it contains just one unusual error. There are sites with *hundreds* or *thousands* of (more common errors). Many users don’t know, because of how adept modern WWW browsers are at dancing around errors. Yet they’re still programs created by human minds, unable to adapt on-the-fly to new (error) information (hence the inaccessibility problem here). Making WWW browsers guess regarding errors is a terrible idea: slows them down and they often guess wrong.

    I don’t have a URL for America’s Worst Website, especially with so many contenders. High on the list are judicial *internal* sites in California (i don’t recall which court system) which *only* work on *some specific* versions of MSIE, and *nothing* else. True “My way or the highway” site design.

    Now to the matter of “landline”, a word in this context to which i have long objected (yet lack a good, simple, equally-minimal alternative, thus my viewpoint loses). Why is it not “hardline”, for a physical wire as opposed to aether for mobile (cell) phones? Or “wireline”? Probably because the first people who had to speak of such a distinction chose to borrow an existing word for the purpose.

    Q: What is the source of “landline”?
    A: Ship-to-shore radiotelephone, to distinguish traditional hardwired telephone service on land from the radio-wave at-sea connection.

    I do admit it makes sense in the context of the hardwired connections remaining on land and the mobile connections being via radio waves. It is even possible that it would match its original meaning when the telephone in question is out at sea on a boat or ship or other flotation apparatus. I still don’t like the “land” part of it, since most of us are on land most of the time, whether we’re carrying a long-distance wireless phone (mobile, cell) in our hand or tethered to a traditional hardwired phone.

    Oh, i spotted an amazing sight a few days ago: a phone booth. On a busy public street. With a phone. Working. *Being used by someone! (with dark, not white, hair!)* It was one of those smaller stand-up baffle designs (not a walk-in) and the baffle was totally gone, but the phone wasn’t and *worked*! Wow!

    Finally, here’s something to make us feel young via not knowing: how many people know that “headphones” is a contraction? C. Montgomery Burns and a certain mid-20th. century FCC licensing exam i once found recall that “headphone” (i’ll use the singular) is a contraction for “head telephone”.

    Currently wearing no head telephones (nor ear buds),


  2. Pingback: Can an Economic Divide Lead to a Digital Decline in Government? | The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

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