October 31, 2002

Mac has better Zoom

Oddly enough I am getting nearly a 1.1Mbps download (a 19MB software upgrade in well under 2 minutes) and 730kbps upload on my Mac using DSL. On the PC it is 820kbps down and 730kbps up. Can you guess which machine I am using? I had not used the PC in nearly a month until last night. It was a completely frustration experience. Only one time in seven reboots did it ever load all the "start-up applictions".

Zoom Zoom

Ahhhh.... This past month has been horrible to be with out my own e-mail accounts and or broadband. I have more than a handful of digital friends I keep up with, e-mail, and chat with on-line and not really having access was no fun to say the least. I am behind on e-mail and other things I had taken on, accept heartfelt appologies and know I am doing what I can to catch-up.

I am really not understanding how folks use dial-up, particularly with Yahoo offering a $29 per month offering and Covad offering about the same price or less. I can understand not being DSL accessable, but if you are it is well worth the effort. Trying to read even CNN on line was painful. With broadband I can check local movie listings in Watson and see a clip (oh what a wonderful idea, I have not done this in months).

October 29, 2002

Yahoo does PHP

Yahoo presentation on why they are moving to PHP. This would make a great interview of write-up as PowerPoint presentations are largely worthless with out the speaking that accompanies them. This is one presentation that has a tiny bit of information that makes me crave for more. I use PHP here as a scripting language of choice. I love being able to use it at work for many of the reasons outlined by Yahoo. It is better than ColdFusion, ASP, or JSP as far a server requirements, secure, and time to market. The flexability and speed which one can develop is tough to beat, except for the flexability of Perl (there is a reason it is called the duct tape of the Internet). The maxim has been use PHP where you can and Perl where you must. Other languages pale in comparison, but have marketing dollars, which drive the hype. [hat tip Cam and Anil]

RSS in the near future

The RSS feed is in the works here and should be ready by the anniversary of the tool, which is October 31st. There have been many upgrades to the application that runs this site in the past year, but one that I really wanted was RSS. I have it running on my laptop and it needs only one tweak and then to get dropped into my main posting page. Did I mention I am loving having my a my development tools and full webserver with all the application elements running on my TiBook laptop again?

IA primer

This evening I went to Content and Coffee a networking/information sharing event for content editors and writers for the Web. This evenings event was focussed on IA and had Thom Haller, Cinnamon Melchor, Vera Rhoads, and Sharyn Horowitz on a panel. This was essentially a light overview of IA, but the folks did a really nice job explaining IA and how they sell IA and its benefits to their clients or management. I may also go to the November 11 event covering 508 accessibility issues as it is a fun topic and it is good to get other perspectives.
October 26, 2002

All in a view

I woke up rather early this morning and walked out to get the paper as the grey foggy sky was beginning to lighten. This really reminded by of last Spring in Monterey where I woke early and opened the blinds in the morning to look out at the grasses and trees wake to their new day and shake off the morning fog. I was able to write a lot and knocked out some diagrams that helped me think through some issues and possibly others too.

I walked back in this morning and went to our office and opened the blinds and found a similar flow. Having a window to look out that offers a rather quiet scene helps me think and work for some reason. When we bought our house and we talked about where the office would be set, I really did not care as long as there were windows and it would really help to have those windows look out at trees. I have much of my wish and this morning really reminded me of this.

During and after grad school I had a studio apartment and I set my desk (also served as a dining room table with the ever present table cloth on it) to look straight out a large picture window. When I lived there I was able to get a lot of writing done and it was during this time I started writing poetry (well over 100 in two years) and some short stories. After I moved I was staring at a wall. When Joy and I were married our apartment looked out at parking lot. Now I look forward to what may come.

October 24, 2002

Rob gets it right

I missed an important call last night, Rob was calling my cell phone from the SF Giant game just after they won the fourth game of the World Series. It was nearly 13 years ago when Rob and I had tickets to the sixth game of the Earthquake series, which is a game they never played. Rob learned his lesson and picked up tickets earlier in the series. Nicely done. I found my cell phone buzzing in my jacket pocket at midnight letting me know I had missed a call. How I would have loved to get that call. I need a phone that knows when to ring loudly even when I have it set to vibrate.
October 23, 2002

Tweaking begins again

I have been tweeking the code in the weblog and modifying the CSS too. I have the whole of my CMS running on my Mac, which gives me the ability to tweek and update the code. Having Jaguar behind the scenes made adding the MySQL component much easier than in previous builds. In the past it was similar to a Linux or Solaris compile and build. The Mac build was much easier and worked seemlessly with PHP and Apache. The downside was the Data Load element is not available so I used cat to import just the each table's data.

The CSS I started tweaking tonight as the pages were rendering very small on Mac IE 5.2 and oddly in Mozilla 1.1. Last night's updates to the weblog code have it a little closer to validating 4.01 transitional, and fixed a few font oddities of class clashing. I am using a body with 12 points and using percentages in to size the elements in the pages. This is giving me an adjustable font size in IE on Mac, which I will test tomorrow at work on a PC

One of the next steps on the tool side is building a RSS feed and making a few needed changes to the administration tools to ease editing submitted entries.

Mail that has problems other than errors

I am giving up on what seems like living in a block of ice, where I can see out and what what is happening but can not communicicate. I have been playing with Web mail that has taken sometime to set up to seemingly work, but I get a humorous error message at logout:
Important! This system is beta and not production-ready. You may experience errors and other problems!
It seems to remember that there are other problems than errors. (?)

Wahoo, Books

What a wonderful week in books. I just received Christina Wodtke's Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web today and it looks fantastic. I have only leafed through it briefly, but it seems to cover the basis wonderfully and provide excellent guidence on how to get through IA successfully.

Saturday I picked up Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and have read it in little snippets and have made it through a very good chunk in no time. Much of what I have learned over time, from experience, or from great thinkers like Jesse, which leads to successful Web sites or information applications is in this book. Knowing the steps and phases of approaching development will help you greatly. Jesse has it down for all to read and it is wonderfully written.

I am very glad to not only know these to folks, but that they are sharing what they have learn for others to gain from their experiences. This sharing is what the Web was build upon and will keep the Web improving into its next generations and incarnations. Congratulations guys!


Today sucked at work. One of the worse parts of the job, but it is the job I have. Other than a great group discussion with a very talented team, it was a flat out very tough day.

Helping hand to accessibility

The GlassHaus Constructing Accessible Web Sites book has been a great find. I began working to build sites and applications for use in Web browsers that had to be used by individuals with disabilities in 1997. Over these years I picked up a lot of hard won knowledge and experience, but have never run across a resource that fully backed what I had gathered. The GlasHaus Accessibility book not only echoes what I have learned, but has provided new insights to improve upon what I already have. The best part of this book is that I can point others to it and I am assured they will be able to build an accessible site or Web applications that can meet high standards.

Many folks think accessibility is a great inconvenience, but it takes a little thinking and planning to do it right from the beginning. Having a great resource at hand makes the process a cake walk. Not only are the processes and guides helpful for creating sites that are accessible for those that are disabled these steps outlined also make the information in the site future ready. Sites that are accessible are much easier to use with a handheld PDA device or from even a cell phone browser. Accessibility for everybody in more situations improves with structuring the information properly, which is all making Web enabled information really requires to get it ready to be consumed. Is your information ready to be consumed by everybody?

October 18, 2002

Drug use or Miss use

Yes, I broke down a couple months ago and finally saw an allergist again and started shots. I had spent a whole six months on perscription antihistamines and was not able to drop them like most summers when it get humid. I am now down to once a week, but I also have a plethora of other perscriptions. I had a huge headache today, in part due to sinus or allergies. I have been using a nasal spray only for bad days where I really need a clean out. I never remember what it is called, but I was out of the sample and went to my bag of official drugs for me and dug in. I pulled out what I thought could be it be it had a name, patanol, which sounds like a feminine monthly pain releaver. Maybe the allergies were not from plants, molds, or other usual suspects but gender? I read closer and remembered this is for allergy medicine for my eyes. Nothing like I was expecting. I dug in the bag again and found the horrible tasting nasal spray, apply it and wait for relief.

Wired goes X(HTML)

While trying to catch up on friends and knowledge I ran across Zeldman's discussion of Hot Wired moving fully to valid XHTML and CSS, which is a bold and wonderful move. Zeldman also points to Wired's defense of their move to the new up-to-date site. These are good reads and help us understand why good markup is important and to understand what goes into making these decisions and the work to make it come to life.

Markup gives structure to information

I have been missing a lot of things on the Web the past few weeks. I just found Steve Champeon's article on the importance of understanding mark-up over at Web Monkey. HTML markup, some call it HTML code (not correct), helps structure information so that it can be used and reused properly in the proper context. This is extremely important when you are trying to add style to the content, such as adding the desired size and weight to a header or modify positioning to an unordered list. I see a lot of HTML tags that are not used properly in the work we clean-up on a regular basis. There are very few applications, like MS Word that come close to using HTML markup properly. Cleaning up application generated markup is demoralizing as getting markup right in the first place is easier than having to clean up the mess made. Go read Steve's article and anything else you can put your hands on that he has written and you will be much better off than before, believe me.

Why is markup important? Many folks and applications try styling the information without considering the structure of the information. If you have much of a background in communication, journalism, information science, etc. you understand that information needs structure. There are headers that indicate to the user what the content and tone of the content that follows will contain. There are many elements on a page that need structure, like knowing where a paragraph begins and ends, where in the body of text an image should be tied, words that need to stand out (strong), a string of items in a list, or a structured ordered list with sub-elements. Not having thes information properly marked up would make understanding how to best treat that information very difficult. This may seem irrelevant to those that only deal with a Web browser, but if you want to read the informaiton on a PDA, print the information and use the best styling for reading, or need a screen reader to vocalize the words on the page and give the words that compise the information being communicated the same understanding you need structured information. It would be like trying to bake a cake with out sides on the pan, the cake needs structure to rise and be best consumed. People that guide you away from properly strucutring information, more often than not are not informed on the need and the benefits to structuring information.

October 11, 2002

Quest for Customer Service

It is all about customer service these days. I left my surly and poorly communicative cable company (Comcast) for DirectTV satellite, which so far has been exceptional. DirectTV was a breaze to set up service and has answered questions along the way with ease, honesty (they had to go check to verify the correct answet), and kindness.

We has a similar experience at IKEA at Potomac Mill last weekend as we were piecing together elements for our office. The woman who was helping us there took her time explaining things we may need and may save us money. She verified we had all the parts we needed and coordinated a pick-up for us that day as well as tied missing items together from other stores to be delived a little later. She also walked us over and introduced us to another employee who was equally helpful that tied kitchen cabinets into our office plan to neatly store items above the desk. I have had a string of horrible customer service of late that this really stood out. Some of the higher-end furniture stores have offered or provided similar service, but we did not expect it from IKEA. Actually the guy at Best Buy was equally as helpful and offered the best price options when I picked up the hardware for satellite TV.

On the Web there used to be great sites that were well thought though and had great customer service. Fat Brain books was fantastic, but hit the other end of the spectrum when Barnes and Noble took over (I have had horrible experiences with B&N on-line, but their physical stores are rather good). The Verizon site is utterly miserable with no contingency planning at all. The USA.net e-mail service is horrible with out American Express customer service behind it. It seems that many of the well thought through services sites that privide what you need we gobbled up by large entities that do not care about their sites or those that use them.

I still love Amazon as they still have a rather well thought trough service and their customer service is nearly always very good to excellent. I have had excellent service and support from nearly every Apple site or related site I have run across. The Apple store are great, but so are the Apple local stores. The understanding of the product and the people is lost at PC based stores, there is no passion or caring in the PC community, or maybe it is just burried somewhere.

Part of the poor customer service could be attributed to lack of paying for good customer service or not training for customer service properly. Over extended support teams and people can quickly lead to poor or lacking customer service. These elements can quickly lead to a miserable experience, but having people in a service world that are not truely passionate about product and the customer seems to be a common trait everywhere. Where I find great customer service, there is support from top to bottom in the organization for training and caring for the employees, but the biggest factor is passion. Passionate service folks will knock your socks off everytime, given they are not over stretched or worn down.

Follow the passion

Update on lack of broadband progress

I am still with out most of my outbound e-mail capabilities for my usual accounts. I can see all the inbound e-mail, but I am mostly devoid of responding, which is driving me crazy. This will get resolved once DSL arrives, I am still waiting on Verizon to get their act together and tie the phone number to the address. The last residents of the house has DSL running at a really good clip, but nobody can see that until Verizon understands their role in the world.

We finally got satellite TV today, which is a huge improvement over cable. Why? Much better picture, much better sound, cheaper, and channels like Tech TV and BBC America. The downside is the current placement of the dish, on the right hand corner of the roof on the front of the house. It could be a good reason to remove the tree that is creating this issue or to get the dish moved when we paint the eaves.

I spent today trying to figure out why we had no phone signal, well it turns out the PC modem fries the phone lines. I was waiting for contractors to come and fix a furnace, closets, and the dish guys. All the contractors were stuck in the traffic related to trying to find the DC shooter and we calling the often to let me know of their delays. The shootings really have not un-nerved me as the odds are long that I or anybody I know would get shot. I am much more aware of my surroundings, much like living in the UK in the late 80s with the IRA bombings and such.

I was put off from doing some work for a while today as the CD I burned on a nearly up-to-date security patched Win 2k box would not be acknowledged in the Mac. This is odd as it is how I move files out of XP Home (miserable version of XP). I finally got the CD to run in the PC (I finally had a reason to assmble it after nearly 2 weeks in the house) and reburned them on a CD, which did run on OS X. This little task and figuring out that the PC modem has phone voodoo here caused the loss of a couple hours. I knew I should have pulled the box of blank CDs out of the packing box they are in.

I am trying to focus on getting a couple reviews done, user/usability test a new site, get back to writing some articles, and putting our office together.

October 3, 2002

Do not strand them

Stranding users is not a good thing to do, I think we can all agree with that premise. Not remembering that a user of your site can drop in to the site from anywhere to anywhere can be fatal. Take the U.S. Treasury Department, which recently did an expansive redesign of their site. They did a good job at bringing together much of their domain under one consistent branding roof. They have a few large navigation problems, they tend to pop-up a new window at the drop of a hat. Worse is that many of their press releases are built to pop-up, but have absolutely no navigation, not even to the Treasury homepage. I was suckered by this in July while searching for information from Google I was dropped in to a press release with nearly the exact information I was seeking. Big problem, all the Treasury Press Releases (sample of poor Treasury Web design) have no related links and no navigation to get you to the sourse of the page. When the Treasury gets around to fixing the stranded user problems they created they should fix the giant top banner/navigation bar that keeps the information their users are coming to the site for pushed down the page.

I will give the Treasury large kudos for grasping control of the splintered branding that is rampant in the large organizations. This consistantcy provides a couple of advantages by providing ease common design that give welcome consistancy and it makes it easier to go back and correct the navigation and usability errors that were left behind.

October 2, 2002

Gabriel Live

We now have tickets for the November 11th November 24th Peter Gabriel show at MCI Center. I have only seen Gabriel as a part of festival shows like WOMAD and the Amnesty Internationl Tour. I am so ready to see a full show.

More dial-up woes

I am remembering why Earthlink bugs me, it is when I am dialed-in the only e-mail I can send using POP mail is Earthlink. I can not send vanderwal.net mail or other wonderful options. I never have used Earthlink mail as it was full of spam from day one. I have more usable e-mail addresses that don't change when I leave ISPs (sometimes for reasons like not being able to use my own e-mail). Anybody know of an ISP like Earthlink that allows for outside e-mail usage?

Scott and Peter return

I am very happy Scott is posting again. His observations are always very welcome and helpful. In today's scottandrew post he notes the joy that Peter Gabriel's new album, UP brings. I agree wholely. UP brings back memories of the first 3 Gabriel albums as well as So. I picked up the album on Saturday, while running house errands and really enjoyed listening in the car and then in my home stereo. I was so impressed.

Battle Boxes

On the house front, we found out late last week that our furnace has a tendancy to shoot flames out the front when the gas is turned up to normal capacity. This is entertaining, but it is not safe. It seems the fire shooting has been melting some wires in the furnace. At least the walls are in good shape, knock wood.

We are still sitting in a sea of boxes and will be for some time. We had some space savers put in our closets, but there was one number not accounted for, our height. We are not tall people, well by Dutch standards, but our clothes drag from the top rack to the lower rack and the lower rack drags on the floor. The whole contraption needs to be raised two inches or so, which will limit the overhead storage.

I still can only find the left shoe for any of the shoes I wear to work. I am not sure where the right shoes are, nor can Joy remember where they may have been placed. I also can not find my electric razor, which should have been in the box marked "desk items and RAZOR". I have been using a blade razor, which in one or two more days will give me insane ingrown hairs.

One positive observation, well for me at least, I have fewer books than Joy. The last few years I have listened to teasing for all the books I have (mostly tech/Web/UXD related with a healthy helping of econ, history, architecture, design, and fiction) on the shelves. It seems Joy has nearly equal, if not more, knitting books and boxes of periodicals, just slated for our office. The knitting book count does not include the attic nor second bedroom. This to me is a nice thing to find out, I am not sure you are interested, nor Joy with my telling you, but it is just you and me here right?

Dial-up woes

Okay, I know I am not the "normal user", but I really do not understand how millions to billions of people prefer dial-up over broadband. I have been struggling with a shared line with the main house phone and dial-up for only two days and it is a huge struggle. The images on CNN take forever to load, particularly the ads, which slowdown even the text from appearing. I really don't understand how this is tollerable. It must be me. I want my DSL, too bad the local telco (Verizon) is so slow in connecting 3rd party DSL providers (like DirectTV DSL) that have much better service and customer service.

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