Off the Top
Random notes and rants.





OtT Archives

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Saturday, March 31, 2001
Glish reworked his page, which went from very cool to "wow". It is great technically.

The Cornerstones is getting a rest, as I will now too.

Usability. Maintainability. Reliability. Repeatability.

These are the Cornerstones (more on this to follow soon, it is becoming a little longer than I thought it would initially, as it is more than just -4- words).

Friday, March 30, 2001
Time to go to sleep. No more sense can be made today.
Another night of about 4 hours sleep. I spend too much time thinking about work. I would be able to sleep better if there were a real project manager, or a person just focussed on managing direction, process, and communication. I keep getting in these long discussions, rather than building/coding, with people trying to add functionality to what we have been building, which is close to the vision statement which the project team saw last week for the first time. This is after 18 months of working off verbal ideas and with a false launch thrown in for good measure. We have never seen or been given requirements either, the point of contact for the project just started using the word requirements last week. We have been going through cycles of waiting three weeks just to get a response from the client to modify or get approved what we had built. The client has now provided the project team people who are able to give us good information on what to build and who they believe their users are going to be. Now we can tighten up the administration tools, which will take a little more than a week while also adding some new minor functionality. We have two weeks to build help sections and test and modify after user testing, which goes on next week (this time with users hitting something we did not discard months ago - but as the replacement was never approved to move forward it was not tested, nor did anybody communicate this - funny they received about the same responses from testers as we did three months prior, which caused us to toss it). Now we are all roughly on the same page.

That was until today. The data server barfed a disk last night and then the whole server went down stranding all the data and the development web server. The server was up and down all day as we were preparing for loading the light database that drives the web sites and the templates. To top it off my NT machine, which has been more than fussy over the last three weeks or so decided I could not log in or access the network (I also have a trusty Linux box under my desk too, but that did not have last nights work that could not be loaded and checked in to the server). After two hours of tech support testing it was determined that I am awarded a new kick-behind workstation, which turns out was slightly possessed and can not use my static IP, which I have used to test MS server products (even though we are a UNIX shop). At 3:20p.m. I finally got to working. Fortunately I got up in the middle of the night and e-mailed myself and a couple others on the project team my to do list for today. It helped keep things moving. (It is really freaky that I would do that and everything crash.) I usually backup the whole site builds on zip disks and bring it home on Fridays as well as FTP it to remote servers I have space on in Indiana and Texas, just in case, yet I was called unprepared by the client as their server failed so I could not post from my computer they provide which had also crashed. Yet, by 8pm verything is up an posted and seemingly running properly.


Thursday, March 29, 2001
The links page, which I edited three days ago to add Megnut so I don't have to follow other's links on a daily basis, Oliver Willis who offers a different point of view that others out there, and Sippey again so I am not having to follow other's links daily. The FTP at the web host has been really fussy the last few days.
The content management/dynamic page generation tools I built seem to make the client happy. They now see why consistency is important and how templates work. As we were making modifications to the content they saw how browser-based management tools work (which I built - all with PHP and MySQL (components built last Fall - for functionality pulled back as the functionality requires data and detail beyond what is available to the client - is built with Oracle backend), past builds have been ASP and Access/SQL Server 7, ColdFusion and SQL Server, and Perl with CGI using text files).

If things would become more set, as requirements have not been given in over 18 months of prodding (read shifting sand), I could finalize parts of this and add the secure admin tools that allow for entry of info, then approval, then loading to the production server with mouse clicks. It seems there is a growing understanding for why we need requirements, although it may be too late as the train left the station and it is scheduled arrive soon (the tracks to the arrival station have not been laid down and the track footing near that station is not set to be ready until after the arrival time).

Wednesday, March 28, 2001
I just visited the happiest place I know... The Dentist. It is really scary to think in these terms. It is the most wonderful environment and the user's experience is top notch from my perspective. They do great work, their clients/patients love them, they make it a joy to go see them. At 7:30 in the morning everybody is all smiles, happy, and want to do anything to make you happy (within reason). The are well staffed with people who seem to love their job. Yes, the dentist office.
Tuesday, March 27, 2001
I am still stuck in Groundhog Day. I have been here for months trying to affect change to raise understanding that we need a process in place to better move forward. There are minute changes for the positive. But now there are new characters that don't understand anything about Phil, the groundhog, who want to make him not see his shadow and they have convinced the management they can do this. The cast of the movie will have to be let go, because even with the sun shining bright, they can make the shadows not appear. Done, get rid of the people who can measure the shadow if it appears. Some body wake me up.

On the project we backed off much of the functionality to make the deadline and the decrease in quality will be passable for now. We are now getting changes which require rewrititng the application software and new functionality that the servers can not yet handle and the hardware architecture that is not ready to implement these requests should we find the time in an over packed timeline with few experienced resources to call upon. There seems to have been an informal change in who is driving the project goals, which has the team unstable as there is no familiariety with technology at a minor level and we are working with enterprise systems.

Sunday, March 25, 2001
With the frustrations I have been having, Zeldman has topped it and gracefully shown the way to what is right in the world. I am still amazed with his humor and spirit. Thanks.
The modifications to the links page are making life much easier to maintain. It is not a dynamic page, which would make maintenance much easier (hopefully that will be on its way soon). Since SXSW (you thought it was out of my system, never) I have made a lot of additions and modifications to the links. The new additions to personal pages are: A J E (a.jaundicedeye), Anil who was great to talk with in Austin and on IM, Craphound (Cory Doctorow) who I met on the last evening of SXSW and wished I had talked with far earlier, Monstro (Lane Becker) who gave great insight on the "Starting a Web Business" panel and was a blast to talk with at the Adaptive Path party, Nathan Shedroff who I have used as a resource online since at least 1995 when he was posting information on the Vivid Studios pages, PeterMe (Peter Merholz) who no longer is the cult-of-Jakob in my eyes but a great resource on the Internet experience, Sapphireblue who was not at SXSW that I could tell but has a great site that does everything I hope mine will do in the not so near future - PHP categorized logs - genius, SeanSuhl who was one of the reviewers on the "Web Demo" panel that gave insight on what was right and wrong with scores of Web sites, Veen whom I did not put together with Web Monkey until the last night and have used as a resource since "Web Gimmel", and the infamous Zeldman who was all I expected and more. Each of these people have been inspirations to me in a professional manner in one way or another. There and many others that I read on a regular basis but get to through links from other's pages, like: Sippey, megnut, Bryan Boyer, among many many others.

Other modifications to the links page were: moving MetaFilter to the news section, also in the news section I added WashTech which is part of the Washington Post stable. I added many links to the "Tech Stuff" section, including: Adaptive Path which is a brand new consulting and education firm comprised of seven Web super stars that understand how to make the Web usable, A List Apart which had been in my "favorites" that MS occasionally thinks are okay to delete from my machine as I add a "critical upgrade/patch", evolt a good Web development resource that I am evaluating, Foo Media which built the award winning PlanetKiki and many other wonderful Flash-based sites, Good Experience a great usable interface weblog from the Creative Good folks, Linux Central which replaced the Linux resource, Mozilla to get updates on new builds of what is becoming my favorite browser and to report the rare bugs, MySQL which is easier to click on than type as I do on a weekly basis, Web Standards Project which is the way of the now and future, and XBlog (from XPlane) which I have been reading for months and which is part of the great design/development firm that has provided Business 2.0 zine with wonderfully informative graphics since day one.

These links are a way to keep me connected and sane when I think I am crazy just because few others I am around have built or want to build a better Web. The browser is only a tool to help communicate information, the information is only of value when it is found, and upon being found the information is only helpful if it is in a usable format. Information changes regularly, and therefore the browser based systems must be easily maintainable and malleable. The user has to be the focus when building these interfaces to the information. And while doing the building we must be keeping in mind the Internet is open to the world and not everybody thinks in the same manner. The Internet is made up of so many chunks of information that can become knowledge if the information can be found, stored, used in some manner, and then transferred to others so they may easily follow in these same steps, but hopefully with greater ease. I am here to help others understand how to better manage their knowledge, make information found through usable interfaces, make the systems that manage the information easily maintainable (usually through Web applications), and help keep the user as the focus (not the client, not the developers, not something that is cool to other geeks like me but unusable to most everybody else, and not me -- we all want to be the focus but it is not about us).

Saturday, March 24, 2001
The links page has been rebuilt to be more completely driven off cascading style-sheets (CSS). This will make the page load much faster as its size is now 12kb, which is down from 42kb. The old page was initially built in 1997 with MS FrontPage as to try out the product, which switched to FP2k for a short time. A more than a year ago I stripped out the FP extensions, which made maintaining the page easier and quicker to build in the user's browser. I gutted more out of the page when I started converting this site in January and today it is one more step closer to building a fully CSS built page. What I have been modifying for the last four years has structures that I would not allow at work as the page sizes are huge and there is so much junk in the pages that does not need to be there.

If you are using a version of Netscape earlier than version 6 you will not be seeing the world the same way as those with NS6, Mozilla .8 or higher, or MS IE 5.5 and higher. You will still find usable pages, but just not with the most current design.

Friday, March 23, 2001
Tivo fans check this out.

I need sleep. I have to stop worrying about building a quality product that is easy to maintain. The client is not interested in quality or an Intenet based service that is usable. It is very hard when I am passionate about doing it right and seeing a quality product. I guess it is the time to suck it up and stop caring.


Anybody want to hire a Web Application developer, with project management skills (CMMish and iterative process obedient), strong Information Architecture, and user-centric Usability skills? I have been working to build a "better Web" since 1995? (contact at tvanderwal+at+usa+dot+net)

Thursday, March 22, 2001
The project became more entertaining today. Five weeks away from a launch and new requirements, which are quite different than where we had been going in scope and the information is no where near complete, have yet to appear from the client. I heard the phase that all developers hope they never hear, "I don't care if it is done right I need it done." This is the Web. Users don't often give you second chances. It is not hard to get it right, but it takes time, it takes commitment to take the time, and it takes the desire to have it done right. On the other hand you have programmers that claim they can do it right, but how often does that ever happen with out a huge clean up project that follows behind.
N2S :: The MeFi thread on XML/SOAP/Hailstorm is a great backgrounder.

N2S = Note to Self (stolen from Jason, who got it from Sippey).

Wednesday, March 21, 2001
It seems it is a lost art... Has communication lost its luster? The question came up as to how Mozilla can develop such a great product and yet they are distributed. The answer is... COMMUNICATION. There are no mind reading allowed on development projects. Only written and verbal communication are allowed. The second component is time. Communication takes time. Make time to communicate. Review and comment back on the communication you receive.
Tuesday, March 20, 2001
Things have become on stuck on the project at the moment. Rather than go for all the applications and functionality for a May 1 release (two of the largest components were announced for building last Thursday and one is dependant on the other) the client is moving to release a tighter product on May 1. We will be release the remainder of the functionality over the next six to eight weeks. This is the smartest move and will lead to the best results. Users will rarely give you a second chance if it is broken. If what you release on your site works well the users are more likely to come back and try your increased content and/or functionality down the road. Oh, you must let the user know what is coming in the near future. The toughest piece of this is the site will initially be for experience analyst and will have very little for the general public. It will be tough to get the general public back when their tools are ready.

The net has been horribly slow all day and evening, regardless of connection (T1/T3, DSL, or 56k dial-up). On top of this the blackouts in CA took down MetaFilter and various other sites.

On a lighter front... Kottke had a great parody on a Holy Mary sighting and a couple of days ago he had a hilarious "All your..." rant. I was very impressed with Jason at SXSW on the Microcontent panel, funny, quick, and bright. Actually most people at SXSW fit these adjectives (I can't find a moment or person in my recollections that did not) at SXSW. I tend to read San Francisco (and Bay Area) based weblogs, as I live vicariously through these sites, so I run across Kottke's to read and follow his links to others.

Joy was on the other computer that is networked at home tonight and clicked on a MP3. Out of the speakers came Jeffery Veen's voice. It was one of the Web Monkey Radio interviews he conducted. It was the Tuesday of SXSW that I put together Veen and WebMonkey together in my mind. This was an early resource (along with Vivid) for me learning how to accomplish web building tasks. I was granted the wonderful opportunity to buy both Jeffery's (Veen and Zeldman a beverage at the Adaptive Path Launch Party. - Yes, you read correctly it was a cash bar at a launch party. My how times have changed and isn't it refreshing!!! - I learned so much from these two I could never repay them, but only through sharing my experiences and knowledge with others will my gratitude show or make a difference.

Sunday, March 18, 2001
This weekend much of the site was updated so that it is driven off one cascading style sheet (CSS). This means that the site will look as it is designed to on a Web Standards compatible browser. This conversion is not fully complete, but as it continues change over things will look even stranger in Netscape version 4 and earlier browsers and Microsoft IE version 5.0 and earlier browsers. This in not like the mid to late 90's when designers and developers encouraged the user to upgrade to a certain browser just to see the site (built with non-standard HTML, as there was not a set standard until recently). The upgrade is driven by allowing the user to use an company's browser and see everything as somebody would who is using another browser. It is all about you the user. There will be no more Netscape users missing the "cool" stuff that Microsoft users see, nor visa versa. 'Nuff said on this today. (By the way, this will not be happening on the "project site" as it has to love and care for those stranded on old incompatible browsers who want access to the information for which their tax dollars have paid).

The links have had many new resources added, both for personal purposes and more importantly for professional purposes. The poetry section has been added. The will not likely be many new poems added in the fore seeable future, but selections from the late 90s collection are being restored and posted. The about page is being put together, but I am not happy with any build of the page yet.

N2S :: read what you write before you post.

Saturday, March 17, 2001
Sure I have the plane tixs, the room receipt, the rental car return form, the SXSW badge, but this proves I was there at SXSW. I am talking to Mr. MetaFilter him self, Matt.

N2S :: I must use my camera when I take it, even my eyemodule would help capture the memories that are slowly fading.

Found myself LOL at Lance this morning. I was thoroughly entertained by Lance in Austin. He was very funny in on the Microcontent Panel (which was a fantastic mind expanding panel which threw my synapses in overdrive).

On an other side of my brain, Joy is going to get her hair cut (a guy term - styled is an apropos alternative term for some others) by Armand (at Shear Artistry near DuPont Circle), who has been cutting my hair (what is left - my genes have already taken a little off the top) for seven years. My parents now have him to cut their hair when they come to town. This is getting to be a very close familiar world. The person who cuts my hair is a very special person to me. I am picky as I have had horrible haircuts (I am in part to blame for this too) and finding that right person is a worthy quest. In San Francisco Judy at Poppies (which may still be at 98 Battery) was my ordained cutter/stylist/hair therapist. (Eventually Specialties opened around the corner so the haircut was also rewarded with cheese bread, brownies and/or other mouth watering delectable tasty treats). I digress.

MeFi is celebrating its 2nd aniversary. This means Matt is caring for his server and adding life enhancing backend stuff for himself and adding some nice extras for the rest of us. It is down for a short time, but man, I miss it.
Friday, March 16, 2001
Stunned by an e-mail by my father stating, "That is way cool!" after he saw the redesign of these pages. I was completely unaware that a person in their early 60s (this is still young) would have this (but not that young) in their vernacular.
It is not just me. Whew!
Thursday, March 15, 2001
Great Georgetown game!!! I think I disturbed my neighbors as I was yelling (happy yelling) about the outcome at the last second.

The transition back to work from SXSW has been very difficult. The Austin experience was filled with sharing with people with like minds that really are passionate about the Internet as a communication tool. Many of us there have very similar stories and frustrations from work. There were so many nodding heads it felt like a revival meeting or an addicts support group (just suppositions). Now back in the real world the difference is more than noticeable. Clients wanting to know why pieces of the project have not moved forward when they have not review and approved the components that have been sitting in their desk, e-mail (flagged), and IM reminders hounding them three weeks. Programmers making assumptions as to how things are done that are not on target. It was a long and frustrating day to say the least. I was extremely tired so I was a little on edge which did not help.

I was also feeling badly that I was tired and did not offer congratulations to Lane on the accepted proposal from Cory. I was enjoying a great conversation with him and his mother when this slipped in. I picked up my gaff from ..... site.

One of my more memorable (non-panel) entertaining moments was singing the "Tiki Room Theme" with Cory Doctorow and ... I met so many wonderful people at SXSW it is hard to capture all of them, and there are some whom I did not completely catch, like the balcony conversation with a couple people trying to live off the grid in conversation with others who did not mind offering his personal information to get better service. There were great discussions after the panels. Many of the panels and ensuing discussions nearly blew my head off, the were some of the most incredible discussions that cracked my mind open to new idea in the "microcontent panel". Getting to meet and thank Jeffery Zeldman, Jeffery Veen, and Nathan Shedroff for the years of resources and guidance their web writings have provided me was great.

I got to tie faces and live personalities to some of the weblog I read (which I started reading in trying to live vicariously in San Francisco. I was a little surprised with the depth of many of the folks, I have not really come to terms with why I was surprised.

I must sleep.

Wednesday, March 14, 2001
I am so physically tired from the trip to Austin, TX and yet my inner passion and drive are turned up to 11. I met some fantastic people, heard and was involved in great debate and conversation, and greatly stoked my fire to build a better Web. The Internet/Intranet/technology world, while over-hyped at times, really has changed how the world communicates and works. I have been sharing my experiences from my great adventure with those I work with on the project and I think it is rubbing off. Hopefully this will greatly improve our product.

Now it is time for some sleep and to love my Joy (who is also tired from the trip).

Monday, March 12, 2001
I am in the midst of the SXSW Interactive Conference. It greatly exceeds my expectations and I was expecting a lot. It, so far, has been one of the most phenomenal experiences of my life (particularly since I started letting my inner-geek out and rule my life). Not only have I had my beliefs, built out of painful experiences of web development, reaffirmed, but I find out that I am right (on many, but not all, fronts and battles I have had) and now have this deeply provable.

Here at SXSW I have been able to meet and thank the indiviuals that have taught me their experiences so I do not fall flat on my face. These instructions began 6 to 7 years ago. I have had the opportunity to personally listen to and meet those that have molded my experiences of pain and exctacy in to a wonderful professional life. I have been told on projects that I have a "different view on things", but now I know that my views are in-line with the views the people that are successful in the web development world have and use.

I used to post a lot to message boards to share my knowledge, just as those who have shared with the world of developers and designers (which included me). Work took some of the time that I had used to give back as it has had me digging for answers to my own questions again. It is in this mindset that I will be adding another section to this ( site that will contain essasy, instructional guides, lessons learned, and share the resources in a more accessable manner than just the link page and my rambling weblog.

I love the Web world and the possibilities this offers for creating efficiencies and opening communication in a way no other communication form has been able to provide up to this point. I take forgranted my love and passion of the Web, those whom I work with know this love I have for it and the passion to know everything about it to make every experience worth while for others building it and using it.

Friday, March 09, 2001
Off to SWSX. I know everybody at work is sick of hearing about it. But, I am so excited. I am so tired.

We are finally moving in a smart direction at work as far as metadata and capturing information we need to make to project usable. I am so excited about that.

Picked up an EyeModule yesterday (gently used). I was having fun with it last night. I would show-and-tell, but FTP seems to been an issue at the host-end this morning. The pictures in the *classic* EyeModule need a little tweaking and they display better shrunken down a little bit. Non-the-less it will be a fun *tool*. It may explode my desire for a full-on digital camera. (today's message brought to you by the hyphen).

In a crappy performance by the Hoya's yesterday in the second round of Big East Tournament play, one of my favorite player for his heart and spirit, Lee Scruggs, stated, "We rushed our shots," Scruggs said. "We didn't run our plays through. They [denied] the ball to our wings. The play starts with the point guard and when the ball didn't go to the wing, people started running around like chickens with their heads cut off." (from the Washington Post write-up.

I have learned a ton from the glish site, as I have been trying to eradicate some browser display *issues* at work. I have fully immersed myself in the world of *simple* HTML tags, cascading style sheets, and the Zeldman browser update campaign. There have been some relatively simple things that have driven me crazy the last week or so with browsers refusing to display properly simple layouts in HTML. I believe I have rounded the corner, adding buckets of knowledge along the way. My next trick on the *v/d wal* pages is to move to full HTML 4.01 compliance. I also want to build a logo and update my *home cards*.

Thursday, March 08, 2001
On the Web Accessability front, Wemedia provides a reading browser to help the blind and visually impared. Wemedia and the new browser were written up in Wemedia also seems to be a great resource for keeping upto date on the Accessability issue.
Added a couple links to the Computing section of the Links page. Added were Kuro5hin and The Open Source Developers Network. The Kuro5hin looked very interesting, I found it off a link from Oliver Willis' site. The OSDN has been lurking for a while, but it was a direct link off Kuro5hin that pushed it over the edge.

Gettting ready for SXSW.

Wednesday, March 07, 2001
The Internet is frustrating, but always offers solutions... My site and e-mail is currently down (hopefully just a momentary outage), but I want to note something (normally send these things to myself - odd, I know, but it works for me). I am completely impressed and entertained by Meg's current site. I have been smiling with the approach to content all morning.

Also, as found off a link from Evhead a clean-up how-to.

Loving Mozilla more and more. It does not crach like the IE 5.5 on ME. Pure and utter genius!!!

Monday, March 05, 2001
It is Spring Training for Major League Baseball's San Francisco Giants. There is one downside... The SF Giants have moved, what was, their great web site under the umbrella of Major League Baseball. The Giants have lost much of their great inside reporting and the feature that allowed fans to sell extra tickets on-line. Not only did they Giants lose their own great flavor the MLB site is horribly slow and rebuilds each of the graphics with each page change. The Java Server Pages have yet to be optimized or the builders of the site have yet to learn how to do this. The text on the page does not change its font size when you request this with your browser. The graphic designers won out and lost accessibility on this site. (This is the second site today that I noticed this problem, Fortune also left their site to designers, only the Fortune site is nearly unreadable with the font and size they demand you try and read their site with).

The Internet became a great invention when I realized that I could Gopher and FTP to sites that had full box scores not long after the Giants games finished. There was always the usenet groups for Giants fans (unfortunately every other fan visited to taunt also). Soon after the San Francisco papers were available off the Web, which meant that the Giants information was fresh and written by the writers whose sole, or nearly so, job was to follow and write on the Giants. The past three or so summers have been great, because I would listen to KNBR strait off the Internet broadcasting games live, while I watched Java apps plot out the progress of my favorite team from some other location on the planet. This made living on the other side of the USA from the Giants home more bearable.

Not one *snow day* this year. A cold winter with no benefits. Oh bother.
Saturday, March 03, 2001
Before moving east, I listened to NPR regularly at my desk at work. My routine would be to read the NY Times on the bus to and from work and listen to NPR and other public radio at my desk through out the day. I moved east in 1993 and my life's patterns were disrupted by the changes in my system as I was in grad school and working part-time and had a fellowship in the Senate. I would read the Washington Post and NY Times in the morning before leaving and on my way to where ever. I started missing out on NPR and other public radio as my days were greatly expanded. The Internet started to change everything in the late 90s. I started reading more of the New York Times on-line and now download it to my Palm/HandSpring and read it on the Metro on my way to work. I had been catching NPR and Marketplace off the Web until about 9 months ago when we upgraded computers at home and it had .dll errors caused by MS conflicts. The only time I heard NPR or other "left end of the dial" radio was when I drove to work or on weekends running errands in the car. I am so glad to have Real Player running again. My life is feeling completed once again. I have a job doing what I would do if I were not paid, a wonderful wife, Internet access, and Public Radio, what could be better.
Thursday, March 01, 2001
Today marks the day of a long lost friend... my Real Player. It has been more than nine months with out it. I can now go back to listening to replays of NPR, Marketplace, the Beeb, previews of Amazon music recommendations, and various other exclusively Real sites. Many of the sites have moved to providing Quicktime or Microsoft Media Player alternatives, but Media Player seems to have some sort of memory leak on my system so a reboot is in order not long after listening to or viewing something. I spend my summers listening to SF Giants' games off KNBR's net broadcasts (although they had alternatives to Real this past summer so I could listen).

Another nice moment today. My Blogger stickers arrived. I hope they don't become a conversation piece like my Ashton Tate Applause Draw tee-shirt.

Bill Gates' home version 2.0 in the works.

Fight for your right to standards!