January 31, 2002

Ever had those days when you are dead tired at 8pm and know the next day is going to be hellish? One prescription is getting and putting everything in writing.
January 30, 2002

Web Services Interoperability from James†Snell on O'Reilly Net's XML.Com. This wonderful piece demonstrates, with code, the interaction that is currently possible with standard development environments. This is familiar territory for me from a recent past life, although it was not using SOAP, like these examples do.
January 29, 2002

Jesse explains the role of Information Architecture. There have been many debates over the issue of the Big IA and the small IA. Jesse does a nice job of tying up the camps on these views. I am agreeing with Jesse to a great degree at the moment. The discipline of information architecture is definately needed on any information application (remember this includes Web development too) development project. There must be a person that knows and understands IA and can implement those needed skills, as are propper in the discipline. There must be a person that has the job of protecting Information Architecture on every project. The more people on a team that have some understanding of IA, in addition to the person that has full understanding of IA and is charged with its implimentation, the better the project will be in its final state.

Things are messed up when the daytime high temperature in Washington, DC is 15 degrees higher than Palm Springs. On January 29th, mind you. We have been sleeping with the windows open in January and it is still a little too warm at night. Then only to find out it snowed in Northern California and many, many, many people caught it on film and/or wrote about it. This is disturbing for me as I love the seasons and really like Winter, only after Fall. I left San Francisco in 1993 tired of eternal Spring. Now what on earth is this.

The Wall Street Journal rolled out a major redesign this today. The site was cleaner and easier to read than the prior version. Most of the remaining graphical buttons have been completely replaced with text hyperlinks in this new version. The switch to text really helps with quick page builds, as it has for every other site that has envoked them over the past two or three years. The WSJ has also made more of its personalization tools more prominant. The personalization tools have been amazing for anybody looking for breadth and depth on business news. A couple years ago I realized I could no long find anything in the print version of the WSJ as it is so easy in the online version. Now that statement will be harder to overcome.
January 27, 2002

I keep rereading Nathan's Rant from July 2001 concerning experience design, its state of being and his first book on the subject. Visual presentation and creating an experience for the user is quite helpful when presenting dry or complex information. Today visual presentation must be accompanied by versions of the same information for the visually impaired, well at least many of us live in that world. This adds new twists and challenges to create compelling information sources for an array of user types. For me, Nathan's works have always been an inspiration and a trigger for solid thinking and problem solving.
January 26, 2002

Looking to stay on top of Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) issues or looking for help? CSS-Discuss, a new mail list group, may be your best bet. Eric Meyer is one of the founders of the list, which adds about as much credibility to the list as the Pope founding a list on Catholicism.

I now have MySQL running on my OS X Powerbook. I largely followed the directions from The Business Mac MySQL instructions. I used the install package from http://www.entropy.ch/software/macosx and found it a rather easy build. I did have to make one minor adjustment. When trying to start MySQL for the first time it is good to place an empty mysql.sock file in the /tmp/ directory. The other item to add is create a directory (sudo mkdir) libexec in the mysql directory then go into the libexec directory and create a softline to ../bin/mysld (sudo ln -s ../bin/mysqld mysqld). You should be good to go.
January 23, 2002

Digital Web is out with a new issue. My favorites from this issue are the interview with Chopping Block, the ever needed Flash usability guide, and the hands down my favorite is when design motivates. The rest of the issue is enjoyable and insightful as always, which includes motion design, the future, book review of 'Fresh Styles for Web Designers: Eye Candy from the Underground', and a review of digital video.

How to shoot your users in the foot, a guide from HandSpring. In the technology world the continually seems to be a lack of marketing understanding. Handspring has had a strong loyal user base, many made up from Palm users that upgraded when Palm stalled its progress. Palm has since come back on track. I have been thinking that Palm would be my next handheld again. At the core of the HandSpring old and new is the Palm OS, but is why I bought the HandSpring a while back and there was more memory and modules that could extend memory and provide a solid backup on the road.
January 22, 2002

Peter Morville provides Innovative Architecture that looks at the future of IA, which incorporates collaborative IA. The users of many sites create or hone the IA through many components, such as Amazon's "people who bought this item also bought." I like the breadth of this piece and how it encompasses applications and community driving IA.
January 21, 2002

We saw the Fellowship of the Ring today. It was better than I was expecting. I my expectations were rather high, but I was also prepared to be let down. The film work, special effects and the acting was quite enjoyable. I have to say I am not only looking forward to next years addition to the trilogy, but also the DVD as there is a bundle of interviews and behind the scenes information that would make it a wonderful addition to the collection.
January 20, 2002

Yesterday was the first snow of the season. It was a wonderful day out running errands and meeting friends of Joy's in Old Town last evening. The white snow on the limbs of dark baren trees gave the world an Ansel Adams view. Snow in the DC area brings most everything to a halt and everything gets wonderfully quiet. When I lived in Arlington I would walk down to the Iwo Jima Memorial and watch the snow fall listening to the flag wave and stare out at the monument light down the Mall across the Potomac. It was so quiet you could hear the snow land upon the blanket of snow that had landed before.

In the attempt to get photos out of my Olympus D-490 I have been having fits. The camera is fantastic and takes great pictures. Getting photos out has been a pain of late. The serial port is horribly slow to say the least. I bought a Microtech Zio USB card reader about six months ago, which has been a great asset. I switched to Windows XP on my main PC and Apple for my laptop.

The XP would not read the Zio and locks up if the reader is in the USB when starting up the PC. Worse is if you plug the reader in while the machine is running, it kills the machine dead by shutting it down instantly. I upgraded the drivers, but no luck after the recent security upgrades from Microsoft.

The Apple would acknowledge the card in OS 9, but required an initialization. OS X would not ackknoledge the card. Today, I started the laptop in OS 9 and found that I could read the cards and pull the images on to the hard drive. This was a great day. I can get access to that drive point from OS X and view them. I am now happy again. And once again Apple has provided an option that works where Microsoft fell short, Apple 5 and MS 0.

Apple explains Myths to Windows Users. This has been one of my favorite bits of the week. I have been finding much of this to be true as I have been switching from Windows to Apple (at least for laptop). Apple is proving to be a much better operating system for interacting with other operating systems. Windows XP Home is a pathetic computer to network and that is being more than generous (the Pro version is a much better OS to network and even much better suited for home networking).

Dean Allen brings back his Twenty Faces a survey of available type faces. Dean provides a wonderful overview of each font and its background. To many, fonts are a work of art that express information in and of themselves. Dean is one of the folks that finds a typeface's inner and outer beauty.
January 16, 2002

Shirley Kaiser discusses accessibility and Adobe Acrobat on her site.

There is one element in Adobe Acrobat that does not meet the Government's 508 compliance, if this is the yard stick being used for accessibility. The area of non-compliance is complex tables. PDF tags only have TABLE, TR, TH, and TD tags available, which do not accept scope. Scope is what helps the complex tables become compliant in HTML. The only acceptable method for providing information in complex tables is HTML, at this point. One work around is to make the complex tables attachments or addendum and remove them from the original document (should the complex tables be provided in PDF format) and only supply them in HTML.

To keep it clear a complex table is one that has more than one set of header rows and often one of the header rows would span a selection of other rows. An example would be a table showing fiscal quarters of the year and the months that fall within these quarters, which would then show rows of related numbers. The top two rows create a complex header as each quarter header spans three rows and defines the months directly below them. Voice readers will capture these relationships quite well with the use of "scope tags" in HTML (this would look like <th scope="col"> for header tags and <td scope="row" in the first cell of the table's rows). Unfortunately, PDF does not have a corresponding tag.

I also pointed out that the more current Web browsers permit using CSS with printer designations that allow for a better representation of the information. This would help those people build one application, whether it be a Website or a PDF that prints in the desired manner and is accessible.

This may help keep yourself and your readers in the clear if 508 is their standard upon, which their accessibility work is being performed. Unfortunately there are no compliance standards, only guidelines. But, for most federal government organizations it is meet all of the targets to be compliant. 508 is a pass/fail hurdle.

Further information on 508 may be found at www.usability.gov/accessibility/index.html.

January 14, 2002

Kevin Fox adds New to You functionality to his site. This is the best idea I have run across in a while. It is a great idea that beats the problems I find on sites I frequent often. It also seems to cover the territory between visited links and not providing them. [hat tip Dinah]

Those of you that have a real home network, which would be a melange of PCs, Apple Macs, and maybe a kid's science/computer project of a Linux box. If you believed the Microsoft hype and bought XP Home only to find out you can not network that OS if you are using a static IPs on your network (such as having a static IP on you DSL connection or other device that allows for such simple ideas). You say you want to share your MP3s, photos, movies, or even MS Word documents with your Mac? Your options are limited, but if you happened to also be an early adopter an have Mac OS X running you can set your files to share and set the network settings to accept FTP connections. Now you can return to your XP box and use FTP to send your files to your Mac.

The other option is to load Apache Web server on your XP box (XP Home does not allow IIS or even PWS (personal web server) and set the document directory to what you want to share (remember to allow directory view if you do not have a default page). Now open a browser and point to that machine (statice IP will work wonders for this) then drag and drop single file by single file to where you want them on your Mac.

Matt makes observations of the state of severs and scripting deployments. I agree with nearly all of what Matt point out. Some of the reasoning behind the varying set-ups is for security reason's, others are to mirror configurations on other servers that had slightly different purposes. In all, what this needs is a solid documentation tool. PHP provides some of this with a function that prints out the build of the server that script resides on, this is usually the first task many of us perform on a machine. This however, is just the tip of the iceberg of the information we need.

This is part of the second and fourth element of the cornerstones of information application development (info apps need to be usable, maintainable, reliable, and repeatable). If a task is difficult to maintain and even harder to repeat there is some work that needs to be done to change the environment or the application.

A large part of my desire to get an Apple computer that would run OS X, was my work with Unix and Linux over the last couple years. I have loved working in that environment that is stable, lacking confounding DLLs, and easy to manage from the command line. To this end Linux Jounal reviews the recent MacWorld. The article notes many familiar faces between the Linux and Apple conferences, also held in the same building.

Content management is back at the forefront of every aspect of my digital life again. Content management revolves around keeping information current, accurate, and reusable (there are many more elements, but these cut to the core of many issues). Maintaining Websites and providing information resources on the broader Internet have revolved around static Web pages or information stored in MS Word, PDF files, etc. Content management has been a painful task of keeping this information current and accurate across all these various input and output platforms. This brings us to content management systems (CMS).

As I pointed to earlier, there are good resources for getting and understanding CMS and how our roles change when we implement a CMS. Important to understanding is the separation of content (data and information), from the presentation (layout and style), and from the application (PDF, Web page, MS Word document, etc.). This requires an input mechanism, usually a form that captures the information and places it in is data/information store, which may be a database, XML document, or a combination of these. This also provides for a workflow process that involved proofing and editing the information along with versioning the information.

Key to the CMS is separation of content, which means there needs to be a way to be a method of keeping links aside from the input flow. Mark Baker provides a great article, What Does Your Content Management System Call This Guy about how to handle links. Links are an element that separates the CMS-lite tools (Blogger, Movable Type, etc.) from more robust CMS (other elements of difference are more expansive workflow, metadata capturing, and content type handling (images, PDF, etc. and their related metadata needs)). Links in many older systems, often used for newspaper and magazine publications (New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle) placed their links outside of the body of the article. The external linking provided an easy method of providing link management that helps ensure there are no broken links (if an external site changes the location (URL) it there really should only be one place that we have to modify that link, searching every page looking for links to replace). The method in the Baker article outlines how many current systems provide this same service, which is similar to Wiki Wiki's approach. The Baker outlined method also will benefit greatly from all of the Information Architecture work you have done to capture classifications of information and metadata types (IA is a needed and required part of nearly every development process).

What this gets us is content that we can easily output to a Web site in HTML/XHTML in a template that meets all accessibility requirements, ensures quality assurance has been performed, and provides a consistent presentation of information. The same information can be output in a more simple presentation template for handheld devices (AvantGo for example) or WML for WAP. The same information can be provided in an XML document, such as RSS, which provides others access to information more easily. The same information can be output to a template that is stored in PDF that is then sent to a printer to output in a newsletter or the PDF distributed for the users to print out on their own. The technologies for information presentation are ever changing and CMS allows us to easily keep up with these changes and output the information in the "latest and greatest", while still being able to provide information to those using older technologies.

January 11, 2002

Oh so apropos of late, A List Apart offers the web designer and CMS, that is Content Management. This subject and experience in this area has been a favorite of mine for three or four years now. James Ellis' article nicely lays out the basic structure of CMS and the changes this brings to Web designers. The role of Web designers change with CMS and fantastic designers are done with a large chunk of the work as the site is in templates and needs not for every page to be designed and tweaked.

One of the elements that is missed in this article is a greater need for a strong designer in the template development process. Where sites in the past could modify the design of a page to meet those ever occurring "special occasions", these elements need to be woven into the templates. Templates need to have the ability to absorb these "special occasions". Great graphic designers are more than up to this challenge and often provide great results. The work of a graphic designer changes to more task based work and a string of template design projects rather than solid design work on a regular basis.

January 9, 2002

Need to grab information out of an MS Excel spreadsheet with out all the display information? You may want to pull Excel information out to XML as this would provide very clean information. From this point if you wanted to use this information in an HTML page or another output format it would be a rather straightforward parse. This could be a good tool to try and work with.

Today I was reminded why I left Interland for Web hosting. I moved off their servers in September to PHP Web Hosting. I was paying 40 dollars for poor uptime (down a couple hours a week), poor service, poor admin privileges, and horrible e-mail hosting (constantly getting others e-mail on the same mail server). A quarter of that price now gets me nearly 100 percent uptime, solid admin rights, great service (although most is done electronically, but that is perfect for me), and perfect e-mail hosting. Not only do I get these benefits I get a database access, double the storage, double the traffic, and very few headaches.

Today after stating and restating to Interland in October I would not be renewing my contract when it came due, they billed my credit card directly with a huge increase for services. They did not ask to verify a 20 percent increase in charges, nor contact me to get approval to rebill my card.

If your money and your time are not valuable to you choose Interland for Web hosting. If they are valuable to you there are many other options.

January 8, 2002

MIT's Tech Review queries about mobile text messaging in the U.S. as much of the rest of the world uses it much more than Americans. I was very impressed with the mobile services in Europe last year and now really would like to have text messaging for my work. The frequency that text messaging works on is far better than mobile phones for penetrating walls and for being stable in emergencies (this may be attributed to its lack of use).
January 7, 2002

My digital bundle of joy arrived today. It was apropoe that my Powerbook arrived today as Steve Jobs gave his keynote at MacWorld. I was thankful a new TiBook was not announced today, but I was half expecting it. I have been more than impressed at the ease of setup and the ease of use of the Mac OS. It has been a long time since I used a Mac on a regular basis, but it is giving me far fewer headaches (none actually) than Windows XP. Setting up a network connection was easy, even in the manual mode, which was a huge headache for XP.

On the keynote front I did not think the announcements met the huge hype, but the new iMac is very cool and impressive. The iPicture loaded like a breaze for me and seems to very straightforward. The XP easy photo stuff seemed to be a mess and my kludgy methods were better than what XP offered. I may like this new world, if I can just get the keystrokes down.

January 6, 2002

After procrastinating for long enough and reading Nick's review in Digital Web I upgraded to Homesite 5. This is what I used to update and validate sections of this site to XHTML. I have been using Homesite for work projects for a few years, but rarely used it for this site or other personal projects (just a quirk) as I usually do my work handcoding with TextPad. Some of the layout of the tools has changed slightly from Homesite 4.5.2 to 5, but it was not a major difference. I really liked the XHTML elements and collapsing the code, which makes finding non-closed tags an easy task.

I have been able to read through all of this month's Digital Web and can say it is a solid issue from end to end. I really enjoyed the interview with Hether Hesketh. I am also a fan of the two business pieces, Managing the client: A fairy tale and Building the Business Game Plan. Both of these business articles I have pointed others to already as they are great insights from experience.

Things are going to get a little Apple-centric here for a little bit. I should have my non-human object of lust in the next week or so. This means gathering information about Web resources that are available and finding software and script repositories that will help move the transition/inclusion of another OS environment into the home office environment. If you have good Apple resources (books or sites) drop me an e-mail. I am going to be rebuilding my link pages here to include more Apple/OS X resources.

Troy Janish's XML tutorial for A List Apart is a great resource. The elements for implementing XML are rather solid now. Knowing how to make use of XML is going to be a needed skill set for many. The debate over database storage of content objects over XML storage of the same will continue for quite some time. I have my leaning for database storage, given their data storage and manipulation functionality built in, but outputing XML documents to share the information seems to be a better option than providing authorized access to the database.

Moving to XHTML and general updates

There are some changes around here. The links page has been updated with some new links, updated links, and a few removed (ones that I was not visiting for various reasons or had gone dead).

The links and about pages are both converted to XHTML and are validating, for the most part, to XHTML Transitional. The next step will be to get this section, Off the Top, to validate. This will be a little more effort as it will require making some edits to the templates and internal code validation. Not a monsterous task, but a task none-the-less. A large part of the conversion in this section is creating compliant output from non-standard input. Much of this section does not use starting paragraph tags (<p>), which will take some work to ammend.

This means that this site is finally moving toward being standards compliant. This means that it will be easier to display information across browsers (standards compliant browsers, which most are becoming), ease of maintenance, and information reuse.

Every now and then and obituary showcases what one can do in life. The death of Alfred Heineken is one of those times. Freddy had reach in that the Nigerian Guardian and South China Post, among others, had enough interest to publish obits. Heineken beer and brand are parts of 170 different countries around the world. Heineken owns 110 different breweries in 50 different countries. Freddy said he was "not selling beer, but warmth".

The Heineken site is providing a Condolence Register for people to leave messages. Many of these speak warmly of the man.

Stewart mulls the positive feedback loop in interaction design in his weblog. Stewart also links to a nice report/bulletin article highlighting designers of the future (kids) for SIGCHI Bulletin.

Stewarts article brings to mind the problems with capturing process and tasks when observing users perform their jobs in the early stages of contextual design. The last thing the observer wants to do is to influence what the user is doing. Asking questions on how to improve and working through the logic of the tasks and conditional elements of the task will come later. Understand the conditions the user has in place, don't ask why at the beginning, just capture as if you were going to have to repeat the exact same task.

The next step after capturing the information allows for understanding why there is a "wrk" button (using Stewart's example). Understanding what is behind the conditions will help build an application that is used as it maps to the user's cognitive understanding of the process. Some of these conditions may/can be broken when they are built into an algorithm. Breaking too many of the conditions can create an application that is quite foreign to the user and therefore possibly shunned.

One method of getting through the non-essential conditions is to use a transitional process. This would entail keeping some of the non-essential conditions in an applications interactive process with the user, i.e. sending an e-mailing to verify a fax was received. Including a verification notification for delivery of information may be included as it is engrained in the user's work pattern. As the user's learn to trust and respect the information in the new application they are using is reliable the verification notice may be altered to show only information not delivered or turned off completely.

Getting back to the starting point, if an observer would propose turning off the verification process and notification in the task capturing procedure there may be one individual that understands why there is not a verification process. The application being developed may be for many users that use the standard procedures. The user being observed may offer suggestions and these should be captured.

I was hoping this article would never be written as it is the antithesis of the Web. The Washington Post writes about setting up international boders on the Internet, which includes a digital border patol that denies access. My hope is that while there is a Web there is a way to get arround these restrictions. The whole world does not need to become like China and block content from outside its borders.
January 2, 2002

Grokdotcom provides a good overview of the methodologies of Web application development. The modular approach is provided as the best methodology, go figure with an open methodology that is based on published/documented standard set of processes. The article ends up discussing Fusebox, which is new to me, but seems to be a rather straightforward approach to modular software development.

An USA Today article on poor product design provides insight that is helpful not only to product development, but also application development. The insights (while not new to most of us, but most likely very new to USA Today readers) include not including the consumer early enough in the process, product design team not well balanced, and technology runs amok.

These very closely apply to Web/Internet/Application development's downfalls. Not including the user in the development phases and/or testing with users early and throughout the development process. Having a development team that does not have a balance of visual, technical, and production skills can be problematic. Lastly, projects that are technology for technology's sake, very rarely offer success.

Conversely, success comes from getting these things right, involving the user and understanding how users would interact and use what you are building. Having a balanced team so that visual, technical, and production issues can be addressed and solved appropriately. And lastly knowing when and how to best use what technologies will drive success.

This last element, understanding the technologies, will help you get over the hurdle of accessibility/508 compliance. It will also help you find the best tools to interact with the users of the site/application. Having DHTML elements to provide action on a site or to serve information, when the user audience does not fully have the capability of addressing or handling the presentation, will have detrimental effects. Know what your elements your users have turned on and off in their browsers and what versions they are using. It is important to know what threshold of user profile can be the cut-off for developing a site. If 10% of your users have JavaScript turned off should you still develop elements of your site that are JavaScript dependant without providing an alternate service? Know and set this percentage threshold, as it will help understand why you can and can not use certain technologies.

A benevolent Secret Santa, I believe from the Boxes and Arrows project (using the Secret Santa - Mystery Menorah application I built), dropped of two wonderful gifts today. One was The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, by Lawrence Lessig, which has been on my highly desired list since hearing him speak at Web2001 in San Francisco. I have been really liking and agreeing with many of Lessig's articles of late, so the book should be quite juicy. The other was Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995, by Bill Watterson, which not only contains many C & H Sunday newspaper strips, but includes Watterson's background on the drawings. Many of the snippets I read this evening make for very good understanding of layout and visual presentation and tie directly to Web design. This seems to be similar (or a lite version of) to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, which Peter likes.

I am working on a rebuild of my links page. The new and improved would provide better classifying of the links, seeing all links or just subsets, having the ability to turn on descriptions, and adding categories (hmmm like Apple or Mac).

I really would like XP Home to have Samba (SMB) as the Apple documentation on using SMB to network machines and share drives is very solid. XP Home does not have SMB capability. If anybody knows a way to build it in plese e-mail me (comments being turned on this month or next month).

SMB is an open source networking tool that is supported on most operating systems. Windows 2000 and XP Professional support SMB. I should have learned my lesson and never by consumer grade software or hardware as I am always wanting to do more.

This MacSlash posts tries to answer networking OS X and Windows XP boxes, this will be a task I will soon try and tackle. My only issue is I was a sucker and only bought the XP for Home, which seems to lack the ability to build a home network with anything but a Windows machine (even this is fussy). I must only know the aberrant households, but most of the people I know with home networks are connecting Mac, Linux, and Windows machines (mostly Mac and Windows). Microsoft seems to have a different understanding of home than the people I know, but then again they are not average families as they don't have 2.3 children, they have children in whole numbers.
January 1, 2002

New Year's resolutions? I don't do resolutions at New Years. Resolutions I reserve as a term for images. I collected too many bad habits years ago and waiting for one special day to dump them was sorely unproductive and left me feeling like I was not succeeding. Now I try to make positive corrections as I find need for them. Oh yes and being married, as my wife Joy finds need for corrections for me (some of these I may revive as New Year's resolutions next year, shhh, don't tell Joy. This is your and my little secret).

The folks at Digital Web - new have been busy finding the few new items over the past few weeks. It is always good to keep your eye on the DW-new page every day or two as it covers a broad spectrum of Web/Internet design and development issues. It is good to have Nick back and manning the daily post again as this means vacation is over.

Okay, I stopped using an Apple computer on a regular basis more than 10 years ago. I have followed their news, progress, and trade shows with a side view as they seemed to have their finger on the pulse the last few years. Now I am really waiting for the MacWorld Conference and Expo beginning January 7th. There has always been hype around the big shows, but I will be an Apple owner soon, so I have a vested interest.

There is nothing like starting the New Year coding a time rollover code to pull the current information out of your weblog. This means I now have fully functioning code for month and year change overs in my personally built weblog tool. This also means I still love PHP more than any other scritping/Web coding language.

It is getting to be time to pull the code out of the PHP templates and make it more modular/object based. The site is built on a handful of templates that reuse about 75% of the same code to build the pages. From this stage it is time to pull out classes and functions and have each page point to the proper elements. This enables me (or who everelse is getting this code) to be able to make modifications in one place rather than many.

Why modular/object-based? This is how the world works. This is how things are done efficiently. This is the non-foolish way of building applications. (Looks like I am starting this year on a testy note).

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