May 29, 2003

CSS and Microsoft's poor excuse for a browser

Tim Bray adds to the Microsoft IE is garbage chant that has been spreading around the Web developer community for some time. Oddly, until I think of Tantek, the IE browser on Mac is far more compliant. The font sizing issues that Tim discusses are largely only a problem on Windows version of IE browsers. Most other modern browsers (Mozilla (including its Netscape 6 and 7 variants), Opera, Safari, etc. all resize fonts even if the fonts are set in pixels.

In the accessibility community having a fixed pixel size has been taboo for some time. As I talk with more people with vision problems I find most do not use Windows IE browser to view sites, but choose one of the other modern browsers as they allow easy scaling of fonts (some like Opera even scale images). This seems to be a trait across the visually challenged users. Most users with visual difficulties have a strong dislike for the Microsoft browser just on this point alone. A few have mentioned they really like Mozilla browsers as they can easily change the skin on the browser to make the buttons and other elements more visible.

Me, I can read Tim's site just fine, which is ideal as Tim understands the problems and knows where the blame should reside.

Note: The MS IE browser on Windows shows its downfalls to those that are trying to us modern Web development techniques by using CSS layouts rather than table layouts for their work. As Web developers learn tableless layout is a pain to learn initially, largely because of IE 6 and lower do not follow the rules properly. To get Windows IE to render properly one has to hack the valid CSS to get the browser to render the page as does a browser that follows the standards. The irony is Microsoft claims to own the CSS patent.

RSS offers Web content without a connection

I am happy that RSS changed by Web reading habits as the past to nights with limited Internet access I was able to crack open NetNewsWire and caught up on some reading from the 93 feeds I currently pull in. I have always been curious why some folks would post only titles of articles in RSS or RDF feeds and not even a short summary or teaser. Now this really frustrates me as I only could read titles, some which were intriguing and could have warranted me putting them in a "to read" status, but instead I ignored them and jumped to items that offered summaries or full content.

Design for real users

Chad highlights an excellent design perspective, "design for real people". Real people are rushed (at least in the parts I am familiar with), tired, distracted, etc. It is not those in the perfect lab setting that are important, but those actually living life trying to find the information for a report that was due COB yesterday, while trying to arrange for a new print cartridge from the help desk that never seems to (not my life, but one I have observed).

Maybe when we are doing user testing we arrange for phone calls and messages to be hand delivered. When I was doing usability testing on a somewhat regular basis, I always did the testing at the user's desk to see their computer setup and other things that may be interfering with usage. I have noticed that pale colors do not work well in workspaces with direct sunlight, which visual designers have used darker color palettes and reduced "I can not find it" complaints.

Back home with new pipes

Ah, home again. We have new pipes through out our house and running water again. We also have a floor to ceiling hole in the wall in our dining room and in the ceiling of the dining room. We have a hole in the kitchen walls too to give access to pipes. We have a new energy efficient water heater, which should also help the cause.

It is good to be back in the house, even though it was only a couple days, it was very disruptive as life (such as work) continues on as usual, as do visits to the pre-baby doctor. I learned a very good lesson on this adventure, when booking a hotel get verification what they mean by "wireless" Internet access. It could be, as it turns out the IR keyboard that is used to control the "Internet in the TV". Wireless to me was WiFi, which means broadband. I was able to get use of a meeting room at the hotel last night to pull e-mail and pull some files I needed. I was able to accomplish that on a broadband connection in 35 minutes, which would have been 2 hours on dial-up. I was able to get back to working on an overview presentation I had to give today.

The funny thing was I was able to pick-up a few wireless signals in the courtyard. Some were managed and locked down and others were open. The signals kept varying in and out so I did not persue much farther. Last night I realized that the WiFi signals were coming from the Microsoft Offices that look down into the same courtyard shopping area.

Oh, nothing new on the baby front as all things seem good and no more sonigrams are planned. Junior is kicking quite a bit during playtime, which is 5:30am and 10:30pm.

May 27, 2003

Shhhh

Things may be quiet here the next day or so, depending on broadband connection at the hotel, as we are on the run from a house being repiped. Yes, all the water and gas pipes in the house are being replaced. Hopefully we will be able to move back in Thursday night. We should have a new gas stove then too to cook (no more electric stove, yeah).

May 26, 2003

Views of the future of software

Every now and then I run across something that really gets me thinking and twisting every way I look at the idea. Dave Winer's Who will pay for software, Pt. I and who will pay, Pt. II along with Tim Bray's Business Ignorance and Try then Buy. These four articles look at the state of the software industry. The consensus, go figure, is not too bright unless one is Microsoft.

As Joshua noted the other day I tend to view Microsoft's products dimmly. This is partly because the Microsoft products are rarely the best in their field, and they rarely have ever been the best. Marketing is Microsoft's strength and they have made a bundle and gained prominance not out of having the best product, but through their business skills.

A few years ago I started on a project that put me back in the UNIX environment, which I dreaded at first as much of my work for the two previous years had been on Windows based systems. I relearned to love UNIX and Linux as my develoment skilss had grown greatly. I found UNIX and Linux gave the developer and SysAdmin far better control and I could control security problems far better than I ever could in the Windows world. I left the UNIX-based project to head back into a Windows world about two or three years ago. In doing so I really wanted to have a UNIX based machine to keep up my skills, I was also in need of a laptop as my old laptop was tied to my project.

I made a decision to buy a Mac TiBook and run Mac OS X. This gave me the laptop, the UNIX underpinnings, and a solid interface. I had not used a Mac since 1990 for work after using friends Macs and loving them. I used Mac's as test environments over the past few years, but the instability of the pre-OS X operating systems and the vast difference in interfaces from Windows and no command line kept me away. From the first month I had my Mac I was in love with it, well it was a frustrating love in the way that you find that perfect mate and they just don't suck and never seem to iritate you. I hated to say the Mac was a computer as it did not cause headaches and did not cause problems. Everything I needed to do for side-projects and even work for a Windows environment was dirt simple and just worked.

This love of simplicity and an aim for perfection at Apple has a new mark for me to evaluate everything that Microsoft does. Granted the Windows software on Mac seems to be far better than the Windows OS versions, sometimes seeming to be an order of magnitude better. The Mac OS X seems to offer a very rare balance, in its simiplicity, beauty, ease of use, and control. While not all of Apple's applications are perfect, they are far better than many other offerings out there.

Apple has a flirting love affair with Open Source applications and has been making it very easy to add Linux-based apps and have them take advantage of the OS X interface, with its X11 (still in beta and it just rocks).

After reading the four articles above I have been somewhat worried that the attempts at great software that bubble up may have a tough road ahead, which is a true shame. A behemoth company that creates mediocre software (MS) may be ruining the opportunities for great software to exist, unless we can find solid methods for funding these great things. Mediocre software leads me to fits of swearing and having another human generation on its way into our home in the next few months I do not want these fits of swearing or the limited view of the world that is nothing like those of us that dream of a better world with computing want to see. I want my child to know that they can have beauty, control, and perfectly built software and operating systems that will help them through life and not provide a means of frustration.

Site housecleaning and rebuilt essay section for MoA info

There have been some more modifications here at vanderwal.net. Many of the pages now have links to the Essays section. The Essays page has finally been brought into the new look and layout. The page also integrates the Model of Attraction section more closely.

Over the past few months the MoA has grown through word of mouth and remembering the URL for its mainpage has been problematic. Much of the traffic that has been coming into MoA has been going to the first draft, which is good, but it is also just the first draft. The newest information on the MoA, there is more coming, will be placed at the top of the list.

The Creative Commons license has been added to more pages, including the MoA. Finally the links page has been updated to add some of my regular reads, remove dead links or stale content, and update links to where helpful resources have moved.

There are some more modifications on the way in the near future, some you will be able to see and others will be admin tools or just seemless updates.

May 25, 2003

New photo galleries posted

I finally posted some photos from the NYC trip earlier this month over in the Photo section. I have been playing with Better HTML for iPhoto . I am still not satisfied with what I have for a template, but that can be changed.

I have been a big fan of iPhoto, but with over 1200 photos in its grasp it is now as slow as a long haired dog in mid-day Mississippi summer heat. I may start playing with some other products soon that have similar digital resource management functionality. The slowness of iPhoto and iTunes has been reported by many that have stretched the limits. There are some workaround listed in comments that can help keep the iPhoto quicker.

May 22, 2003

Pocket PC only for Solitare

It dawned on me this morning on the train into work that I don't remember seeing anybody not playing solitare on their color Pocket PCs. I see one or two Pocket PCs each day and everyone is playing solitare. I realize it has been a couple of months since I have seen any other application used on one. I see many other PDAs on my trips to and from work and on travels. Many others PDAs have text that is being read, calendars updated, lists being prepared, or e-mail prepared and sent. Me on my Hiptop I am sending e-mail or playing one of the arcade games. On my Palm OS device I play DopeWars, backgammon, working on outlines, reading news through AvantGo, or looking up reviews in Vindigo.

Has is the Pocket PC the sign of Agent Smith? A narrowly pedestrian agent with narrow interests?

May 21, 2003

CMS goes over 1,001

This is post 1,001 in my homebuilt weblog CMS. Yes there have been other odometer parties on this site, but turning over 1,000 was one that really has pleased me. My tool is missing some elements that others now have, but I still have fun tinkering with mine and extending it. There are some plans for the summer to add functionality by embracing the categories and using them in conjuction with the links page as well as tying the links and entries together, sort of like a Web strawberry banana shake. I have a book review repository planned too, but it has not moved out of the ERD phase yet (uh, yes I plan, chart, and document my apps and changes for the site, it eases making changes in the future -- I just need to get all the docs on one machine and in one directory).

Lift you glass to 1,001 entries and no digi-barfing

Joshua changes before our eyes

Things have been a little busy around these parts of late. One site you should be watching is Joshua's redesign. Joshua is learning many of the painful lessons in a CSS redesign. Joshua has not only been redesigning and documenting in front of our eyes, but he has been sharing his resources. Joshua just rocks as he learned the mantra of the Web is to share openly. He has also learned Windows IE 6 is not your friend as it does not render valid CSS properly. Go get 'em Joshua

May 16, 2003

Mac trains its user

A while back I turned on speech feature in OS X. I only have it speak system and application alert to me. I have chosen Victoria (the Uli's talking moose has always been a similar voice for me). A few weeks ago, when Joy was away the TiBook lid became ajar during the night waking the TiBook. It was not much longer before the TiBook began speaking, as our house has all hardwood floors the voice carried. This startled me from my sleep and had me quite startled, then I realized what it was and went to soothe the Mac and put it back to sleep.

This last week a similar incident happened, but with Joy home and I asked Joy what she said. In the middle of the night, out of a dead sleep, Joy said "it was your computer talking" and went right back to sleep. I got up to check and put it back to sleep.

I guess this is our baby preparation application. Somehow I don't think that is the intended purpose, or even any demi-intent for use. I guess our Mac nows understands our lives better than we thought and "just works".

May 14, 2003

Building with Web Standards or how Zeldman got the future now

I awaiting Jeffrey Zeldman's Designing with Web Standards, which is available for order from Amazon (Designing with Web Standards). I have been a believer in designing with Web Standards for years, but it was Jeffrey that pushed me over the edge to evangelist for Web standards. One of the best things going for Web standards is it make validation of markup easy, which is one of the first steps in making a Web site accessible.

I work in an environment that requires Web standard compliance as it provides information to the public as a public good. Taxpayers have coughed up their hard earned dollars to pay for research and services, which are delivered to them on the Web. The public may access information from a kiosk in an underfunded library with a donated computer on a dial-up connection, but they can get to information that they are seeking. The user may be disabled and relying on assistive technology to read the public information. The user may be tracking down information from a mobile device as they are travelling across country on their family vacation. Each of these users can easily get the public information they are seeking from one source, a standard compliant Web page.

Every new page that is developed by the team I am on validates to HTML 4.01 transitional. Why 4.01 transitional and not XHTML? We support older browsers and 4.01 transitional seems to have pretty good access to information no matter the browser or device. We are not on the cutting edge, but we know nearly everybody can get the information their tax dollars have paid for. I dream of a day job building XHTML with full CSS layout, but with the clients I work for we still aim at the public good first.

I am very happy that Jeffrey has his book coming out as it should bring to light to more developers what it means to build to Web standards. Every contract that is signed buy the agency I work for must validate to HTML 4.01 transitional, but very few of the sites do when they come through the door to be posted. We provide a lot of guidance to help other developers understand, but finding a solid foundation to work upon is tough. When hiring folks many claim to have experience building valid sites, but most soon realize they never have to the degree to getting a W3C validation.

Building our pages to 4.01 does not mean we are going to stick with 4.01 forever. We plan for XHTML by closing all tags and stay away from tags deprecated in 4.01 strict. Much of what we create only needs a few scripts run to convert the pages from HTML to XHTML 1.1 transitional. Having the closing tags makes scripting to find information and search and replace much easier. (Enough for now, buy the book, we will have more later).

May 12, 2003

Oakland's education angel sees first college graduate

The best thing I have read in the news in months is about the graduation of Oral Lee Brown's promisses. Sixteen years ago Oral Lee Brown promissed 25 first graders she would pay for their college education should they have the ability and desire to go to college. Oral Lee believed and offered hope. This past weekend LaTosha Hunter graduated from Alcorn State.

In a school not known for hope, Oral Lee offered hope and believed in the kids. Out of the 25 first graders 19 went off to college four years ago. This is in a school district that sees three out of four high school freshman drop out.

Quiet before the news

After five weeks of visitors or travelling out of town, things on the home front are finally somewhat quiet, other than another leak in the basement (this time at the valve from the street is dripping).

Okay quiet for folks who are expecting a baby in late-September or early October. As our niece says, "Joy is having baby. Joy have baby in her tummy."

May 11, 2003

Perceived viable price for music

An unexpected moment happened this weekend as I stopped in Tower Records as it is the same parking area as another regular Saturday morning errand I found Kem Kemistry for under 10 dollars. I had stumbled across Kem in the Apple Music Store this past week and really enjoyed it. I had though about making that the first disk I downloaded from AMS, but finding the disc for less than I would have paid to Apple I was a proud owner. (Kem is a new artist that sounds much like Al Jarreau but with a little more Motown R&B).

Until AMS my maximum price for a CD was 14 US dollars (with a few exceptions), but now it seems that 10 dollars may be my new threashold. I love music and really enjoy quality production as well as clean honest music, which the recording industry has ignored of late as they throw plastic layers over talent and foster mediocrity. When I find the increasingly rare gems in regular music bins I dig to find it at a decent price. I miss the days of playing music in a band and the creative process that is fostered in small bands. I played sax and keyboard (many years of piano as a child went to something) in jazz bands, pick-up bands, concert bands, and sat in on cover bands through high school and through college, even in pick-up bands in early work years in San Francisco. There are times when listening to music I ache to play regularly and there are times when I am in awe of great talent and great musicianship. I have seen far too many great bands ruined by the music industry, which leached the blood from bands and single artists that would bring a large smile to my face for days. I finally am seeing hope with the music industry I have not seen in a long time.

With music prices possibly dropping and a levelling of the playing field for independent artist to get exposure of the interchangable Britneys, I see hope. The downside of late is seeing music programs in public schools cut back due to budget cuts. Not only is music needed for its own sake, but there is a strong corrolation between music and mathematics and sciences. Nearly every American programmer that I have known that I have considered to be above average has been a musician also, and often was formally trained. Many of the visual designers have also been musicians, but not as high a ratio as programmers.

Having music be a decent price is very important to me as I truly believe is supporting the artist that create that which gives pleasure. I wish more of the money would flow to the artist and less to the suits that ruin that with has the potential for being great.

Cover art can make a difference

In 1994 I was walking through the Washington, DC Tower Records in Foggy Bottom and saw an album cover that blew me away as a large poster on a wall. At first I just saw the continent of Africa, including Madigascar. But as I grew closer I could see a slightly contorted man in a suit. I walked backward and forward blurring my vision to get the original image I saw then stood in wonderment for a moment before tracking down the CD to buy. This may have been the first and only album or CD I bought based solely on the cover art. I was afraid I would not be able to find that disk again if I did not buy it. I really wanted the poster too, but at the time I knew it would not fit well in my studio apartment as the initial viewing and reviewing the image helps with distance.

Today I am finally ripping Manu Dibango's Wakafrika from the disc I bought years ago into my TiBook with AAC at a 160 bit rate to ensure the wonderful quality of the music. The music on the disk is equal to the cover art and I keep forgetting I do not have it to take with me on travel. Now with iTunes 4 I can also have to cover art.

May 10, 2003

IE blows up with valid HTML

Mark Pilgrim discusses human readable HTML and fatal IE browser bugs. The more bugs that are found in current versions of the Microsoft IE browser on Windows, the more I believe that IE is the current incarnation of Netscape 4. Netscape 4 was known for its lack of playing nicely with Web standards. IE 6 does horribly with valid CSS and now seem like it blows up with valid HTML. Nearly all other modern browsers play more nicely with valid CSS and do not have the problems with valid HTML. (Apple's Safari is not perfect yet, but Apple states their browser is beta.)

Presentation switching demo with CSS at Zen Garden

The separation of content and presentation is and has been extremely important. There have been many developers and designers that have showed there CSS-wares for switching presentation over the past two or three years, but Zen Garden is one of my favorites. The Zen Garden is currently functional (many others have replaced their presentation switching sites for no option presentation in the past year) and it provides a wide variety of styles and layouts. I hope Zen Garden sticks around for a while so it can be used as a great showcase for what can be done.

I am also liking Zen Garden as the various styles provide insight into the placement of headers and content. Not only do the different presentations provide different styles, but the user interface with the information drastically changes from style to style. This differing interface showcase is a great tool to help people understand the importance of presentation and understanding the user. Different audiences may have strong preferences or attraction to the various presentations and testing of the various interfaces most likly would generate widely different results with various user groups. [hat tip Eric Meyer]

May 8, 2003

AAC Internet Radio next

I am now wanting MPEG-4 streams of Internet Radio as Apple's use of AAC has me enjoying the crisp clean sound from music purchased in the Apple Music Store and ripping the music from CD. The quality is very clean and enjoyable, but Internet Radio now sounds rather muddy.

May 7, 2003

We are back

We have been down for the past 36 hours or so, due to a hardware crash and recovery. Most everything is back, but recent e-mail. Please resend anything sent since Monday evening. E-mail seemed to be the first thing to go. One nice thing about a full entry in the RSS feed is being able to save the RSS feed and restoring the last two entries that did not make it onto the backup tape.

I did not realize how dependant I am on my links page until it is gone. Much of what I read at home is out of RSS feeds, but at work, many of the links I use and share as resources are on that page. The links page has been my bookmarks for well over seven years now as it began at some point in early 1996.

NoHo SoHo and other New York observations

The weekend also included some fun NYC adventures in our "spare" time. I tried to find some fun funky casual shoes, which seem to allude the DC area. I teased my sister-in-law by asking when Barney's was open until when Joy and I returned from the wedding. My sister-in-law loves to shop, so when I asked if she was interested in going along to shop for shoes, she said she thought I would never ask. We tried Barney's, but found nothing in my size and found help only slightly easier to find. We ducked into Bloomingdale's and found some things of some interest and in my size, but the fit was not good.

Joy and I went started today at the NoHo Star Diner and had a great brunch. I really enjoyed the Eggs Idaho (sunny side up eggs and potato pancakes), the fresh ginger ale, and Peet's coffee. We ventured just down to SoHo to check out stores. We stopped in the Apple store, which is a wonderful space, to look at the new iPod (very nice and impressed me with the non-moving parts keys that are really nice) and look around. We stopped and tried on shoes in a few places, but if I liked the shoes they were not in my size or were not comfortable on my foot. I was surprised how much SoHo has changed since the early 90s, which was the last time spent time there. SoHo is much like an American mall (up scale American mall) these days. Gone are the funky art galleries that filled the neighborhood and the many eclectic shops, bars, and restaurants. I liked SoHo, but not as much as I used to. New York used to be a very Cosmopolitan city as it did not feel like it could be anywhere in America, it was New York and had a funky flair. More and more it has the same large chain stores and restaurants as anywhere USA, which is sad. New York still has many many "only in New York" places and people, but it is slipping into the mediocrity that enwraps much of the US.

New York City also has become more dirty with trash than any time I can remember in the past 10 years. I was continually stepping on or over trash. New York City has been very proud of is transition into a clean inviting place to visit and live, but it has dropped from that place since even December. I was told my many that this can be attributed to the cuts in City services due to the shortfall of money. Sad.

Joy and I keep saying we need to take a trip to NYC to just see friends there, as we have many who we never really get to see as our trips are short or filled with other reasons for going, other than seeing friends. We hope maybe June could offer this trip before things are a little more restrictive for us travelling. Already our ability to get around is slower than normal, but I was able to get aut and about to run quick errands and shopping trips (and tracking down a Mr. Softee truck, which we did today to get a cherry dipped cone that was great as usual).

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