November 30, 2001

I am continually running in to graphic display problems with Quicktime on Windows XP and with an ATI 7200 Radon graphics card. I lose the picture in movies and the skin on the player. If I go back and reload the drivers and the Direct X drivers it all works wonderfully. XP has been solid but there are a lot of little annoying bugs running all throughout. There are loads of interface and interaction anomalies also. In all I am happier with it than I was prior, but they still don't get things right.

We went and saw Harry Potter at the Uptown this evening. It was better than I thought it might be (after running it through the hype recalulator). I had not read the books, although Joy has been through the series (up to 4) twice. It was a fun movie and it seemed to be a rather quick two and a half hours. It felt like parking took longer.

Triggered by Kendall Grant Clarks review of Scrollkeper on O'Reilly Net I finally got back to the Open Source Metadata Framework. I was following some of the early development on this as they were looking at embracing Dublin Core. The result is a nice malleable format that can be wrapped around many ideas. It is an essential component of Content Management metadata. Now matter how you twist CM these elements should be there in one form or another.

In digging through the v/d wal net access logs I found a pull quote at Cognitive Architects from my brain dumps on Information Architecture. This is an interesting way to parse information and ideas from one's own head.

I promise I will not make a habit of pointing to others quoting me. Although I may point to outside sources where I am posting my braindumps, as this site is my method of culling information of interest and tracking my own thoughts along with a resource to track other ideas of interest to myself.

Web Designers should stop relying on search to cover for poor IA and design, to paraphrase PC World's presentation of User Interface Engineering's (UIE) latest research. This states 77 percent of the users do not find what they are looking for through search. The article does list some pitfalls that the user can fall into (poor spelling on the site, etc.), but with great depth of information and users often looking for specific information search could be a solid option, but this takes some work.

One navigation method that I find less and less is offering similar links based on what the user has clicked to. Often I would like to read the archives of a regular columnist in a magazine. I should not have to search to find the archives as that method often provide chaff with the goal of my search. Storage and metadata can greatly assist the navigation approach.

I personally find navigation and search combinations on a site create a higher probability that I will find the information that I am searching for.

November 27, 2001

Zeldman and his folks at Happy Cog and NotLimitedNYC have launched Charlotte Gray for Warner Brothers. At first I thought it was nothing great, but there is a simple elegance that radiates the period and the feeling of the film. The site does not have an over the top Flash interface, but a nicely crafted interface. All the links state exactly what will happen if you click on the link. It is very Zeldman-esque in that it is very well designed and gives the user a wonderful experience.

I am so looking forward to getting back to my regularly scheduled programming. In last nights adventures I did get to watch the conclusion of a Monday Night Football game that did not involve the 49ers. I also watched the Food Network for a while. I was intrigued with many items on the FN, but was really thankful Emeril was a chef and not a Web developer as he seems to throw out most cooking basics I know and he is not into teaching cooking, but rather creating a high school football atmosphere. Should you want to recreate something on the Emeril show you would need to use eggs, butter, a bottle of wine (because the crowd cheers for more wine), and whatever else you want. I guess that is why it is the Food Network and not the Cooking Network. Who knew there was this much on television.

It has been family filled lately. My parents were in town for the Thanksgiving weekend and we all went to Joy's sister's house for the big meal. (The yams in orange cups from Bon Appetite were great, as was the stuffing, buttermilk biscuits, and chocolate pecan tart out of the same magazine.) Joy is doing somewhat better as she had the drain taken out last week, but a couple treks out really wiped her out. It was great to see my parents and they took off yesterday morning. Last night one of Joy's nephew broke his arm in two places and spent the night in the hospital, so as Joy is still having some problems getting around I went over and watched the other two kids until about 1am so both parents could be at the hospital. Today it is Joy's day to get stitches out and other doctor appointments. This is a change, and a good one, from being an only child with parents and one grandparent.
November 25, 2001

Shirley Kaiser has redesigned her professional site, SK Designs and provided a fantastic redesign write-up on her personal site Brianstorms and Raves. The redesign is quite nice and provides a nice job of chunking the information with headers and bullets for scanning. The write-up is a very good approach regarding when and how to go about a redesign.
[hat tip Nick Finck at Digital Web - What is New]
November 23, 2001

One of the reasons that I love the Internet is its ability to be a conduit for exchanging ideas and discussion of topics. Not that this is not is new, it isn't. The comment tools in use on Web pages provides the ability to not only share ideas, but capture them for further use. Discussions are not lost in the ether as they can be at conferences, but they are stored for later reference.

This has been going on the past few days at Peter's site in a discussion about the term of use, Information Architect. The discussion has somewhat turned to the use of spatial metaphors to describe the Web and its use. None of the participants are really with in a short drive of each other. We are all sharpening our knowledge and ideas and changing perspectives to some degree. The Internet provides an amazing resource for life learners and bringing people of similar mind together to interact.

November 20, 2001

I am so happy as I have a system at home that is stable enough to build the Active State components: Komodo, ActivePerl, and ActivePyton. It is nice to have an option to the command line and to be able to test with out FTPing scripts up to a server.

Tired. Many things are going at once and I am looking for a little shut eye this long weekend.

My first Thanksgiving cooking anything, as my family usually eats Thanksgiving dinner out. We usually go to Carmel, CA or venture out around here, but this year it is dining at Joy's sister's. I am making Yam's in orange cups and buttermilk biscuits with scallions out of this November's Bon Appetit.

It looks like Joy may get to keep her drain a little longer. Nobody is happy about this, but we will find out for sure tomorrow. It was not a great day on the comfort level for her today.

Everybody has been talking about RSS lately. You ask, "What is it"? Remote Site Summary is its full name and the O'Reilly Net offers Create RSS channels from HTML news sites to help you get a better understanding.

This site will be adding an RSS feed in the near future. RSS allows you to pull together a bunch of RSS files from your favorite sites and parse them then build your own link page, with summaries, to current articles or postings from your favorite sites.

Peter Merholz is offering his take on defining IA and user experience design. I need to let it gel a little more. I tend to agree with Peter in large, but have some different shades as I look at IA a little broader than most. I look at IA as a step in the development of information applications (this includes Web pages, Intranets, mobile access to information, etc). The IA helps define the information and set the structure of the information.
November 17, 2001

I was trying to catch-up to life today. I ran my usual errands and some of Joy's. Joy got out of the house for the first time today to go get her haircut, a quick trip to the bookstore for magazines, and the movie rental place. Joy has been plowing through movies this week. The short trip wiped Joy out.

We watched The Mighty this evening. It was a good movie in the My Bodygard and Simon Birch genre. It plays on the Nights of the Roundtable lore. It could be one to own for those, need to refocus days.

November 16, 2001

Is Information Architect the Term for the Work of Setting Plans for Information Applications

There has been quite a bit of discussion about the moniker Information Architect on the sigia-L listserve lately. I tried to post a response, but it never made it to the list serve. I am not too concerned about the name or the label attached to the skills and practice of these skills, but to me IA is rather apropos for what I find to be a core part of information application development. The following is my input and a description of what I do as a foundation for developing information applications.

I am finding a lot of common ground in the descriptions of IA, User-based terms, and Experience Design. I tend to lump the whole, to a large extent, into Information Architecture. My work focuses on building information applications from static Web pages to Content Management Systems (CMS) driven sites that extend access to the information to wireless/mobile devices and work between systems. There are two key elements of this development: the information and the user.

Information architects put structure to the information to better understand it by looking at it through the eyes of the user. How does the user think about this information? How does the user structure the information in their mind? How will the information be used and in what context? Where do users look for this information? These questions are essential to building an information application that can and hopefully will be used. I can not have a successful project or product result unless these questions are asked, answered, and put in to a logical structure. This is the basis for navigation systems, metadata gathering, synomic databases for searches, the foundation to build a wireframe, and extends to the framework to create an information facade in the Richard Saul Wuhrman/Nathan Shedroff understanding of IA.

Louis Rosenfeld sees IA as an intersection of three areas: users, content, and context. Which are the base elements that most of us come to the table to understand. These elements are the core elements that need to be understood for an information application.

Christina Wodtke's big tent includes three elements to an IA: content architecture, interaction design, and information design. These elements are the action elements to Lou's component level approach.

The Experience Design folks (of the Richard Saul Wurman and Nathan Shedroff fold) have the same elements in their tool kit and approach the questions much the same manner, but have an experiential end goal the are trying to achieve.

Much of my understanding of these elements came initially from Communication Theory, advertising, public relations, and direct marketing. The user/audience is the focal point of communication and to target a message one needs to answer the same user centric questions and understand the information at hand. I added this background to my then hobby of playing with computers and trying to make applications function in a way that helped me do my job and try to extend that passion to helping others use technology to aid them. The core focus is the user, the task, and the information.

I really like Marc Rittig's hub-and-spoke approach to find a core set of understanding, which there is plenty there to build upon. The joining of disciplines where there is common ground is important as we have a lot to learn and a lot of experiences to share.

I did not know what to call the foundation skills that I found needed to be employed in a project to lead to success. At SXSW last year information architecture kept popping up as a viable choice. After six to seven years of working off a modified process, based on the one I read on vivid studio's site and married it to my process background learned in communication theory, I had a name. I worked for six years with out a name for what I did and found helpful. I know that much of what I do is based on examining how an information space will be used to provide a structured understanding to the user for accessing and using that information. Understanding the user and the information allows a map/schematic/blueprint to be drawn, upon which an information application can be built.

November 15, 2001

Chistina Wodtke's secret project is no longer a secret. Boxes and Arrows is out of the bag. I have been having a wonderful time offering my services to help see this come to life. I offer what I can to move a great project along that is filled with some wonderfully amazing folks from around the globe.

I am really looking forward to South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive as I am now a confirmed speaker. There are many other wonderful speakers on fantastic panels that will spark wonderful conversation, and share knowledge and experience.

Joy is looking better, but the pain and stiffness has increased. The lack of people around has her spirits a little down. We lost our main phone line today due to what seems to be a cut line, which did not help. She is hoping to be able to dress herself in a few days too. It is tough watching her as I help dress her as this is something she has always been able to do, even when she shattered her ankle. We go to the doctor tomorrow morning to hopefully get the drain taken out of her leg and get an assessment.

Joy has been heartend by all the well wishes from around the globe, which has her very greatful and thankful there are many people who care.

Peter Morville posts The Speed of Information Architecture cajoling IAs to slow down. He brings into play Stuart Brands ideas of slow and fast layers in society, which Peter does a nice job translating into slow and fast layers of IA.

Jim Jagielski writes about It Don't Amount to Beans, which discusses Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) application servers. This article states what many complain about, that Java Web solution is not for everything. Knowing your needs, knowing your resources, knowing what you need to process, and knowing the speed and efficiency of scripting languages (Perl, PHP, etc) will greatly help your overal project and application. The article gets at poorly implementing JSP where it is not needed or where it performs poorly. Java can kick some serious behind when used properly and with enough resources behind it. This article helps to sharpen minds.

Molly Holzschlag writes the 14 Ways to Talk Clients Out of Ruining their Sites, which is a wonderful article that will help back-up the guidence we have been giving clients. Going over the top is never the best practice. Some of the suggestions are: skipping the test phase, client-centered design, ignoring accessibility, poor site structure, everything above the fold, too many effects, and splash pages. These are the no nos, or do with great restraint. Please enjoy the article and share it with decision makers and those that think they get it.

Those of you visiting from the SXSW link may be interested in my posts from last around year's events. Pre-SXSW, March 9, at SXSW March 12, post-SXSW March 14, post-SXSW March 15, and finally more post-SXSW March 25.

If you enjoy the building the Web, and/or the larger Internet do yourself the favor and spend the relatively small amount and get to SXSW. This conference is not a budget buster, the people are wonderful sharing makers of the Internet, and Austin is a great place to hang out.

November 13, 2001

Finally home. Joy is fine, but her leg will be sore for a bit. **Gross Alert** She has a blood drain for the area, which is really kinda gross as you drain blood from your loved one. It was a rather long day at the hospital in all, but everything turned out well. Thanks for the prayers and well wishes.

The great Microsoft and Linux debate is on... Slashdot discusses MS inside memo on Linux threat. The Slashdot folks are by-in-large technically inclined, if to hard core techies and are also leaning Linux. It is good to see technical understandings when comparing Windows server solutions to Linux, both running on Intel.

The sales approach for Microsoft is ahead of the Linux folks. MS is giving the hard sell to the boardroom inhabitants and Linux is winning the technical folks who are in the trenches. This is a great view of the dicotomy of corporate environment and the disconnects between business and technology (not directly in this example but in the stories underlying the example). Microsoft has always sold the future and what is coming, while the UNIX and Linux people solve your problems today. MS is just delivering on their promisses of years ago, but they are still selling the future and are still behind the xNIX platform. Heck, Apple even got religion for their stable and fast new OS.

Including the Synch

MIT's Technology Review provides Simpson Garfinkel's article The Net Effect: Super Sync", which gets to the core of the Internet... information usage and cross contextual usage. Garfinkel's idea revolves around synching, as one would do with their Palm Pilot to their computer so to have the same version of information with them while the person is mobile and not at their desk. Having this information at easy access whether we are connected to a network (large or small) or not is central to how people work with and use information. On a simple level prior to home computers and PDA's many of people kept a large address book at home and carried a smaller version and calendar with them as they went about their daily routine.

The Palm HotSynch software is used as the center piece to explain the idea of synching and keeping versions running at work, home, and on your Palm. Garfinkel discusses the Concurrent Version Systems that are used to keep versions intact as different people work on the same document or software code.

This synching of information is one area that still needs a lot of work, in my view. I keep and carry separate devices, because that is my choice. But getting information from my Palm to my cell phone is not a viable option at this point. I like each of the tools on their own merits, but having them synch or share information would be very helpful. Even using the Palm to read AvantGo is problematic because it does not allow me to use the information in a manner that works in the way I do. I often read an article from AvantGo and want to e-mail it to others to read or want to post comments about it in this space so I can find it and reuse it at later date as well as share this information. I can't with out going through the work of digging the information out off the Web. It does not need to be that many steps and should not be. After all I can click on an ad that is above the article I am reading in AvantGo and it will send me more information to the e-mail address stored for this purpose the next time I sync. Now just go that extra step and e-mail me the link to the article.

This is just a peak at what is around the corner as we get information applications in our dashboard that help us with direction routing, location based services, and other information. Keeping restaurant information we like synched from out car, our cell phone, to our handheld, to our computer at home is the next step. If we are driving around and have been stuck in traffic and get off the highway in a somewhat unfamiliar area, we can ask to find local restaurant located based on criteria we prefer. The location based service (LBS) may provide options and read you the review, we select which one we want and the LBS provides directions. The LBS if it is connected to our hands-free mobile phone could pass the number of the restaurant to the phone so to call to verify it is open and make a reservation, or could use a service like Open Table to do the same. Once we have had our meal and we liked the restaurant we can mark our review so it can be stored as a place we like, which would pass to our PDA to store and add to our favorites list on our central computer. Sound like George Jetson? It may not be too far away. Each of the applications to make this happen are available and the remaining component is synchronization and sharing of the information.

On the vanderwal.net blog tool update plans are adding an RSS output and an AvantGo readable output. Also in the works is adding a calendar and efficiency tuning the page builds for the main blog which is a catch-all page. I need to start testing the monthly change over and ensure that it works. I would really like to add functionality to easily go back to the next set of older posts.

One annoying item with XP for me is the option in the menu on IE6 (in XP) to mail > send a link. This action used to send an attached .url with the e-mail and embed the URL in the text of the e-mail message. Now it only sends that attached .url file. This is problematic for two reasons on is that folks that have their e-mail security turned up do not have access to the .url file. The second reason is there is not a link to copy so that it can be easily pasted in a link page or in a weblog entry. I have spent much time looking for a setting to get the printed out URL sent as a default. The second thing is I can not find my PhotoShop 5.5 CDROM so to reload the program. I do not seem to have it at home any longer. ARG!!! I found my activation string while searching for the disk, but not the disk.
November 11, 2001

So far so good. No major expletive-laden blurts have been uttered. In 24 hours I have upgraded my CD-R/W to a TDK Velocd (which is a fast mother), added a new 40GB hard drive (for a clean start), and Windows XP Home.

I added the new CD-RW to backup files more quickly than the cheap slow writer I had been using and pulled my essential files (e-mail, finance, Lotus Organizer, and site files). Then I added the hard drive so to start from fresh for adding a new full version of the OS, so as not to pull any of the unbelievably crappy Win ME OS. Then I tried adding the XP OS (full version) from scratch. The building the OS on a fresh hard drive was a little bit of a hand-holder (meaning it was a good thing Joy was out shopping or doing what ever she was doing while I was going through the logic puzzle of having XP partition my drive, then have XP not recognize the partition and other wonderful tricks). I now have most of my main software reinstalled and seemingly running properly. I have a hand full of software that I am having problems locating in my stacks of CD-ROMs, which are now slightly better organized.

I am really enjoying having a more stable operating system. The real test will come when I start doing working from this machine again. Running Dreamweaver, Word, fax software, e-mail, and a couple browsers will be a decent test. I am really hoping it will take that pressure. If it can handle that maybe I will be able to compile Java applets/servelets or compiling C/C++ applications while running a cygwin instance to upload and tweak the output of the compiling. Oh, to live a life where the computer is a tool for me to use and not chunk of plastic with electronic bits that induces cursing.

November 9, 2001

Posts may be sporadic of the next few days as my main computer gets an upgrade of OS. Going away is the piece of garbage MS ME. Having the system run out of resources with two browsers, e-mail and textpad open with 384MB of RAM and 64MB of SDRAM on the graphic card is beyond pathetic. I will be staying in the Microsoft family for the time being, but I am saving to switch to a more capable OS in the hopefully near future.
November 8, 2001

Stand on the Shoulders of Giants and Build a Better Web

Peter Merholz announces the posting of Adaptive Path presentations on their site. I got a lot out of the AP two day Web2001 presentation. It provided much needed validation of my skills, approach, documentation, and mindset of how I go about my work. I had been using processes and tools that were cobbled together off the Vivid Studio's site and extensions of Communication analysis and planning skills learned in college. The live presentation also provided me a few new approaches, deliverable ideas, and understandings that I would not have picked up from reading.

If you like the presentations, you will love the live sessions. Do your self and your organization or client a favor and go to the sessions. You too will be able to stand on the shoulders of giants and build a better Web.

The following is an overview of the ASIS&T lively debate between two leaders in the field of human-computer interaction -- Dr. James Hendler and Dr. Ben Shneiderman. I have heard Schneiderman a couple times before and agree with much of his approach. I had not heard or read Hendler, but I have a feeling I will be digging out some of his works. There is a lot of common ground between the two speakers. Again these are rough notes. The future of web use: visual, social, universal (Ben Schneiderman)
  • Getting the cognitively comprehensible right your users get feeling of mastery
  • Effective visual display is key
  • Community has become central to Internet use
  • Central to Internet use is trust
  • Key element is building trust
  • Universal usability is essential
  • Online help does not go far enough to helping the user
  • Human interaction over intelligent agents
  • Ontology is very important

Creating Ben's Web (James Hendler)

  • Agents interact in conversational interaction: user asks question agent replies w/ options
  • Shared communications extends knowledge & gives context & depth
  • Agents work on your preferences
  • Web does not have central ontological organization principle
  • Schema to schema translators needed
  • Semantic web

Need help turning your Intranet around? Darwin magazine's Why Do Intranets Fail will help point you in the right direction. Remember the user of Intranets have different goals and usage patterns from those on the Internet. Not doing user testing and having a well thought through plan on the Intranet will kill any chance at success as quickly as it will kill it on the Internet.
November 7, 2001

Go check the new Digital Web Magazine issue. I am so happy to be seeing color. This month's theme is content and Christopher Schmitt's Content as Navigation Tool is a solid review of the use of content on a site. Miraz Jordan's What's happening? A new look at Web pages is also a must read so to focus on the general population users.

But, of all items the interview with Scott Benish and Josh Kneedler of Dreaming America Productions was a great read. In part it was good to hear how two of guys I met in Austin last year at SXSW are doing, but their approach to projects was good insight. I have really been enjoying the interviews at Digital Web they seem to be rather in depth and offer great views of the how other folks approach development.

There are some things that are painful. Switching from DSL to dial-up would be near the top on my tech list. This sounds superficial, but my life really changed when I got broadband the Internet became an extension of my computer, not a slow plodding method to get news and see what a couple of friends are doing. The ability to manage others sites would not be possible without broadband. Can you imagine uploading a modified Dreamweaver templated site with 400 plus pages over dial-up. Pulling new modules and plug-ins for software I own would be painful. Owning Microsoft software is more palatable with broadband as they have so damn many patches (which sometimes overwrite other patches creating the need for new patches to fix the last patches).
November 6, 2001

The Beeb News provides a wake-up call to those that are still in the dark about wireless network security. The article welcome to the era of drive-by hacking shows how pervasive lax security is in London. This unaware approach to wireless network security can be a nice cheap way to get a fast Internet connection, but it also leave corporate and/or home networks wide open for abuse. The terms used for those that partake in the break in access are "war driving", "war pedaling", or "war walking" depending on the mode of transport used to take your laptop from open access network to open access network.

The article found that none of the networks use anything stronger than the built in security measures on the wireless hubs. The London area even has maps potting wireless access areas. Some see this access as a public good, but many of the enterprises networks, which house files and account information are wide open too.

IBM's Ease of Use Center offers articles, links, and resources that cover a wide gamut of offerings to help development for the user's benefit. The resource is full of wonderful offerings.

The feature story in October was The Purpose of the Machine is to Augment Us, which focusses on Franco Vitaliano of VXM Technologies in Boston, MA. "Maybe the intelligence of a system is not in the computer sitting inside a war room or on a desktop," he says, "but in what we call the communications cloud."

Web-Building provides website development resources. Don't be afraid of the initial presentation, this is a one-stop-shopping resource for HTML, scripting, application development, and everything in between.

ASP2PHP does a solid job handling converting ASP (active server pages) to PHP. The report that Sun sponsored to hopefully show JSP (java server pages) taking over the site scripting market, not only showed JSP had shrunk in market share, but ASP had dropped drastically. The big winner in this survey was Perl with about 40 percent of the market and PHP was ahead of ASP.

Microsoft has given itself problems with ASP this past year or so as the next generation of ASP requires complete rewrites of your ASP code to work on the next version of server. The code is different enough that it will not port, it must be rewritten. This stopped ASP development to a large degree. Some folks have tried running ASP on UNIX with ChiliSoft, but that is only advisable as a patch until you can recode the application, as it is quite resource intensive and you adding another layer of interpretation, which never helps.

User Interface Engineering (UIE) provides a snippet of their research in Users Decide First, Move Second. UIE found that users would decide where they were going on a Web site prior to moving their mouse to click. This is problematic for those sites with DHTML drop down menus that have much of their navigational content until you mouse-over.

I am constantly digging out Chris Wetherell's portal. Now I have a way back. He make use of RSS to track the information on other's sites and pulls them to his portal. Not a novel idea, but a solid presentation and a good selection.

I continually turned down my free offers to receive the Darwin magazine, but this article on failure to communicate, about computers communicating to replace our rote tasks. This article focuses on Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which was the sponsor for the advent of the Internet; MIT's Project Oxygen; and the University of Washington's Portolano Project.

Color Matters provides an over and illustrations of color and usability matters. This quick article highlights the use of color to assist the user in their decision making process while working through a task. The color assistance guides the user to the main decision points, most used items, or intended use.

Lawrence Lessig has a new book, The Future of Ideas, in which he discusses the freedom of information flow that drive innovation and commerce. He also discusses the hinderance that some industries try to place on this flow of information and the direct and indirect effects this has on growth of ideas and expanding markets.

Monsters Inc. is nothing short of great. It is a fun and entertaining story, with amazing graphics. There are some scenes with Sully, on of the main characters with lots of fur, that are just amazing watching gentle breezes flow through his hairs. The animation was better than Shrek, which I thought was wonderful too. In all Monsters may be one of my favorite movies, it was that good. What added to the movie adventure was taking twin five year old boys. Joy and I had the nephews between us and they were so much fun to experience the film with. One was a little scared with Randall, but other than that they were really into the movie. Go check the movie out. You may even want to go back, as I do.

The stability of the MS ME operating system is horrid (operating seems to be an oxymoron). There were three crashes Satufday, which was largely a day of errands and Joy and I entertaining 5 year old twin nephews (more on that later). Sunday there were five crashes, which were quasi detrimental as they were happening during a site integration of an updated Dreamweaver template. Trying to finish what should be two to three hours more work on a small project with an unstable OS is not my idea of fun. This may mean that I am forced to move up to XP. I have thought about Windows 2000, but there are more drivers available for XP. I will have to move the scanner and fax software to Joy's computer from this point forward, if and when I make the move. The move will probably require getting a new hard drive so to start clean and still maintain my files. I have back-ups of the most important items, but not all 25GB. A new hard drive and a full version of XP should allow me a nice clean slate to start on, which should be less problematic. I really don't like a computer making me less productive.
November 4, 2001

There are reasons I don't trust Microsoft with my information. The continual security lapses are astounding. I had problems years ago with MSN continuing to bill my credit card for MSN services six months after I cancelled. I had to cancel the credit card for them to stop.
November 2, 2001

Today was one of those days where things are looking gloomy and I was waiting for feedback on a piece of a project before moving forward. So lunch today took me to the Mall for a cheap tourist shack sandwich then to the National Gallery of Art. The Galleries are a wonderful way to problem solve and transform into a world of the portrayal of light and colors. There are two exhibits that I took in on this slow November day, the Aelbert Cuyp and Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women. The renaissance portraits was a well done exhibit, which I went through in reverse order, with the juxtapositioning of Italian and Northern Renaissance works next to each other. The differennces in color, textures, and light was very evident. The Cuyp exhibit was wonderful, but then again I really like Early Norther Renaissance artists. The detail, lighting, and stories are breath taking. I also stopped in to see the Monet room, which houses The Houses of Parliament at Sunset a favorite, now one of many in this room. As time passes I become more and more intrigued with impressionism and particularly Monet. The light and blurred vision, unless your are across the gallery, the strokes, the lack of detial yet catching all the nuance. It was a good break and greatly refreshed my spirit and mind.

One stylesheet have you down? Want to offer your users choices? Paul Sowden provides the insight in the A List Apart article Alternate Styles: working with alternate style sheets. This approach can be used for different browser types or for allowing your users to choose their own styles that suit them best.

NY Times provides Digital Model Trains Help Engineers in its Circuits section (posted on Thursday). The article shows how model environments can provide insight and experience in the real world. Check the associated article if you hear the whistle blow for further links.

Movie industry hit by courts in DeCSS decision, which states that the DVD cracking code printed on t-shirts and such is free speech. As background, DeCSS decrypts DVDs so that they may be played back. DeCSS was coded to build a DVD player for Linux. The movie industry used a very poor encryption scheme, which made for easy cracking. The DeCSS allowed people who owned DVDs the ability to play them, and nothing more. There are other copyright infringement possibilities that one can apply when using the code, but lawn fertilizer has not been banned and it has been commonly used by terrorist to make bombs. Banning code that allows a person to watch a movie they bought legally, is greedy and inane.

Every now and then one runs across or is pointed to a great innovative interface. Most often it is a design shop, as in the case of JDK Design. The interface, for me, is quite enjoyable, but I know many that would be completely lost trying to use it. It is a nice use of Flash as it loaded very quickly.
November 1, 2001

CNet offers a browser death match reviewing the Microsoft IE6 and Netscape 6.2 offerings. It is largely a dead heat. I have been using NS 6.2 and I am quite pleased with it. It is fast, solid, and renders pages very nicely. Both browsers are standars compliant (unlike what MS would like to have you believe) and offer very good experiences.

I still have a backlog of entries to post in the Weblog section. I have ironed out a few bugs here, which are making this even easier to use. I do need to make the admin tool that builds this a little more appealing, but for now it is only me. There are now just about 100 categories entered for me to choose from to classify the information. The trouble is I keep finding other interests that are not covered by what I have added. In a couple months I will review and see what I have not used and weed those out.

The Dev Shed offers a scenario many of us gone through in their Time is Money article. It walks through a tough scenario of delivering an intricate project with few requirements. In all it is a nice over view of developing a web based application using PHP and MySQL.

Finding the source of phpMyAdmin was a chore. It is a great tool for those with MySQL databases and have PHP on the box. It is a GUI interface to ease management of the tables and properties. I have used it for quite some time on another site and now it is time to take it to work. It is free so the price is right. It does not do ERD, but it is better than command line interfaces.

Wireless Week discusses location based services, which are seeming to be making in roads. One of the nice items in this article is the inclusion of voice in the new Kivera release. Having the ability to talk to your dashboard and return directions or nearest gas station or ATM would be a seriously great tool.

I really enjoyed reading Jef Raskin's "There is No Such Thing as Information Design". This takes me right back to communication theory class. To be specific Jef clarifies with, "Information cannot be designed; what can be designed are the modes of transfer and the representations of information. This is inherent in the nature of information, and it is important for designers to keep the concepts of information and meaning distinct."

I have been playing with Intuit's QuickBase and finding it to be a really nice Web application for your database needs. It is rather straight forward to set up and has some nice features and functionality with out having to code. The sorting columns and creating your own views is very nice.

Welcome to the New View

Welcome to November 2001. This is the new look for Vander Wal Net's "Off the Top" section. This section has been updated by adding categories and entry areas (essays, journal, and weblog), which are hyperlinked to similar content. The location where the entry was made is also captured. The permanent link now states just that, so there is no confusion. The fonts are now variable, so that you the user can vary the size in your browser. In time you will have the ability to comment on this site's entries (this will be reviewed by the management of the site for general civility).

Essentially this portion of the site is easier for me to manage again. I have a rather straight forward tool for entering the information. The management tools are being added as you read this to add further ease of maintenance.

Please enjoy.

Are you using a Mozilla based browser, such as Netscape 6x? You may want to grab the XUL useragent toolbar, which allows you to overwrite your general.useragent (the component in the Web browser that states its browser type to the Web sites). Why is this important? If you are using Netscape 6x or Mozilla and the folks maintaining the site have not added the proper browser sniffing to include these browsers you may not find the site usable. As NS6x and Mozilla are Web standards compliant, as is IE 5.5 and up, you should be able to set your useragent to reflect IE 5.5 or IE 6 and find the site perfectly usable.

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