November 29, 2002

Upgrading Flash 6 on Mac OS X

I was having problems getting Macromedia Flash to upgrade on my Mac OS X (Macromedia has not spent the time on this as they have for the Windows world) and it would not upgrade. I really wanted/needed Flash 6 for some very valid reasons and I was finding many enterprise sites using only Flash 6 (not that they were using Flash 6 functionality) accessible files. I spent a couple weeks with no luck. I found the hint to manually delete the flash files from the library directories prior to running the upgrade. Magically I have Flash 6 now running wonderfully on OS X.

Title to the top

One of the modifications here at vanderwal.net was making better use of the title in the HTML header. This is something that I preach at work, the title should describe the information as it is used by search engines. Google uses it in their algorithms and in their hyperlink to the information. I took the category in my homebuilt CMS and placed the category name in the title and put the same title in the H1 header tag at the top of these pages. After the first Googlebot scrape of this site the incoming Google clicks quadrupled in 24 hours and have stayed rather constant.

I knew something like this would happen, but not to this extent. I guess there are so many poorly formed Web pages out there that a properly formed page sticks out (tounge partially in cheek). The categories are set based on my personal taxonomy and each entry can be cross classified as there is often cross-cutting issues in a post. The things people are seeking and ending up on these pages is extremely broad, much like the topics covered here. Some of the Google queries end up at Off the Top as it is near the top in the search results, but not nearly as on target as others that are farter down the list that have not structured their information properly.

Understanding the environment at work

Reimagining work provides insight from workplace designers on how the work environment influences work. It is a good read with a lot of wonderful insights. [hat tip Challis]
November 28, 2002

IA and UX organization matrix

Beth provides a matix of IA and UX organizations to join, which helps not only know the price, but also know the area of focus.

W3C RDF Primer

The W3C RDF Primer is something to come back to soon. The Resource Description Framework is a solid foundation to sharing information and is getting used more. It is a grown-up's version of RSS (the weblogger's resource sharing XML tool). This information relies on well structured information and helps keep the information structured for reuse.
November 25, 2002

Gabriel puts on a great creative show

We saw Peter Gabriel at the MCI Arena tonight (11/24), which was a great show. It was wonderful sound and as usual the show and theatrics were stunning. If you are remotely a fan of Gabriel it is well worth the price. Tony Levin is touring with him again. (Tony is also keeping a road journal that includes pictures from the show and pictures of the audience. We were sitting right in front of Tony (40 to 50 feet away). Peter is also touring with his daugher Melanie (backup vocals), David Rhodes (guitar), Rachael Z. (keyboards), Ged Lynch (drums), and Richard Evans (guitar and flute). The creativity and design of the show, as it is with most Gabriel shows, is stunning. Joy and I are talking about where we can see this tour again.
November 23, 2002

Get your RSS feed

Yes, I finally got up to speed with the rest of the world and added an RSS feed and have added a new page that will track available vanderwal.net XML documents and RSS feeds. I may make a couple category specific RSS feeds as there is interest. Use the (now working again) comments or the contact to let me know what you would like.

I have only put out the first RSS feed in 0.91 at the moment. I may upgrade it in the near future as I now have it relatively easy to build from my end. I have been getting a decent amount of pestering and bother from folks asking for the feed. You see I still build my own CMS for the site and it takes time and priority to get around to some of these things.

Why not move to Movable Type or Drupal (the only two I would currently consider)? I enjoy building my own system, but it does require that I build my own APIs or even my own applications to mirror functionality. I like building CMS and this one is one of six that I have designed and/or fully built since 1997. It is like a hobby for me as well as a job.

Writers and information structure with markup

Understanding content, structure, writers, and working with content management in CMS Watch. Those of you like me that can not understand how people can not structure their documents that they want Web-endabled or reused in other way, this article helps make sense of the situation.

GUI vs Hand Coding for HTML

Dori posts a matrix explaining how well GUI Web mark-up tools perform and it is not suprising that most do poorly. Dreamweaver MX does admirably, but the JavaScript is not up to par. The best coding is still hand coding. If you do not know how to hand code your job will never be done, it will not be right either. The tools have come a long way, but they are nto there yet.
November 20, 2002

Redesign explained

You most likely have noticed. There has been a redesign here. This new site is nearly all XHTML and using CSS box model. Going through this process introduces one to all the bug that browsers have that you need to work around. I found that IE 5.5 and up on the PC is horribly buggy and does not follow standard box model too well. Netscape 7 on the PC is the best browser. On Mac OS X the best browser has been Navigator/Chimera and IE 5.2 (through this Chimera became my favorite browser on most any platform).

You dare ask why the redesign? Well it was well past time. The last design had been around for a year or so and the CSS was giving me fits. I really wanted cleaner markup and I wanted to have a font size that scales. I believe that the font scales on all web standards compliant browsers and platforms. It should even scale on the PC's IE 5.5 and 6 browser (this has had broken functionality since day one, if you need a browser to scale font sizes properly get a real browser, one that is Mozilla based will do just fine). I am trying to remove the thin white line under the logo graphic and above the menu bar, it is showing up in IE on the PC and on versions of Mozilla on the Mac (Please contact if you have a solution).

I also wanted a better layout that would permit a cleaner layout. I moved the global navigation to the top bar and it uses and unordered list and CSS to put it in line and give it the roll-over (I stole part of the code from Scott and tweaked it). I also moved the local navigation to the left, which has been a joy as it is near the scroll bar and has made life a little easier. The right navigation may also be a place for other goodies. The right navigation has also helped me on the links page as there are a ton of links and I wanted a sub-navigations (yes, the links page is going to be getting an over haul in the near future with some needed integration with other elements in the site). The redesign also give the opportunity to introduce some small photos or images on the pages and not have other colors overwhelm them.

The box model drove me crazy, but I created some cheats I hope to share in the near future, once I get some minor tweaks around here done. The redesign was done solely on the TiBook and using a combination of the Macromedia MX Studio (Dreamweaver MX is a decent text editor, but I could not find a way to have it show a passable rendering of the pages in its own browser) and BBEdit. I started the process with outlines in Omni Outliner (a tool that rocks and is unparralled) as well as Omni Graffle to put together some wireframes to help me sort out the layout and functionality. This set of tools has been one of the best combinations I have used, I wish I could use this combo at work. I really am missing Adobe Photoshop, which may become my next software purchase, as it is a great tool that saves time.

Please, please write wit questions or bugs found. Thank you. I did this for me, but I hope you enjoy it.

November 18, 2002

Design Council Gov Toolkit

The Design Council's Government [UK] Design Toolkit is a wonderful resource asking good questions and providing insite in to analytical tools to help shape a toward the mission and help design toward the users. The definition of cluster analysis does a nice job of laying out the task of defining groups of audiences. Other than this the site misses including the user as a focus of the messages and product.
November 17, 2002

Conferenece envy

Matt has been chronicling his experience at Doors of Perception held in Amsterdam. Matt offers his notes from: day 1, day 2 morning, day 2 afternoon, day 3, and day 3 final notes. This and ASIS&T were two conferences I really wanted to attend this Fall, but the move and house have eaten my money. I am saving myself for the Spring for SXSW, ASIS&T IA Summit, and possiblly DUX along with the possibility of Good Experience Live.

I did pop up to Philly to meet-up with some AIfIA Board members, other leadership counsel folks, and members. It was a great treat. I really wished I was staying for the ASIS&T conference (next year) and spending more time with these folks.

The train up was good as I got a lot of writing done (remember to take headphones if you are not on a "quiet" car, which do not run on weekends). The seat I was in on the way up did not have a functioning electrical socket, so I was pulling on batteries (not to worry I have a TiBook with 4 to 5 hours of battery). I was able to edit, read, write, and work on some graphics last evening and on the train back today. What a wonderful way to travel, particularly to Philly.

November 15, 2002

Buttons have info cramming illness

This week I have dealt with folks that have created design elements without giving thought to how they or their users would use these elements. The oddity in the three cases was creating a design that used image buttons with text. The size of the button's was fixed with the design. In all three cases one or more of the buttons tried to cram way too much text on to the tiny space. The buttons were unreadable.

Graphical buttons demand forethought. They should only contain one or two short words. Graphical buttons should be clear and easy to read. If the words on buttons are more than one or two words you and the user may be better off using text links. A good button would be "Animals 2001" not "Emprical Study of Animals in Tropical and Non-Tropical Environments - 2001". To convey the full text of the information you may be much better off using headers to structure the information, in this case using "Animal Reports" and "Emprical Study of Tropical and Non-Tropical Environments" then list the years offered in buttons or in a list. This provides much better scanning and can help break the information in to more scanable chunks.

All aboard to Philly

I am utterly tired and a little crispy. I am heading to Philly for a very quick trip. I decided rather than drive I would take the train. I need to read and write and have a little down-time without an Internet connections. What a better way than the train. I went to the Amtrak site to check times and prices. It was a pretty good site, only it did not consistantly keep my previous selection when I would change one element to check price and arrival time combinations. The explainations were at the very bottom of the page (I was using a browser without alt tags turned on, which may have helped). It was a rather quick and easy to use site. The not keeping the previous selection did get me a wrong ticket time reserved, but when I called customer service it was easy (completely hassle free) and free to change my selection. I will see how the rest of the trip goes. (I have travelled by train a lot on the East Coast as it saves on driving and dealing with what to do with the car in NYC.)
November 14, 2002

Peter explains IA and AIfIA

Peter explains IA as he describe the role of Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture. The list of organizations that have members that have joined AIfIA in 10 days or so that AIfIA has been in existence is rather impressive to me. But hey, that is just me.
November 12, 2002

White paper on taxonomy and classification

Michael points to and discusses a Delphi Group white paper on taxonomy and content classification. A quick perusal of this 58 page PDF is leading me think I will want to clear some time for this sucker.
November 11, 2002

5 things CIOs cna do for project managers

Builder.com offers 5 things a CIO can do for project managers. This seems to be bacic. I would think having a central data resource would also be essential. How much time have we lost trying to find where a certain data element is stored and who is the owner of that item. Often we can not find the needed element and create our own, only to find out there was a resource, which now needs to be used, then we spend hours and money to rebuild the application.

In the years just before the Web boom, many large organizations created positions to be just this resource and many were called information architects. A Google search on "information architect" and enterprise will find current descriptions and pre-1995 descriptions. Some organizations understand the positive impact this can have and many more should.

Tablet Hotels gets Experience Design and IA right

The November 2002 edition of ID Magazine reviews Tablet Hotels. For those that are not familiar, Tablet Hotels is a Web site that focusses on well designed hotels that are not from the cookie cutter molds of the large chains. These boutique hotels presented are from around the world. The site allows users the ability to select by location, amenities, and the traveler's agenda.

The response to "What was the biggest design challenge in creating the site?" points to the success:

The booking path was the greatest design challenge. We built our own proprietary real-time reservation engine, and when we began, we really wanted to create something outstanding and above and beyond the sterile process that's out there now. However, as we got into it, we found ourselves handcuffed by the antiquated systems that the engine had to connect to (GDS and hotel inventory systems). Throw in the fact that our site caters to an international audience and that the language terms and general policies of hotels vary greatly throughout the world, and we had our work cut out for us in our information architecture.

The small site of Tablet Hotels had not only their own information architecture (micro IA) to work through be the semantic variations of an industry so to digitally interact with various players (macro IA). The pairing of these two extremes seems to be wonderfully executed. The visual design of the site attracts the international customers searching for design and customer focussed hotels. Each hotel has a well written snippet and are photographed from design friendly perspectives. The reviews also offer a "citysense", which is a, self described, sensory guide to region covering: look, listen, taste, touch, and smell. The interactive components are also executed very well with allowing the user a the ability to select the elements/facets that are important to them when making the selection for their hotel.

The Tablet Hotel site is very well thought through and has spent much time and consideration walking through the whole array of Experience Design/User-Centered Design roles, including information architecture, to make a site that raises the bar for other hotel sites.

November 7, 2002

Window on Paris

Jason and Meg are in Paris and offering up wonderful stories. I am having a wonderful time dreaming though their relayed adventures. This is a wonderful time of year for Paris as the crowds are down and it is the balance tips toward a working city not a tourist destination. This time of year it is a little chilly and walking by the sidewalk crepe stands and feeling the warmth from the heat and the smell lifts the soul.

OS X FTP/SFTP

I think I found a FTP application for Mac OS X that I really like. Transit is the FTP/SFTP interface for me. I like the drag and drop element to the interface. I had been using Fetch, but not knowing from the interface where items were being downloaded too was annoying. I also really wanted SFTP as I like using SSH rather than telnet. Very happy day.

Go back

I had an early preview of a site this past week so to add comments. It is odd to me that sites are still being built with the frame of reference that the user will come through the "font door". If you read your log files the users come in at every opening. It is about even odds that a new user to the site will come there from a search engine, an external link, or from another pointer (e-mail or article). The frame of reference should always try to provide some orientation to the user, such as breadcrumbs or some other link out to related or parent information.

The item that I found a little jarring was a "Go back to the previous page" and it was not a javascript, but a link to what the developer thought was a next level up page. Pure linear navigation is a practice that is no longer a practice, if it ever was. Somebody last night at the DC-IA book club asked whether we navigated or searched, as always it seems to depend. With sites like Amazon we mostly searched, while some smaller sites we would click around. It seemed the greater volume of information lead to a greater instance of searching.

We did not talk about this for long, but it has been resonating all day. One of the things that Amazon does extremely well is end-search navigation. Most folks seem to search Amazon to find a particular item, but then Amazon's navigation and related offerings that could attract the user to the item, which they were searching for or to a similar item. The search result pages offer links to narrow the results or to ensure the user is looking for the musician Paul Young or author Paul Young. A user arriving at an Amazon book page would have all the options and information they needed to find related information and where they are in the Amazon site.

Macromedia back to the CMS again

Word on the street is Macromedia is to release a new CMS the week of November 11, 2002. This article states the Content Management System will only be available for Windows XP first and then for OS X in the Spring. Odd that it is not supporting Win 2000 servers as XP servers are not fully baked yet and ready for consumption. This is only rumor until the launch.
November 6, 2002

New TiBook to increase productivity

Apple releases a 1GHz TiBook it also can house a SuperDrive and has an ATI 9000 graphics card with 64MB RAM. This is insanely impressive. Did I mention I really have not been needing my PC and have been living off my TiBook at home? Mine will be a year old in January and I still love it and still believe it is the best computer I have ever owned or ever work with. I have loved desk top computers for their flexability and power and still crave one, but definately not a Windows product. I know think about all the wasted hours of productivity that Microsoft has put people through. If the wasted hours could be recaptured or people had been productive would that be billions of dollars? Would that be how much closer to the cure for cancer? Would that be what? At home I have one or two hours a week lost on MS and work is about an hour a week lost to a bug. A co-worker watched her Word document rewrite itself with gibberish the other day. A few hours of productive time lost. But, this is a documented bug in XP OS and XP Office with no real cure, just turn off functionality. Maybe if we donated the money wasted we could have feed all the hungry? All the hungry in the world.

DC-IA book club

Those of you in the DC area the DC-IA group has their book reading tonight at Barnes and Noble in Bethesda at 7:30pm. The book for this month is Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 2nd edition (the polar bear). Dan Brown who organizes the book club is reminding folk of the free coffee.
November 5, 2002

v-2 redesign

V-2.org redesigns, which is making reading the wonderful content much easier. Adam and others at V-2 provide great insights in user-centered design and information architecture. Adam is also a fellow Boxes and Arrows alumni.
November 3, 2002

AIfIA launches

A group of around 20 Information Architects gathered together in person and in digital environments over the last half year to put together a non-profit organization to help the Information Architect profession. We are proud to announce The Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture has opened its doors to provide resources to full-time IAs as well as part-time IAs and even to those curious about Information Architecture. We would love your help and support and we will give all we can professionally to support you and the industry.

Books to get us through

I have been working on a few interface changes around here. I have found two books to be very helpful today. Cascading Style Sheets: Separating Content from Presentation, which has been helpful with the interface foundation tweaks. The three writers really knocked themselves out to put together an incredible resource. Normally I turn to the Web to find the answers, but to have a book that has a few bookmarks in it at the time of coding, was quite a change and very nice.

The other book, Usability: The Site Speaks For Itself has been bedside reading for a couple months while we were going through our move. This was one of the few books I kept careful track of as it has been great downtime inspiration. This book, unlike the "Guru" usability books, teaches you how to approach Web interface design and development with the user in mind. The hard fast rules some espouse do not always work well with our own users. This book does a wonderful, teaches us how to think through the process and provides examples of six varied sites and their developers approaches to creating usable sites for their audiences. This books is a joy to look at as well as read. There are many nuggets tucked in the pages that make it worth the price. When building Web sites the one constant is "it depends" and we can always use help learning how to think through these situations.

November 2, 2002

What CSS

I think I am using "Crack Smokin' Styles" (CSS) as I have not touched the CSS is a couple days and I have seen four different font sizes today. There is no consistancy from browser to browser on the Mac, nor on the PC. It is very strange I am using the same styles for all the pages, but it varies from page to page. Time to dig in, maybe.

User Centered Design and beyond

There are a handful of synonymous terms I have been running into and using in the past few months. Most of us understand User-Centered Design (UCD) as a concept and practice. UCD helps us build successful information applications, including Web sites, that are usable by those that want to use them, have to use them, or are seeking the information contained within them. UCD does not fully focus on the developers, the project owners (clients or mangers), but puts the focus on the end users of the information or digital services. This approach to development provides a wonderful return for those that engage in this practice as it is demoralizing for those that have spent time or paid money for development to have an information application that is not used (if it is not demoralizing it could be time to find a new profession).

Information wants to be found by those that seek it and Web sites, applications, and poor interfaces should not stand in the way of those wishing to consume the information. Information should be prepared and presented with consumption in mind. Many times digital information is a service that is used to assist the consumer of not only that information but other elements like a person buying a product. In a sense we not only create User-Centered sites and applications but Customer Service tools. This focus is very helpful when working on a site that will serve as communication between an organization or person and another organization or person. The experience between these two parties in this information transaction should be effortless. Just like a physical experience we don't like standing in a long line only to get to the front of the line to have the person tell you they can not help you and you have to go to another location or that there is no process to get your money back. As customers we want effortless experiences in the physical world as well as our digital environments. Customer service has been a focus of the physical business world for years and UCD is the digital equivalent. UCD has as its focus providing not only an enjoyable experience to perform the task, but also a more pain free method of correcting errors and problems (the folks at 37 Signals call this contingency plan design and are ready and will in to teach those that do not understand it).

While customer service is mantra in the private sector, Citizen Services or Citizen-Centric Services are becoming the focal point for the public sector. Governments have learned and have turned their digital focus on the citizens. Yes, governments are beginning to "get it". It is not about the technology, but about the consumer of the services. One of the central tenets of a governments is providing services. One of these services is gathering, aggregating, and providing information. Getting the information into the hands of those wishing to consume this information has been the struggle. Not many years ago we had learned to use a Post Office box in Colorado for a government clearing house for information, now we should only need a Web browser.

The government was one of the first entities to take advantage of the Internet to post information. Some U.S. federal government agencies created sites as early as 1993 and have been keeping them running ever since. More and more the government created sites and posted information. The down side was there was little of anything other than general Internet search engines to get the user to the information or service they desired. In the past year or two this focus has begun to move from just posting information where it was grown (in what appears to most citizens to be arcane bureaucratic and political organizations with undecipherable acronyms) to tying these information repositories to central jumping off points. FirstGov is the mother of the effort and has been guiding the Citizen-Centric focus. Many agencies have turned their eGovernment offices and staff toward the mindset of providing electronic Citizen-Centric services. Many agencies are working to provide jumping off points to information and services that are commonly sought and now available on the Internet. These portals remove the morass of acronyms and the need to understand organizational structures for the common citizens that have paid their taxes and are looking for a return on that investment in the form of electronic information or digital services.

Yes, many of us are now fixing the mess of information digitally thrown onto the Internet by providing structure to this information and making it findable and usable by the people interested in consuming the information or the products the information provides a gateway to. We now have the User-Centered Design umbrella to tie the roles and processes together that we use to help the User, Customer, or Citizen. These handful of terms are used for the same focus that makes the digital world a less frustrating, more friendly, and usable environment.

Networked PIM

Victor quickly discusses and points to a networked Personal Information Manager. This tool, which early Apple developer Andy Hertzfeld has helped with, seems to be a tool that would be of great benefit for digital projects.

Adaptive power

I really like the promise of Bluetooth (short range wireless connectivity that has the promise of eliminating wires between devices). Eliminating wires, or reducing the number of wires needed to function digitally would be a blessing.

But, having just moved I do not find the wires connecting the devices to be a huge problem it is the power cords. There are a myriad of power adapters that require somewhere to be plugged in. It also seems to be a requirement that the power cords are tangled with other power cords. Not only this, but power adapters are not interchangeable. Not only are they not interchangeable, but the do not come with any corresponding labelling that help identify power cord A should be used with device A. Power cord adapter manufacturers should be prohibitited from having their own branding on the adapter, as that branding inhibits pairing the device to the adapter. There are a couple companies that get this, Sony and Apple tend to brand their adapters so that it is easy to get their devices running. I guess the other device companies are not interested in us using their devices, but are only interested in us buying them.

What about daisy chaining power adapters? You know, like Christmas tree lights. Or universal adapters with voltage and wats settings that are selectable and an interchangeable plug end that quickly changes to been the devices connector slot, much like the British electrical outlet plugs are/used to be (have not been since the late 80s and it may have changed). In Britain when you bought an electrical device it came with a cord attached, but the cord did not have a plug to connect to the wall, as there were not standard wall outlets. The lack of plugs on the cord was annoying to those who were unaware of such practices, but it easy to understand why this practice was needed.

So to create a more workable environment have the ability to daisy chain power cords and have interchangeable plug ends. Manufacturers of devices must brand their power adapters accordingly. These steps would help eliminate the umpteen cords I have in bags that I do not know their mated device. I find 12V adapters do not work with all devices that state they need 12V power coming in. All I want to do is follow my digital passions and work. Is that too much to ask?

November 1, 2002

Gabriel Videos

Peter Gabriel's site has a video section with full versions from So, such as In Your Eyes, which I had never seen. This song really reminds me of the summer of 1986 when I was living in Berkeley, CA and listening to the So album driving through the Berkeley and Oakland hills to get to work in Moraga. I had listened to Gabriel from his early albums, but So really was wonderful and now brings back great memories. So also opened the world of Youssou N'Dour to me, which is some of my favorite grounding music.

Happy anniversary OtT Tool

Yesterday, October 31st was the one year anniversary of this weblog's home rolled CMS (Content management system). In the past year I have posted 722 entries, set 142 keywords to classify and cross-classify these posts, had 122 comments posted, and had 2,055 category entries in the database to help find related information posted.

This was a wonderful step as the tool did exactly what I wanted it to do. Mostly stay functional and usable from where ever I am. I had started rolling it about six months before it went live and used it as my "travelblog". I had been hand coding every entry for six months to a year, which was getting to be a drag. To post hand coded posts I needed FTP capability, which was not available everywhere. I could find a web browser much more easily. This was functionality I found I had with Blogger, which I started playing with out of curiosity with the interface and desktop application like functionality.

I have been asked why I do not use one of the other all ready rolled tools. I like what I built and it works for me. I can also add functionality to it that I want to play with. Some of the lack of functionality is my own lack of time or motivation on with this tool, but it because of me. I also like the quick responsiveness when posting comments and the general posts themselves.

Here is to another year and more, with time to add everything I want to add.

Shooting crickets in the dark

My favorite analogy used this week was "it is like shooting crickets in the dark". Used to describe a plethora of things that are not documented. A sudden change in direction that is accompanied with no certifiable requirements. These situations have cropped up in the past where a photo was used along with stories in a CMS and now the client wants to please a new boss by CIO has not arrived so there is no understaning taste or likes. Many quick options are put together each getting a no and with no more direction than that. This my friends is shooting crickets in the dark, which is akin to "I know it when I see it" school of design management. The cricket keeps chirping you keep shooting.

Happy first

Woops, it is the first of the month and I don't have my updated CMS tool running that better handles the first of the month "issues". It also looks like the CSS did not take on lower level pages from the update of last week. Hmmm.... Hopefully being All Saints Day will help the Angels of HTML look kindly upon me.

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