July 28, 2002

BBC tech

In an examination of the BBC News site I found myself getting lost trying to find the technology section. Technology always was placed as a sub-category of Science and Nature, which was something I learned over time. Now it is its own section on both the UK and World versions of the news site. I like its separate placement, but I also used to find some interesting items in the science/nature/tech melange.
July 27, 2002

To be home sweet home

Things have been a little slow around these parts the last month or so due to some side projects, mostly involving writing (stuff I have been in turn throwing out then trying again), also some fun diversions, including reading many books (all work/fun related). The largest reason for the slowness is we signed a contract on a house we have had our eye on since January/February. We will be moving only a couple miles away into a brick cape cod built smack in the middle of the 1900s. We still have some time before everything is final, our fears are gone, we get keys, and we move in. The house will need some work, but it will be ours. The next month or two will be a nice trick balancing everything, but we will make it all happen and we will take a long nap.
July 25, 2002

Tabla Beat Science

Tabla Beat Science is completely new to me, but one song has me wanting more, much more. I heard Sacred Channel (an mp3) this morning and I am very entranced. Interesting Monstah, in a July 22, 2002 posting, included this track in a review of World techno/jazz/instramental/etc songs. It seems Karsh Kale of TBS is playing in Baltimore on Saturday July 27 at 3pm at the Artscape Festival. Hmmm. [hat tip Bill]
July 24, 2002

Microsoft embraces Apache Web server

CNet News discusses Microsoft's .Net set to link to Apache, which is a great step as the Microsoft IIS web server is increasingly being dropped as a viable option because of never ending security problems. This would literally doom Microsoft's .Net initiative as it would not be usable on the Internet without their Microsoft Internet server. By moving the ability to run the .Net framework on an Apache server Microsoft not only extends their ability to run their services on a superior Web server with far fewer security problems, but Apache is now recognized as a viable Web server by Microsoft. Apache owns the majority share of the Web server business and those of use that have had the ability to use it prefer it hands down to Microsoft's IIS.
July 23, 2002

BBC News Two

BBC News now is providing a UK version and a World version of their news sites. I have IE looking reading the worldly site and Mozilla reading the UK version. This comparison brings to light the differences in providing to the different user groups. The previous posts noting the deaths of Potok and McKern were only easily found on one of the versions. Potok's passing was noted in the World edition and McKern the UK edition. Now to take a closer look. Anybody know of a write-up on this change?

A slight break

Things have been a little quiet here work as drawn off energy used to read and post, reading has been in books (shared in a few days), summer diversions are abundant, and we are preparing to move. We are going through a transition to our own house with all the fears and excitement that can bring.
July 20, 2002

Sinking side note

October 1987 was a wild time. It was my last semester at St. Mary's (I took my last courses abroad at Oxford to finish out my undergrad career), the Giants were in the playoffs, and the stock market crashed like nobody's business. I thought to myself and brought it up to friends that it was a good thing to watch happen as it would be a moment in history that I though would cause a great change. It did to some degree, the job market tightened and the well paying jobs my friend had landed the year before after their graduation were no longer there. But, we got through. Some even created a fantasy world in the late 90s, but having watched the what happend to so many after the euphoria I saw similar signs and was risk adverse and pulled what money I had in the market out fearing a crash. The highs got much higher than I expected would ever happen, but the crash is equally much worse than I expected too. The same greed that landed many behind bars, that drove the 80s boom, seems to be behind this current crash. The first dive started when the companies run by young adults not really old enough to know better blew up their companies (but also sparked, or were involved party in the change in mindset that still is standing), but the current problems seem not only to be caused by greed and lying by people who should have known better we trusted them to know better. Some of these elders are still in the driver seat and now have more power, which is giving many less trust in the systems we rely upon.
July 18, 2002

Adaptive Path to DC

Last September I attended a two day User Experience Workshop put on by Adaptive Path. This was one of the most conprehensive sessions/classes I had ever been to on the approach and skills needed to develop a usable Web site. As many of us know the Adaptive Path folks are taking this great session on the road and adding a third day using a local professional to help bring it all home. This may be the most productive money you spend all year. Those that come to your sites and pay for your work with receive an even greater benefit. Do it for yourself and for the users of what you produce.

The following is a better description by the Adaptive Path folks describing the Washington, DC (actually held in Arlington, Virginia) sessions:
Design theories don't help if you can't make them work in actual day-to-day practice. Increasingly, sites must respond to the realities of scant budgets and greater financial return. Adaptive Path's User Experience Workshops will prepare you to meet these challenges with usable tools for putting design theory into practice today. You'll spend the first two days with Adaptive Path partners Jeffrey Veen, Peter Merholz, and Lane Becker. They'll show you how to incorporate user goals, business needs, and organizational awareness into your design process. You'll develop a project plan, learn methods for research and design, and create clear documentation. You'll learn the same strategies Adaptive Path has successfully practiced for a wide range of companies, including Fortune 500s, startups, and not-for-profits.

Additionally, on day 3 we will be joined by information architect extraordinaire Thom Haller, who will talk about "The Value of Structure." In this workshop, he'll draw on twenty years experience in professional communication to explore the possibilities inherent in structure, and its value to others. As participants, you'll have the opportunity to see structure through users' eyes. You'll learn a measurements-based, performance-focused structure for gathering, evaluating, chunking, knowing, and organizing content. You'll have a chance to "sample" different structures (such as narrative) and see how they offer value to organizations and their constituencies.

You'll leave the workshop inspired and equipped with design techniques and a library of documentation templates that you can use right away -- so that your web site will satisfy your users, your management and you! But wait--there's more! Or, rather, less! As in--DISCOUNTS! If you sign up with the promotional code "FOTV" (without the quotes), we'll knock the price down from $1,195 to $956 -- a 20% discount.

For more information: http://www.adaptivepath.com/events/wdc.phtml

July 15, 2002

OS X Updates

A couple of good Apple updates today. MS adds Palm synch to Entourage, which I have been hoping would get here since I started using Entourage in January. (No, I have not synched yet). ATI releases ATI graphics card update software, which seems to make my TiBook speedier and even more georgeous. Finally, Apple releases Quicktime 6 and it is fast and clean with beautiful pictures. It was a nice update date. All of these finds can be found at Version Tracker for OS X.

Glasshaus developers books

A stop in to the local bookstore today has been strongly considering Constructing Accessible Web Sites and Usability: The Site Speaks for Itself both are Glasshaus imprints and seemingly very well written and well produced. The accessibility book covers a topic that is tough to get ones mind around initially and the book handles the topic wonderfully. I have been working with the accessibilty issue for a few years now and the book points out some areas that were of a help to me.

I balk a little at the hefty price of the books, which means I will be buying them on discount or sale. I know some of the folks that have contributed to the books, which helps me justify the costs, but not everybody is me. If the cost were a little lower, say a 30 U.S. dollar price point, it would be easier to buy a couple or more and hand them out to folks that really need them. The accessibility issue book is one that really needs a lower price point, but I know there are solid methods for pricing the books just under 50 U.S. dollars.

July 11, 2002

Technology change

Some ask why it is good to understand information and its use before making a choice on technology... A few years ago a small burrito shop near where I lived had great burritos. You ordered your burrito and the staff went behind a room screen and appeared in a couple of minutes with a tasty product. Your order was rung up on an adding machine, but your money was put in a separate cash drawer that put the coins in the coin slots, but placing any coin in any slot and all denominations of coin were in all coin partitions. The paper money was handled in the same manner. After a year or so of semi-regular visits I noticed they had a new cash register. The staff was proud of their new technology. I ordered and paid. The drawer opened from the register they purchased to help better control their money. The organization of the coins and cash had not changed as everything was still intermingled.
July 10, 2002

Baking versus frying CMS

Aaron discusses baking versus frying with content management and updates bake and fry CMS ideas. The idea is to bake content, which is using your content management system to produce static pages. The alternative is to fry from the CMS by providing truely dynamic content. There are a few reasons why one should choose the frying method:

  • Frequent (hourly or semi-daily) updates of informaiton
  • Multiple dependancies (information linking to and from many points)
  • Unlimited resources
  • Many variation of presentation of the data
  • Providing user slicing and dicing of informaiton capabilities
  • Many external content providers

This list does not capture everything, but also provides maleable guidelines. There are many advantages to baking (publishing static content pages) from a CMS:

  • Speed of delivery
  • Archievable version
  • Ease of troubleshooting and maintenance
  • Editable output pages
  • Use templates to generate valid mark-up and perfect 508 compliant pages
  • Using reusable content pieces that provide consistancy and accuracy of information on all presentation layers
  • Keeping various application elements well maintained

Aaron provides good links for further discovery of your own.

Gold Box provides

The Amazon Gold Box provides a goodie to get. After watching the Gold Box for weeks, and wondering where it went for a week or so, the Gold Box had a solid offering. I found Memento on DVD popped up. I did not see the movie in the theater, but have had an interest. The 10 dollar plus price made it less than a movie out for two and the fancy tiles are not available at the rental joints. One thing I did not realize about the Gold Box is that if you select an item to buy before the final item you do not get the opportunity to see the remaining items.
July 9, 2002

Usability review of online mapping sites

The Wall Street Journal provides a review of online mapping directions and lists how helpful each of them were with regards to mapping, accuracy, and written directions. These applications are one service that blossomed on the Internet, but the usefullness of the sites and the usability of the sites varies. Reviewed are: AAA.com, MapBlast.com, MapQuest.com, RandMcNally.com, and Hertz NeverLost II GPS. The usability and accuracy of the online maps and their printout versions are key to how well the site gets you to where you are going. One of the items this review required was finding an exact restaurant by name, which there are other methods of finding a restaurant's address to look up on a map. Over all the review is a good read.
July 7, 2002

Brought together

It has been a weekend of independance and interdependance. The Independance Day holiday weekend was spent with friends that have been spread around the globe who all came together to witness two great friends of ours, Fred and Paula, get married. It was a wonderful occasion of celebration and sharing. They were married next to the Jefferson Memorial (photos soon) and the party ensued out at Great Falls. It is amazing the wonders that two people can bring together and even back together. Being blessed with wonderful, caring, and bright friends is a great treasure. We wish Paula and Fred a great long future together.

Le Tour

Le Tour begins in ernestness today. To follow along for the next three weeks Yahoo Cycling will provide a great jumping off point for coverage. If you are fortunate enough to have OLN on your cable or satellite setup you are golden. OLN offers one or two hours of coverage each day. The Internet, for me, has always brought my favorite sports and teams closer, beginning in 1993.
July 2, 2002

Inner Navigation and Information Cascade

A couple of weeks ago I picked up Inner Navigation: Why we Get Lost in the World and How we Find Our Way by Erik Jonsson. I was interested in the title and a quick read of the cover and forward brought me to buy it. The book offers very short snippets about how folks lose their way in environments. The use of visual cues or the ignoring the visual cues and how they prompt us to make decisions or mis-decisions has had me interested. I have been reading one of the short stories most nights and pondering.

One of the other interesting elements is the disconnect between known right and wrong. There is a story or two about folks thinking they were heading one direction so to reach a destination, but were actually travelling in the opposite, or nearly opposite direction. The folks knew the destination was a block or two away, but yet kept travelling for many more blocks beyond what they figured was even possible. The brain gets filled with doubt and at the same time conviction that it has made the correct decision.

This has dovetailed with some readings from the past few months on Information Cascade, which Lisa Anderson and Charles Holt coined to explain individual choice that follows the trends of others, even though they know the trend is not in their best interest or will provide them a positive outcome. This echoes of the late '90s stock market, but also those following "guru's" statements because others have but value in them. Some of this can explain reliance on poor information vehicles, like the mis-use or improper use of PDF's to store and present information. PDF's provide a wonderful information vehicle to store information that is intended for exact visual representation of the information. PDF's now have poor methods of information extraction and searching (when compared to other information storage like a database that would output perfectly validating HTML as its presentation layer), but this all depends on the use and purpose of the end user for that information. PDF's gained prominence because others were using them to distribute information, even though there were issues with the intended purpose meshing with the information vehicle, the use by others developed a "herding" decision based on use by others.

There are many possible illustrations for these issues and the Inner Navigation book offers some great triggers to better personal examination to the world around us. These are some of my favorite books, the one that cause me to have introspection and outward observations in a new light and can tie other readings and knowledge together in new ways. Grow ye synaptic connections.

July 1, 2002

Information through a child's eyes

I have been pondering of late about what a large organization's site would look like if its information structure was created by a child. We all pretty much know by now that Internet sites that partition information based on an organization chart are a failure for users finding information. Org charts protect egos, but don't facilitate information sharing, which is part of what triggered these thoughts as children really do not have egos to protect (even though they do get possessive of their toys, but only one or two at a time). The other trigger was watching my wife's niece (just turned 2) play with her plastic food from her wooden kitchen. She organized my colors first, then reorganized by shapes, then assembled foods in dishes with roughly an even mixture of color and shapes. All of this organizing was done while the "adults" were talking and not paying attention.

This was just a small observation of one, but if a child who is not yet two can organize plastic products by discerning qualities can we have them create informational organization structures by age three or four? Our niece learned her organizational skills by watching and patterning her expected org structures on observation. I was a little bit amazed by the facetted grouping and grouping by recognizable categories.

Many large organization site's are very difficult because they choose organizational structures that are based on their internal understanding of that information. Organizations that have readily easy to use sites spend time categorizing information by how the outside user's structure their understanding of the information. Can we learn to do things properly from children?

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