December 29, 2001

Things have been quiet here you say? Yes, the holiday season has been a busy one. My parents swung through beginning on Christmas Day for a quick visit, it has been wonderful to see them so much this holiday season. I have been battling a cold and possibly allergies, which have really worn me down. I have also taken some time out for life to read (Lance Armstrong biography, which is wonderful, and pick through Patrcia Wells, "The Paris Cookbook" a fantastic journey through recipies and restaurant insights of Paris) and watch movies on DVD.

I am still very worn down and in need of some serious sleep, exercise, and relaxation. Hopefully that will come in the next week or two.

I have been anxiously waiting for my TiBook to finally arrive, but it seems there are hardware issues and it could be a week or two more before it actually ships. You ask why Apple? I have been in need of a laptop as mine have always been tied to a job and being able to build applictions on the road (along with have e-mail and Web access), let alone hang out with my wife while she enjoys her movies in the family room, were nice options. The Apple OSX was the kicker. I have heard nothing but raves about the TiBook, but OSX has been getting better reviews from non-traditional-Apple folks than XP. I have had more than enough issues with XP (Home edition) of late with all the networking and development functionality it can not do.

In short, I can have my Windows applications running on a laptop that has UNIX stability, provides a great development environment, and carry it with me. Apple keeps beating my expectations by leaps and bounds, and Microsoft keeps letting me down. XP is light years better than ME ever could dream of being (perhaps MS' worst operating system ever released), but I need to run IIS or even PWS so to test some ASP code (not an option on XP for Home), nor is networking easy with non-XP machines as is our home office.

I have been spending more time at Mark Newhouse's site and using his good collection of links, which include Apple links. I have found the Mr Barrett site to be quite helpful.

December 26, 2001

Meg is sharing the wonders of a professional looking toolbar in a Web interface in her Using JavaScript to Create a Powerful GUI on O'Reilly Net. Her Blogger interface really awed me. I kept having to remind myself that it was a browser based tool, but it performed like a desktop app (that is until they were down to one employee and the gremlins kept popping up). I have always wanted to add a more professional look to my personal apps, but it has been functionality over beauty for them. Now I may no longer have that excuse.

The Web Grew Up

I was thinking the other day that two years ago, or so, was the last Christmas lag I noticed on the Web. It used to be that around Christmas time the Web would drag around the Christmas holiday as students finished their exams and surfed the Web. Office workers took advantage of their fast connections and a few free moments to order off the e-commerce sites.

This year I noticed this lag did not happen. Not this holiday season and not in September when students went back to school and were using their fast pipes to pull songs from Napster and catch-up on all their friend's sites.

Yes, maybe the Web has grown up. The only lags these days are from viruses and worms that grab hold of distant machines and only make it seem like we are all on dial-up as the malicious traffic drags the services down for the rest.

December 24, 2001

The Beeb and local public radio stations have been running The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, live from King's College Chapel, Cambridge, England. To me it is a wonderful preparation for Christmas Day, while doing my final wrapping of presents. It plays again on Christmas Day.

I wish everybody safe and peaceful travels and a wonderful holiday season.

December 20, 2001

I have been battling a cold or some other grungy bug the past few days. Last night it still had not taken hold so I used my 4 cloves of garlic in one bowl of chicken soup potion to ward off the evil. I am still not great, but I do have a wonderful garlic scent. The trick it always seems is using the potion early enough.
December 19, 2001

The Way We Webbed

Builder.com to focus more on technology than Web. This article, delivered to my e-mail a couple weeks ago, has been ringing in my head. The Web is not dead, but how it is build has changed greatly. All of have learned a lot over the past few years and we all have grown greatly. Many of us have been implementing content management systems or rolling our own solutions to ease the management of these sites. We have build community tools and become readers and commentors on other's sites.

The Web is no longer just static pages. It has not been for some time. Dynamic pages have there limits too and we all have found wonderful balances to build a better Web that is a better tool and information source for the users. The Web has also burst its seams and spread back out over the broad Internet. The Internet has become mobile and Web content has been repurposed and is now showing up on handheld devices and developers are creating versions of their information to ease this adoption (this will be an addition to this site in the next month or two, so to accommodate those that read this site on wireless AvantGo readers). Information is also syndicated using XML (RSS) so others can pull the information and use it in a manner that best suits them.

There will be a need for Web pages for quite some time. The great skill of Web design (from folks like Jeffery) will continue to be a needed profession as the design and visual presentation of information is essential to better understanding of the information and eases the adoption/internalization of information. I look forward to the new content from Builder.com, but I also will miss some of their focus too.

WebTechniques provides a wonderful overview of the changing Web teams. I have been finding much of what this article points out, the Web it still a valid element, but people have build more efficient tools to manage the content and to help reuse that content. The traditional Web teams have been changing and the skills are widening for those with a passion for building the Web. Read the article as this piece it the tip of the iceberg for what many folks have been watching happen or experienced in the past year or two.

Data Needs Context and Molding to Mean Anything

Matt has found one of the many gems on data and providing meaning to it from the ever popular (in my book) Nathan Shedroff. The quote...
"Data is fairly worthless to most of us; it is the product of research or creation
(such as writing), but it is not an adequate product for communicating. To have 
informational value, it must be organized, transformed, and presented in a way
that gives it meaning."
is from Nathan's A Unified Field Theory of Design.

37signals' design not found offers an example of letting your users know restrictions. This is not only important for restrictions, but letting users know which are required fields. Users are not mind readers, so don't treat them like Uri Geller or David Blaine. [hat tip Christina]

In some ways it is good to be back home. After spending the a long weekend filled with both my family and Joy's family in Spokane, Washington, it is good to be back home. There was not a lot of very needed rest, but it was wonderful to see family at this time of year, heck, any time of year. Joy and I were amazed at how wonderfully friendly people are in Spokane. We was also amazed at the customer service in the stores and restaurants, which is a wonderful change. The people take their jobs seriously and they know where items are in their stores and will go out of their way to find something for you. This may be my favorite place to shop from now on, okay it is a long way from home, but it is a wonderful change.
December 12, 2001

Things have been a little quiet here as I have been digging out of a few very busy weeks. I will be heading off to the great Pacific Northwest for a few days of family time that is long over due.

Unfortunately I have not bought a new laptop so that I can keep up with news and post the good things in life. I am sure a few days away will do me good, but the e-mail is going to be deep. I am getting around 150 e-mails a day, of which two-thirds are news updates and listserves, but the rest much be attended to (this is just personal mail, by the way). Upon returning I will starting a new job, more on that later.

US Government Focuses on Usability

Federal Computer Week provides insight into Dot-Gov sites employing usability testing and developing for information finding and retrieval. Government sites are beginning to catch up to where corporate sites have been heading. The Government gathers and distributes an incredible amount of information and the Web and other Internet interfaces are excellent methods of diseminating this information. The volumes of information require systems behind the the interface to generate proper information and the interfaces need to be honed and evaluated to best serve the people.

This week may be a little slow here. I am on vacation this week and was not intending to work. This means time away from the computer and work environments. It has been scheduled for quite some time and it just happens this week I am between jobs. I start work for a new company on Monday the 17th and I am trying to ENJOY my time in between time consuming events. I have a few days to dabble with my own side projects, read, decompress, was to have spent a day in NYC (but a meeting has side-tracked that wonderful plan). My last vacation was a working vacation (as most of them are) in San Francisco at the Web2001 conference and the 9/11 events. I will be taking sometime this later this week to escape completely where I can not be called into meetings. I was hoping to have time to focus on my favorite side project Boxes and Arrows, but that has dwindled too due to circumstances.

Foundations of Hypertext Navigation, Part 1.1

Another resource for getting to the foundation of the navigation metaphor, Navigating Hypertext: Visualising Knowledge on the Net. It has a poor interface, as the words on the left are links, but missing any interactive component to let one know they are links.

Foundations of Hypertext Navigation, Part 1

Another discussion on Peterme that has fallen into the discussion of spatial metaphors and the Web. The general feeling is that the spatial metaphor provides a poor descriptive language and metaphorical base to discuss the Web. Finding a replacement seems to be the focus, but there is an embedded base in the population of users that have adopted these analogies. I agree to a great degree that the spatial metaphor is not the best (agreeing with the negative of a positive superlative is the easy way out as there is very little room to be wrong so it is a false method of looking smart).

There is a chapter on "NAVIGATION THROUGH COMPLEX INFORMATION SPACES" from Hypertext in Context by Cliff McKnight, Andrew Dillon, John Richardson, which provides a solid understanding of some of the history of the navigational metaphor in hypertext services.

I was having some problems with my Real Player 8 and MS IE not allowing me to "view source" on my Windows XP box. It turns out both of these problems are attributable to a full Internet Temp directory. By deleting the files in this temp directory both sets of functionality return. Who knew I would fill 1GB of temp space in two or three weeks.

Sting's All This Time DVD Success

Yesterday I purchased the Sting's "All This Time" DVD and have been so happy for the purchase. I caught snippets of this performance and documentary (recorded before and on September 11, 2001 in Tuscany, Italy). The documentary reminds me of "Bring on the Night" video of the assembly and rehersals of the first Sting band. Both the BotN and All This Time offer a great insight into music rehersals and musicianship of some amazing musicians. Watching either digs at that itch to get my sax and keyboard out of the closet and just play.

The "All This Time" provides some wonderful rearrangements of Sting and Police tunes. The performace portion of the DVD offers fantastic music to dig into. One of my favorite jazz bass players, Christian McBride, has joined the Sting ensemble for this DVD and co-released CD.

I did not know there was a DVD that had been released, but was so hoping there would be one. I was overjoyed to find it in the store yesterday. (Not so much Joy as she is having to return one of my Christmas gifts).

December 7, 2001

Seach Not and Find the Answer

Peter Morville explains why search doesn't suck, but is just not great. I completely agree. Search by itself misses much of the information, unless the site is well written (which provides a cohesive use of terms) or is augmented with metadata.

Let me explain, as Doug Kaye uses in his quest to find what is wrong with searching, a person six months or more ago could have been writing about IT as the possible wave of the future. More recently the same person could have been writing about Ginger. This past week the writer would have started writing about Segway. All were the Dean Kamen invention, but a user searching for a the breadth of our writing on Segway could easily miss our mention of IT or Ginger. The user would have to know to search on these other terms, if they did not they may not find our work. We loose.

This is where metadata helps out. If the information is tagged with a term that classifies this information or could have synonymous relationships established from that metadata item (personal powered transportation = IT, Ginger, Segway...) would greatly help the search. Most of us have been worked on projects that have had searches yet we constantly had users asking us were our information on "xyz" could be found, as they did not find it in the search and they know they read it on our site. That is a large persistent problem. Searching is not a solution only a patch that leaks.

By the way taxonomies can be fluid, they have to be as usage changes.

one.point.zero has integrated some very nice design elements into the site. It is nice to read that it is build using PHP scripts, but that is not important, the ease of reading and using the elements around the site make it worthy of examination. The site cleanly integrates some ideas that I have had on my to do list, like the calendar. This sets a nice high benchmark for personal sites. Bravo. [hat tip Jeffery]

Fellow Boxes and Arrows developer Adam Greenfeld is one of this weeks A List Apart writers. Adam focuses on the lack of discussion of design history in current on-line discussion forums. He goes into his own discussion of wonderful design in history.

I like that he brings up the lack of passion in the field of design, this can be seen else where around the Web. There should always be, I my little opinion, passion at the heart of a designer and/or developer. The passion to create a wonderful place to be used that provides life and breathes ideas. At the heart of this passion is a desire to go back and understand what begat what and who mothered ideas and schools of thought. It is from this understanding that we can build, research, and expand our understandings and knowledge to help the whole profession grow. (What you are still reading here, go read Adam).

In Washtech (the Washington Post's technical section of their paper) has an state of the tech workers story as former dot-com employees go to work for government contracting firms.

A sad note in this article is that the Olympus Group is closing its doors. I have know many folks that worked there and have work with them in a client role and was very impressed with their work and presentation. However their former president, Julie Holdren, has started a new group, Homeland Technology Corp. and I wish her well.

December 4, 2001

Lucas Gonze points out Caching Trust in his O'Reilly weblog. The idea is rather intriguing in that if you find a set of data that is has not been validated, a substitute for a copy of the data is stored locally so you may verify the data. The author of the document pointed to in Gonze' log is, M. Satyanarayanan of CMU, who spends his time working on mobile computing and file sharing research and experiments (like Coda (with its associated papers and Odyssey).

After reading Nick Finck's notes from the Web Design World 2001 in New Orleans and reading the Web Design World 2001 Agenda I think I may have to make the trip next year. I am very intrigued with the Open Source elements of the conference combined with the Web design/development aspects. Open Source tools have treated me far better than any proprietary tool ever has in the past. I am not interested in the cost as much as how solid the tools are, which leads me to Open Source.
December 3, 2001

The BBC reports that Intel is running field studies on mobile device use in London. The research is an ethnogrphic study of interactive use. The article states, "'One of the things that makes a successful technology is a technology that supports experiences that people want to have,' explained Ms Genevieve Bell, senior researcher and design ethnographer at Intel." This is nice news, but slightly more impressive is the general media's explainations of the study, (you go Beeb!!).
December 2, 2001

We are all trying to make our sites more accessible. Some of us do it because we have to and others of us do it because it is the right thing to do. No matter what our mission to many of us it is a new twist to our regular routines and we could use some help. Those of us that use Macromedia products now have help in Macromedia's Solutions Kit of Accessability.

Joe Gillespie's Interface Design Primer offers a wonderful background of the computer interface. There are wonderful nuggets that we designers and devleopers need to keep in mind. Knowing how, why, history, and reasoning behind elements of interface understanding are some of the best tools we carry in our tool belts. We also need to keep testing what we know to ensure there are not new shades that will help get all of us around a corner to a much better method of providing the user an intuitive interactive interface. [hat tip Jeffery]

The Sacramento Bee has modified their look and added some great usability tools. Their new look is very clean and easy to read. Each page provides access to the top level pages with in each section from the top of the pages as well as the bottom of the pages. The pages are built with extensive use of cascading style sheets, which allows them use of a tool that lets the user select the font used and increase or decrease the font size. [hat tip Matt]
December 1, 2001

December has brought some new changes to v/d Wal Net. The Off the Top section now has view "previous month" links at the bottom of the main page and the essay, journal, and weblog pages. The Archive page provides new options. I have tested most of it, but there may be "features" still lurking. Let me know how these changes work for you.

The Off the Top main page will get a little bit of behind the scenes work this weekend. I may only provide 10 days at one time on this page then point back to the archives. This will keep the first day or two of the month from being empty, or rather empty on this page. This modification will also speed up the page build through out the month. There may also be some modifications on other pages in the Off the Top section.

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