July 28, 2003

Mobile edition added

We have added a mobile edition of Off the Top capturing the last 10 entries. This should work well on nearly all mobile devices, including PDAs. The entries are provided in plain XHTML and do not have categories nor comments.

Let us know how this works for you.

Home update

On the home front we are having work done on the exterior of our house. We are getting new gutters on the house built in 1951, painting, and fixing some dry rot. Well we are now fixing a little more dry rot than planned. You see the eaves of the house never were painted they were just exposed wood only protected by the gutter for 50 plus years. They did not fair too well.

July 27, 2003

New music written and recorded before your eyes in 24 hours

This morning I caught-up with Scott and Shannon's blogathon, which is 24 hours of postings on their site. The donations go to a great cause and they also did an amazing thing. The two of them wrote and recorded two new songs.

The wonderful parts of this are they are 3,000 miles apart, the collaboration was on line in the blog for this purpose, their auditory updates were posted throughout the 24 hours, and their two voices and guitar tracks and other instrument tracks were all pulled together for two wonderful songs. I have been humming Southdown all day. I want to spend more time reviewing each of the steps to this transparent adventure.

This may be the coolest things I have seen on the Web in quite some time.

Baby prep and holiday prep

A busy weekend with a handful of errands and two five hour baby birthing classes. It was also the last week of the three week of post birth baby classes. We just have baby CPR left and one last prep class for a baptism and we can just wait for the baby to arrive.

Both of us are ready for the summer heat and humidity to be over and done with. Fortunately our trip to the shore is coming soon.

Speaking of the shore I am between two books for shore reading. One just arrived this week, Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch, which is a 700 plus page story that I have been intrigued with since we saw them filming the movie (only released in Europe) in Amsterdam while on our honeymoon (we saw Stephen Fry at breakfast in our hotel. The second is, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, which friends have recommended and I have enjoyed his Notes from a Small Island (a walking tour of Britain). I am leaning toward Discovery of Heaven as I have devoured two rather long books the past two years and I really like having the time to sink into a good long book.

July 24, 2003

Typeface indicates nice weather

The New York TImes Circuits section covers weather sensitive typefaces. The Dutch designers Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum of LettError developed a malleable typeface that changes the form based on weather conditions. This would enable a person to perceive changes in the weather as they were reading their news or other information, all this done to changes in the typeface, which is being read for other content.

Samples of this work can be seen at the University of Minnesota Design School where a twin typeface demo is available as well as the temperature sensitive typeface.

These tools are not innately learned but would take time and instruction to get the user to the sensing ability. This type of secondary communication (the primary channel of information expression is the information being communicated in the content that the typeface is spelling out. Those of us that use and are attuned to our computer's audible cues do not have to think there is an error in the system, but it is conveyed in an audible tone that we recognize and associate with some state of being or in condition. Changing typefaces would be another cue to the world around us.

WiFi in the Lecture Hall

WiFi in the lecture hall (in the New York Times) is the latest environment to add "back-channelling", which is members of the audience or class using instant messaging or group chat to discuss the lecture. SXSW a couple years ago was my first experience with WiFi enabled conference sessions and back-channelling, which was a little distracting, but at the same time provides another dimension to information input. Insta-fact checking would be very nice in work meetings.

July 22, 2003

Blogs get higher Google rankings thanks to proper HTML

Matt points out Google ranks blogs highly. This seems to be the result of Google giving strong preference to titles and other HTML elements. Tools like TypePad help the user properly develop their pages, which Google deems highly credible.

Matt's complaint is his very helpful PVR blog is turning up top results in searches for Tivo information, and other recorder info. Matt's site is relatively new and out ranking the information he is discussing.

This is something I personally run into as things I write about here often get higher Google ranking than the information I am pointing to and is the source and focus of the information. I have often had top Google ranks for items that are big news on CNN or the New York Times, which I am pointing to in my posts.

Much of the reason for this seems to be understanding proper HTML uses and not putting my branding at the forefront of the message. CNN puts their name first in the title of their pages (not the headers, which also have benefit if they are in "H&" tags). The tools and people building Web pages with attention to proper naming and labeling will get rewarded for their good work (if a top Google rank is a reward).

I have written on this in the past in Using HTML tags properly to help external search results from April, which mostly focussed on search ignoring Flash, but for the few HTML elements on a page wrapping the Flash. Fortunately there have been enough links pointing to the site that was laking the top rank to raise the site to the top Google rank.

Some of the corrected Google ranking will come over time as more sites begin to properly mark-up their content. The Google ranks will also shift as more links are processed by Google and their external linking weighting assists correcting the rankings.

July 20, 2003

Bray on browsers and standards support

Tim Bray has posted an excellent essay on the state of Web browsers, which encompasses Netscape dropping browser development and Microsoft stopping stand alone browser development (development seemingly only for users MSN and their next Operating System, which is due out in mid-2005 at the earliest).

Tim points out users do have a choice in the browsers they choose, and will be better off selecting a non-Microsoft browser. Tim quotes Peter-Paul Koch:

[Microsoft Internet] Explorer cannot support today's technology, or even yesterday's, because of the limitations of its code engine. So it moves towards the position Netscape 4 once held: the most serious liability in Web design and a prospective loser.

This is becoming a well understood assessment from Web designers and application developers that use browsers for their presentation layer. Developers that have tried moving to XHTML with table-less layout using CSS get the IE headaches, which are very similar to Netscape 4 migraines. This environment of poor standards compliance is a world many Web developers and application developers have been watching erode as the rest of the modern browser development firms have moved to working toward the only Web standard for HTML markup.

Companies that develop applications that can output solid standards compliant (X)HTML are at the forefront of their fields (see Quark). The creators of content understand the need not only create a print version, but also digitally accessible versions. This means that valid HTML or XHTML is one version. The U.S Department of Justice, in its Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities report advises:

When posting documents on the website, always provide them in HTML or a text-based format (even if you are also providing them in another format, such as Portable Document Format (PDF)).

The reason is that HTML can be marked-up to provide information to various applications that can be used by those that are disabled. The site readers that read (X)HTML content audibly for those with visual disabilities (or those having their news read to them as they drive) base their tools on the same Web standards most Web developers have been moving to the past few years. Not only to the disabled benefit, but so do those with mobile devices as most of the mobile devices are now employing browsers that comprehend standards compliant (X)HTML. There is no need to waste money on applications that create content for varied devices by repurposing the content and applying a new presentation layer. In the digital world (X)HTML can be the one presentation layer that fits all. It is that now.

Tim also points to browser options available for those that want a better browser.

Jeffrey Veen on the State of the Web

Digital Web interviews Jeffrey Veen who discusses the current state of Web development. This is must read to understand, to not only understand where we are today, but also how Web teams are comprised today.

Remember when Web sites used to have huge home pages constructed entirely out of images so that designers could have control over typefaces? Thankfully, thatís mostly a thing of the past now. We all understand that speed is crucial in usability and, therefore, success. The designers who are left nowóthe ones who have succeededóare the ones with an aesthetic that is based on what the Web is capable of, and not some antiquated notion of graphic art applied as decoration to some obscure technical requirements.
Also, specialization is creeping into our industry and thatís a great thing. Weíre seeing Web design split into disciplines like interaction design, information architecture, usability, visual design, front-end coders, and more. Even information architecture is subdividing into content strategists, taxonomists, and others. I think we can safely say that there is no such thing as a ìWebmasterî anymore.

There are many more gems in this interview, including the state of Web standards and poor job Microsoft is doing to allow the Web move forward. (Jeffrey Veen's observations can regularly be found at Jeffrey Veen's online home.

July 17, 2003

Sony CLIE looks sharp

A possible wishlist item could be Sony CLIE PEG-UX50, which has most of what I am looking for in a PDA and more, with one exception a lack of a phone for data when out of WiFi range. I have been eyeing the HandSpring Treo 600, which comes out in the Fall.

July 15, 2003

Netscape goes byebye and Mozilla rises from the ashes

Today AOL axed Netscape. Yes, the Netscape browser and Netscape company is no more. This is sad as it was a free distribution of a browser that has been focussing on Web Standards and has greatly embraced those that understand the importance of building a browser to Web Standards.

Today, the Mozilla Foundation launched with 2 million U.S. dollars from AOL. This is to support the open source continuation of the Mozilla browser, which is the core of the Netscape browser. This is very important and helpful. The Mozilla and Netscape browser in their most recent versions have been some of the better Standards compliant browsers on the market.

Some weeks ago when Microsoft announced it had built its last stand alone browser in IE 6, things did not look so bad for standards browsers as Netscape and Mozilla were still players in the market. This site has seen the Netscape 6 and 7 (along with Mozilla variants) rise to 30 to 40 percent of all visitors in recent months. Apple Safari browsers to this site are about 10 to 15 percent. But, that is who makes up much of the readership here.

Microsoft's statement was very disappointing on a couple fronts for me. One is it is one of the most buggy "modern" browsers when working with CSS box model on Windows machines. The other important impact is IE on Windows does not adjust all font sizes as their version IE 5 on Mac browser first did, and now nearly all other modern browsers do. These two major downfalls of the Windows IE browser make Web developers jobs much harder, but the lack font resizing pokes the aging population right in the eye. The next MS browser will be bundled with their next Operating System, which is due out in late 2005 at the earliest.

I had been finding a couple trends in the past couple years. People that have decreasing vision have tended to use Netscape 6 or higher, Opera 6 or higher, or other modern browsers (including IE 5 for Mac) because they could easily change the font size so they could access the information. I had been surprised with the large number of Non-Win IE users with less than perfect vision, but when explained that the desire to have access to all information was important it made sense.

The competing item is many older folks do not know how to adjust their font size in the browsers that they do have. These older folks often do not know how easy it is to switch to a browser that has the ability to change all text to a size that is easy to read. This is truly sad for these folks. The current computing market is not to the point where their is true ease of use for product, nor freedom of choice for the non-technically inclined (this day will come, someday). The saddest part is the company with the most resources and the capability to do this most easily, Microsoft, essentially raised its middle finger at this aging population (intentionally or not they showed they did not care). Now, its longtime competitor with the next greatest market share is gone from the market.

Others with comments:
Doug Bowman
Molly Holzschlag
Eric Meyer
Jeffrey Zeldman and JZ part II
Nick at Digital Web

July 12, 2003

Fred an iBook and Cambridge photos

My friend Fred picked up an iBook just prior to his trip to Cambridge, England for a summer study session. So far the switch has been good. He has posted his first pictures from Cambridge on his .Mac site. His pictures bring back wonderful memories of mine from the other side of the Oxbridge family.

He has found a rather inexpensive WiFi connection in a coffeehouse there. If you know of others post them and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.

July 9, 2003

Mobile video iChat with WiFi

Mike demonstrates iChat unteathered. Yes video chatting from the South Street Seaport in NYC all with WiFi (no wires). I am so glad Mike got to test this and posted it so we all could see it works.

File sharers buy more music

BBC reports file sharers buy more music. No duh! The horrible state or radio makes finding music worth buying quite difficult. The quality of the music files being shared greatly lacking and for many the shared files are just decent, but not great samples. The quality in Apple's Music store is an improvement, but not a fungible replacement for music right off a CD.

July 7, 2003

League of Extrodanary Gentlemen only from download

Apple purportedly gets the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen soundtrack for the Apple Music Store. Oddly it seems there is no physical CD rights for distribution in the U.S. To me this seems like a good step forward, it would be a great step forward if there was also a true CD quality version available for download rather than a lossy compression of the music for download. Don't get me wrong I enjoy the size and comparative sound of the Apple MP4 format, but I prefer even much less compression, particularly with music from a symphony.

Your help wanted

Okay folks we need a little help here. It is time to offer names, boys names to be specific. We have a girl's name chosen for the baby arriving in October. We do not have a boy's name. Joy is leaning toward Mark(c), but it sounds too much like a politician for my taste, the kid would be running for pre-school class president. Mark does not have a less formal side. My favorite has been Alexander, but was ruled out once I brought up Zander as a nickname to be a fun kid name, but it created to much rhyming with Vander Wal. I also was pulling for my grandfather's name, Jacob, which also has been shot down.

Please help. We could be at this for the next two or three months, if we do not get it nailed down. Yes, we read the NY Times names article over the weekend, which made the problem worse somehow.

July 6, 2003

Ozzie gets the personal info cloud

Ray Ozzie (of Groove) discusses Extreme Mobility in his recent blog. Ray brings up the users desire to keep their information close to themselves in their mobile devices and synching with their own cloud.

This is the core of the "rough cloud of information" that follows the user, which stems from the Model of Attraction. Over the last few weeks I have spent much time focussing on the "person information cloud". I have a few graphics that I am still working on that will help explain the relationship between the user and information. Much of the focus of Experience Design is on cool interfaces, but completely forgets about the user and their reuse of the information. A draft of the "MoA Information Acquisition Cycle" is avaiable in PDF (76kb).

Ozzie's Groove has had some very nice features for maintaining a personal information cloud, in that it would save copies of documents to the network for downloading by others you are sharing information with. Other people can include one's self on a different machine. One very nice feature was all information stored locally or trasmitted was encrypted. This could be very helpful in a WiFi world where security models are still forming. I have not kept up with Groove as my main machine at home is a Mac and Groove is now very tightly partnered with Microsoft. Groove was one tool I was sad to lose in my transition, but I am still very happy with using an OS that just works.

Big thanks to Mike for pointing this article out.

July 5, 2003

Internet provides lower call rates for Africa

The New York Times has an article on voice telephone access in Africa, particularly voice over Internet in Ghana. This is of interest to me for many reasons, but it is very good to see the Internet can break the insanely high calling rates in Africa. Communication is a key to doing business and providing medical care, now the African monopolies are may be broken and advances begin. Yes, there are many more problematic growth and philosophical questions to overcome. The more than one dollar per minute outbound call rates may now have room to fall. Part of the solution is wireless access to get around the lack of in-ground infrastructure.

July 1, 2003

Jeffrey and Carrie Tie the knot

While in our congratulatory mood, hats off to Jeffrey and Carrie on their marriage last weekend. These are two wonderfully kind, sweet, talented, and bright people who make their life as one. Best wishes and congratulations to them.

BogieLand lauches with Peter Bogaards

Peter J. Bogaards takes the bold step and launches BogieLand (BogieLand in Dutch), which is an information design and information architecture firm. This is a bold and yet wonderful move for Peter, we wish him well and know he will do wonderfully.

Peter has been the person behind my first outward click of the day, InfoDesign an ID, IA, Usability, UX, and UCD aggregation site.

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