September 27, 2002

Temporary Leave

Things will be very very quiet around here over the next few days to 10 days. We move in the morning and will have very little connectivity for a week or so. Not even a phone line until Monday evening. Enjoy your selves and take in some items I find of interest over on the vanderwal net links. I have added a few new ones recently. Of most interest of the new links have been Pixelcharmer and Mike Lee's "Visual Lee". When we get settled all of you will have to come by and just say hi. See you soon.
September 25, 2002

Accessibility tool that does what it needs to and more

Last week (things on the house and moving front along with work have kept me a little more than busy) I was demonstrated a solid accessibility application. The folks from Deque walked us through their Ramp product. Not only does this application assess accessibility of HTML (as well as image motions in improper frequency ranges) and Java, but it also will walk you through the steps to correct what needs to be done to meet and exceed 508 compliance. This tool handles complex HTML tables very well and offers a lot of functionality and very capably. This tool blows away Usablenet's Lift ability to easily add headers and ids to very complex tables (which Lift can mangle or just not hanle well). The tool also will markup perfectly valid HTML, which is a great relief. This tool is not cheap, but it will save a great amount of time, do things right, and give those using wanting the information the ablity to get it. This gives those of us that spend our waking hours trying to get usable and accessible information into the peoples hands who want it, can use it, and have paid for it (that is what taxes do after all).

Google for your enterprise

I went to a small meeting at work today with some folks from Google who were showing their Google Appliance, which was very impressive. Having the Google search generating the search for your enterprise/organization's site would be great, but it got much better than just that bonus. The Google Appliance has the ability to augment the search with a thesaurus to offer the user the option of adding "personal safety restraint devices" when they searched for "seatbelt". This functionality works similarly to Google's spelling corrections.

The advantages did not stop with Google's great search engine, but it also comes with Google's hardware that they have specified and built with failover (if buying more than one rackmounted hardware piece). This just rocks, a software company that is responsible not only for their software, but the hardware it runs on. Apple has had success with this combination and Google's systems are renoun for their great uptime and their ability to return results very quickly. Google boasts having the hardware and software up and configured in one day (when is the last time you have seen this happen, nearly all other search engines are in the 10 to 15 day range). Color me impressed with this demo and seemingly end-to-end search hardware and software package. Google search that can be augmented to provide additional assistance to users, which could let IA's focus on providing great navigational structures for the folks that do not always search to find their information.

September 23, 2002

Correcting a downfall

The vanderwal.net Homepage has been brought back to life. Thanks to those that noted this problem and reported it. There are actually two homepages with different names. One is just a copy of the other. I know it is not the best way of doing this, but there were many links to a hosted site that used the Microsoft default.htm as its poor option, while the rest of my hosts have used index.html (which is the the most common way). I was playing with Dreamweaver MX the other night while eating dinner. I did not check to see that the files were being save for Linux/Unix and found really goofy oddities in the markup. I have lived in a hand-coding world with only minor GUI help for years and having the default server code defaults set was a step I had set in MX, I guessed wrong. A little regex and the "cp" command and all was right in the world. I guess it is time to make all local links only point to index.html.

House photos

There are a handful of photos of our house posted. (I played around with the Macromedia MX Studio to create the gallery, it has some capabilities, but still needs some learning.) The photos show the mirrors that were everywhere and what the wall looked like when the mirrors came down. There are some early shots of the outside with all the weeds and ivy and some with it geting cleaned out. I am missing Photoshop for photo clean-up and creating galleries quickly and wonderfully.
September 21, 2002

MLB Internet failure

Major League Baseball's online game audio has been a failure this year for me. My favorite team is the Giants. In years past I have been able to listen to games off the Internet. I paid my money this year to do the same and in June I stopped having the ability to listen to games. After four e-mail attempts from the MLB form I have not heard one responce as to why MLB would take my money and not have brains to fix the problem or to even have customer service respond to the e-mail. I finally can see my account online, but it does not show I paid for the full season, or any part of it. MLB seems to be incompetent at getting it right. I am one very angry fan that still loves my team, but can not stand the incompetence or poor communication skill MLB has shown this season. Since MLB took over all the teams sites the service and quality has gone down dramatically. If you consider paying next year, look at other options as the MLB Internet option may just steal your money.

House appeal

It is settling in that we will be moved by this point next Saturday and I will most likely be without broadband access for a week or two at that point. I have Earthlink dial-up, which is barely passable and restricts access to most of my e-mail addresses. We are also leaning toward satellite TV over cable, mostly because our cable supplier can not process payments and their billing system has been one step away from being fully hosed for nearly six months. This may be the perfect opportunity to get Tivo into the house.

On the house front, the painters are done and the walls and ceillings are beautiful, and now that we can open our doors to the outside and open windows, we are very happy with the job done. Our floors started getting refinished yesterday and we have wonderful red oak flooring that is looking amazing after one coat of light stain. It is a huge improvement.

September 19, 2002

Monsters in the house

Most genius, Monsters Inc. DVD arrived today and the "extras" are wonderful. This has so many wonderful extras it could be hours if not days of entertainment and education before watching the actual movie again.
September 18, 2002

Interactive Awards

Could it be information and site continuity is out and entertainment and design are in? CommArts Interactive 2002 Awards are nearly all beautiful graphical works, but have little or no continuity to the global sites in which they sit. The Advertising and Business awards sections seemed to be the most disconnected, as they had sites in which they sat that were quite different from where the award winners sat.

I really was impressed with the award winners from a graphical and entertaining perspective, but from the point of sharing and connecting to related information many of the winners were disjointed. Nearly all the winners were in Flash, which has information sharing problems for users. The Web is a wonderful information sharing medium that offers a wonderful ability to express, expand upon, and interact with users and other information stores. The Flash elements seemed to be self-contained, which is a serious downside. I will go back and spend more time trying to find examples of great design and using the Internet medium well.

The Internet is many things to many people and offers many options in which to present information. The wonderful thing about the Internet is being able to extract information as well as point others to specific segments of information with out having to wade through unrelated information. Hmmm, possibly more later on this.

House update

The painting at the house finished Monday and it looks wonderful. We have also finished pulling most of the ivy at the front of the house, which has opened up the beds for more colorful plants and provides a much cleaner look. The focus for the next few days will be clearing the basement, de-grouting the tile in our bathroom, packing, and setting up services (DSL, Cable/Satellite TV, etc.).

Design for inconsistent medium

Rick Oppendisano has a wonderful discussion of Designing for An Inconsistent Medium in CommArts Design Interact. The Web browser is a wonderfully quirky design medium that provides great access to information, if marked-up properly. The browser does not give designer's free reign to control every pixel (a great developer will consider every pixel on a screen and weigh its purpose and use). The article does provide a great read.

Home adventures again

We now know some of the secrets of the house as the walls speak. One element of the wall squeeked at one point, yes a mouse. It had long expired and there was not much left. Our moisture problems in the basement seem to be attributed to a corroded main water line shutoff valve, a leaking basement window, a formerly major leak from the main waste water pipe, and other minor pinhole leaks. Now we need to get a professional to look at the pipes again. We should be done pulling out the basement tomorrow night. The painters are doing an incredible job as the house looks much better. There had only been one or two coats of paint in the 51 years of the houses existance. Where there had been wallpaper it was still all original.
September 10, 2002

Home update

Well, we now have a slightly less finished basement. I started pulling panelling off the walls and found, as expected much mold and mildew festering. I also found the main water valve, which I am not sure how it is staying together as it is completely corroded copper and rusted joiners. I pulled the drop ceiling tiles to find more "copper pipe", which seems only to be there to hold the patches in place. I also found our many waste water cast iron pipe with is nothing but deep rust at the bottom elbow. One debate is on the piping and when to replace it, the second is on whether to pull the framing, which has been holding the panelling in place. Some of the framing has signs of beginning to rot and it has mold and mildew growth in spots too. On a better note the walls upstairs are looking much better as the painters have finished patching and pulling nearly 50 two foot square mirrors off the walls (want to buy a bunch of 50 two foot square mirrors in great shape?). The boxwoods out front are finally taking shape too. Whew.
September 9, 2002

Home sweat home, cont.

The house has been eating a huge amount of time this past weekend, plus. Okay, eating money also. Many new tools, now I just need time to get some stuff done. We have the electritian out and the painting contractors in. This week it is time to rip out grouting in the bathroom floor tiles and the shower walls. So many 1x1 and 1x2 tiles in the mainfloor bathroom and a hexagon tile pattern upstairs. We also have a ton of weeding out a year of growth and pulling panelling out of the basement. We are going from a finished basement to an unfinished basement until we get the water issues solved and resolved. We are also having to remove the mold and mildew that have grown inside the walls. We found out most of our 51 year old copper piping is now mostly only solder patches. Ah, being a home owner.
September 4, 2002

Amazon classification

I found the following item description and classification in Amazon Gold Box, "Norelco 8865XL Spectra Shaver with LED, Eggplant - [Kitchen]". I have a similar shaver (sort of), but I would never think to shave in the kitchen. Maybe that is just me. I wonder what a hair remover is classified as?
September 3, 2002

Down in the bits

Thanks to all who e-mailed yesterday and called to say the site was having problems (barfing MySQL connection errors). The site hosts corrected the problem relatively quickly and we are back in business again. This did get me thinking that maybe the front page of "Off the Top" should be baked (static and not dynamically generated with each hit, which is fried). This would require an XML processing for the page to keep the number of comments (those things you are not using) accurate below each link. This would be some recoding on my part and that will be a little bit off in the furture as my development time and non-work brain time is allocated elsewhere for the next short little bit.

Chad's reading lists

Chad Thornton has a great list of others reading lists. Such reading lists are great ways to find new resources. Chad adds Stanford's Joint Program in Design to his list.

Udell encounters UDX

John Udell writes Interaction Design and Agile Methods over at O'Reilly Net. The article was sparked by Alan Cooper. To many of us ethnographic studies and using persona are not new ideas, but to Udell it is foreign, which makes this a good read.
September 2, 2002

Hometime

The serious work on our house has begun. Joy was removing hardware and buckets of nails and hooks from the wall. I have been changing over light switches and putting in grounded outlets. I also ventured into the yard to start pulling ivy and pulling the tall weeds. So far this is a lot of fun and truly has been a Labor Day weekend. We have also been learning that we should have bought a house closer to Lowes as we are trucking up there every few days right now. (We are Lowes folks and not Home Depot people, mostly because of the brands they carry and the Lowes is not as insanely packed as Home Depot).

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