Friday, February 28, 2003

I'VE MOVED! Thanks to Josh Dura for design, and Mike Chambers for implementation. RSS is available, but Haloscan comments did not come across. (That Macromedia "go" address should switch over soon... if it brings you back here to Blogspot, then try The addresses will change to addresses in the near future, so the "go" shortcut is the best long-term address.) Thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoy my new digs!

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Scoble on corporate blogging: Bob Scoble works for NEC, and he has contacts among the Microsoft bloggers -- he and I first "met" in the Dreamweaver newsgroup. He's got some of the good guidelines here, although it's a post-Cluetrain document... lots of these principles were known before the web or usenet got popular.
Downside of site registration: Steve Poynter points out how the Rhode Island newspaper Providence Journal had the primary news on the recent loss of life in the nightclub fire, but was inaccessible to the world because many articles were in the site's main publishing system, behind a registration screen. (Their site does offer some of this news to non-subscribers.) It's an unusual situation, but is a strong example of the costs of not being linkable.
[via Doc Searls]
Art Directors Anonymous: This is a group-portfolio piece, heavy on a video-like style sense, but it's also a good example of combining multiple pieces into a single interface. Give it some load time.
[via Jeffrey Zeldman]
Word burst implemented: Last week there was theoretical discussion about measuring frequency changes of particular words in blogs to reveal hot trends. This week Dan Chan of Daypop has already implemented it. I think this is signficant work, because one of the big tasks businesses have these days is extracting info from data, of pulling signal from noise. This wordburst implementation, like the general Daypop and Blogdex link-popularity engines, works on weblogs-as-a-whole... useful because you can scan a range of rated news from left to right (both links are from today's Top 40). But we also need to implement this on a filtered-source basis, so you can tell discussion trends in a given community or business... both the server and the client have roles to play in this type of work. Still, I'm amazed that Dan pulled off this existence proof so quickly, two thumbs up.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Blog offline for a bit: I'll be migrating existing entries to a system on a Macromedia server, so this blog may look wonky for a little bit, but should return to normalcy soon. Best address across changes will be this address will always bring you to the current site.
Pioneer 10 last contact: It has been running out of power, and missed its last message... launched 30 years ago, passing through the asteroid belt, investigating Jupiter, it's now 20 years outside Pluto's orbit, half-a-day's travel at the speed of light.
Stewart Alsop on smart mobiles: There's a new class of phones which can do more than just let you talk: "...the experience of getting the phone was very similar to the experience of getting an Apple II computer with the VisiCalc program in 1981... it let me do something with the first electronic spreadsheet that wasn't possible with pen and paper: It allowed me to rapidly try out different business ideas and test the outcomes. The Motorola T720 and its ilk also inspire me because they promise a new world of usefulness as personal assistants. With these new-generation cellphones, I'll still be able to talk to people, but I can also entertain myself between calls, find help in locating stores and even people when I'm traveling, and get a different kind of information than computers have been delivering to me so far." The World Wide Web helped people link documents, but there's more to the internet than just the web.
Better traffic detection: This CNET article discusses how someone is post-processing raw sensor information to enable better prediction of upcoming traffic jams. There's that key pattern again of a rapid increase in throughput of realworld sensing devices, and the need for pattern recognition and discrimination on a single dedicated server, which then feeds a single tight stream of useful conclusions to many portable devices. You wouldn't want all that client software to each pull raw data themselves... the server needs to turn bulky data into useful info, before sending it to each subscriber. Client-side interface and server-side preferences are both key elements in this equation.
New Lasso Studio for Dreamweaver: Even if you use ColdFusion, it's good to keep note of options like this, because you can't always control what server, database, application server you use. Knowing how to connect the pieces is key.
In San Francisco? CFUG tomorrow: The Bay Area ColdFusion UserGroup meets the fourth Thursday of the month. The speaker schedule suddenly changed for this month, but fortunately Christian Cantrell and Mike Chambers are both in town, and will be doing a joint Q&A session. Should be fun... if you're in the area it could well be worth your while. (To find a group in your area for face-to-face contacts, check here.)
Find a Director developer: I see lots of people on Flash boards trying to handle projects which get too complex for Flash... they say "I know Director can do this, but I don't know Director". Use the job board at Director Online, or the Macromedia Developer Locator to find someone in your area. (Tip: The earlier in the process you contact them, the easier it is to avoid designing yourself into a corner... some projects can be hosted in a new environment as-is, but if you know the destination ahead of time you've usually got a smoother path.)
Future drivers for mobile use: Russell Beattie writes of "Things To Do While You're Waiting"... how the social drivers for pocket devices differ from what we're used to with big computers. He discusses the necessity of offline functionality, the difficulty of locating trustworthy applications, and the difficulty of current business models for development. I came across this while reading his thoughts on the Flash/DoCoMo announcement... he's got lots more good stuff about mobile use, about disposable software, phone aggregators, news links, etc.
New Max-to-Shockwave export: People who work in Discreet's 3DS Max can now export directly to Shockwave format. You can set up physics behaviors from Havok and it will translate across... skin, bones and other character features from Max or Character Studio will also come across. This can be instantly seen by half of all consumers tested.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Poynter on DoCoMo Flash: Not much meat here, but they already see some of the opportunities for their clients: "News publishers might want to start planning for the arrival of this technology in mobile phones. It means they'll be able to deliver content to phones that's much, much more than a few characters of text."
Bacardi DJ SoundStudio: Okay, I'm blown away. Build and store up to seven tracks of many audio types. Built by 2advanced for Bacardi, who will sponsor a contest on it later this year. Really good piece of work here.
[via Mat Bastian]
Roundup of free Flash components: Scott Manning at draws together a number of resources for configurable UI widgets. I know that ColdFusion folks have been particularly interested in these, because they drive down the cost of development. But if you're a high-end Flash coder these are also useful for comparative purposes: examine how they handle interface decisions, inspect or extend the functionality, etc.

Sometimes people balk at using a readymade component because you're downloading generalized functionality which you may not need for that specific app. Yes, custom code tuned for a particular instance can be smaller than a generic component... it's your choice whether to use generic functionality or custom functionality, assuming you can cover the development costs. But what's really interesting here is that over the last year the Flash community has been developing a grammar of UI componentry -- we've been finding what works, and what works better. At some point you might be able to count on component code already being available clientside, so that just your instructions for configuring the component need to be downloaded....
Comments down, moving soon: Many blogs use HaloScan, and their servers are probably overloaded from other blogs arguing about UN inspections. I'll be moving HTML, RSS and comments to a Macromedia server this week. The best address will be through a redirect at
Designer phones: Wacky Hollywood stars... I'd pick up a disposable from the 7-11 myself. Still, it's signficant how they're using a mobile as a voice-interface service device, rather than just a phone... check out how the concierge changes the experience. For them, a phone is no longer a commodity, but an experience of increased service and status. Vertu's site is interesting for what it attempts, although the frequent screen-refreshes don't quite seem to match the ticket price.
[via Boing Boing]
7 ecommerce failures: Short checklists are fun to read... maybe you know it all already, but the structure provides new value. "E-Commerce Times" lists these seven classic problems as: (1) not paying enough attention to delivery & fulfillment; (2) offering only online, without catalogues, phone or stores; (3) using outdated technology; (4) having no personality (commodity vs experience); (5) forgetting customer preferences; (6) stale content; (7) not bringing existing customers into the website.
Browser wars, round two: Rafe Needleman discusses connectivity on portable devices. Browsing hypertext documents isn't the only way to use connections between machines.Unlike a full computer, many portables can only receive instruction updates from the device manufacturer. Yet what really drives adoption is wild innovation from unexpected places. The dynamics are different than on desktop machines....
'Answers Panel' misconnects: Recently some were reporting problems getting updates to the Answers Panel within MX applications... they were seeing timeouts when trying to freshen the list of recent technotes and other resources. With the site revamp we have been moving some servers, and certain connections had increased latency. This should be squared away now. If you have any problems with the Answers Panel yourself, or if you see a conversation online where someone is reporting problems after today, then could you drop a comment here please? Thanks!
Prescriptive specs vs descriptive specs: This CNET article notes that many W3C sites don't validate to latest specs. I guess this link will rise high on Daypop, but I'm not sure there's much of a real issue here.

Documents like a W3C Recommendation are prescriptive specifications -- they describe how things should be ideally, how future software should act. Something like the SWF SDK is more of a descriptive spec -- it describes how something actually does work today. With the latter you're concerned about completeness and accuracy. With the former there are all the arguments inherent in "should" statements, and it can take awhile for the real world to match the platonic ideal set up for it.

For the tools aspect, the expertise of WASP members has been valuable, and I hope it will continue. But saying the W3C is "leading by fiat, not by example" seems quite harsh -- a prescriptive spec can be a worthy goal, no need to get so judgmental about it.
Seeking financial applications: The Macromedia Showcase already has a special section for finance applications, but there will be an upcoming focus on Rich Internet Applications which use both the client and the server together to do financial work. If you're working on such a project, please drop a note to Showcase folks at the above link -- there's no commitment, and they'd really like to learn of what you're working on. If you've instead visited an existing financial RIA without creating it yourself, then please drop a note in Comments here so I can alert Showcase staff myself. (Hey, I'm also interested in any finances-on-the-web work you've seen, regardless of whether it uses anything Macromedia-ish... I'm also interested in hearing of any financial website you've been impressed with.) Thanks!

Monday, February 24, 2003

Get Lucky at Google: This link here can be saved into your bookmarks or installed on the browser toolbar. When you invoke it you'll get a JavaScript prompt for a search term, and you'll then go directly to the top hit for that term at Google. It works in Mozilla, and I haven't tested the JS for other browsers. (I search Google in my locater bar quite a bit, and got tired of the two-step process in reaching a site.)
"Gold record" economics: The New York Daily News traces the music-biz money flow for a quartet which achieved success: a debut record which goes gold. The result? Each bandmember gets about US$40K, pretax... for a $16 disc each gets about thirty-four cents. Maybe the future of digital distribution would have taken a different shape if the initial questions were not framed in the context of such a controversial industry....
[via Jenny Levine]
Two business styles: This isn't directly about technology... more about how different groups of people go about doing something with technology. First I came across Bob Scoble ripping apart a new CEO weblog, and the next article I happened across was Harvard Business School on corporate vision. This line in particular struck me: "Whole Foods Market, for example, does not have a myopic focus on the bottom line or share price, but it is committed to a vision that emphasizes more far-reaching aspirations. They actually want to change a part of the world in which they operate." I skimmed each article, and didn't absorb everything, but was struck by the difference between "I do it all, it's all for me" and "there are lots of us who want to make this a better place, and we see a way to do so, and are working on it day by day". Maybe I'm saccharine or over-dramatizing, it was just a jarring juxtaposition.
Scripters vs programmers: This old debate still has legs. I think that both short-form and long-form work have value. Chad Dickerson of InfoWorld uses a hiking metaphor, and it generates 500 comments on Slashdot, one of which points to John Ousterhout's "advantages of scripting" article.
Streaming Magazine If you use Flash Communications Server or related streaming technology then this magazine may be of interest... full of tidbits like expected curve for home media deployments and such. The title link is to a "Readers Choice" award for streaming technology in 2003... if you found value in the technologies behind the RIA presentation, the original Presedia presentation, or some of the other sites which use these techniques, then there's a place to vote for what works for you, thanks.
Hebrew and Arabic in Dreamweaver: English reads left-to-right... Japanese can read top-to-bottom... in Herbrew and Arabic most sentence parts are read right-to-left ("RTL"). It's hard to get this across operating systems and applications... it's a specific capability which must be built in for each platform. If you're creating HTML, then this extension from Ofir Ben Natan will process the page so it will display as desired. He has info on the site (above), and it has a 5-out-of-5 rating at the Macromedia Exchange for Dreamweaver.
Server licensing info: Christian has more info on the uses of the servers included in a DevNet Professional subscription. Like the other software included in a subscription, this is a single-user installation. Other people can test on your machine, but a single subscription can't be installed on all the machines in a testing lab, for instance. (These folks are welcome to download the trial versions, which often include a single-user option.) Rule-of-thumb: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, a license is usually for use by a single person.
Macromedia Breeze: This is the other big news of the day... Presedia Express has been reworked into a pair of Macromedia packages, Breeze Presentation and Breeze Training. (Why the name? Because it makes presentations and training a breeze, I guess. ;-) Both help ordinary people deliver voiceover Microsoft Powerpoint presentations through the web, no hassle. Breeze Training is a superset of Breeze Presentation, adding quizzes and student tracking abilities. If you work in Authorware or CourseBuilder then you'll see that there's still a need for elearning development environments, but like Macromedia Contribute there's now a higher level of accomplishment possible by the lay public. The FAQ for Breeze Training has more info. Breeze benefits businesses rather than individuals (as you can tell from the price), but there are some interesting implications for developers now that you know that anyone in a group can create the content for SWF-based presentation and training.....
Flash in DoCoMo i-mode: This is big news, as you can tell by the press coverage, but I don't have details yet on release dates, channels, or technical specifics. The central place to find information is this page for Device Support for Flash, and this is where to link into more info as we get closer to public release. In the meantime, it's more important than ever to keep thinking about what types of tasks can be well-served by portable interactive multimedia... it's coming! 8)

Friday, February 21, 2003

Social hacking techniques: WIRED writes how people use psychological ruses on AOL staff to gain access. If a client pesters you about security in something you're building, then have they already taken care of cases like these...?
Audio ads: Advertisers say "it gets results", because they can measure an uptick in clickthrough. But they're not measuring how many people get disgusted with the product or the site (or the poor innocent technology abused in such a fashion). I know I'm dreaming, but suppose the Flash Player context menu had a "Complain about this site..." link in it to send an email to the administrator, so that they could do a job of completing their feedback loop...? ;-) (Me, I keep sound off on my computers, and only turn it up or put in earplugs if there's actually something I want to hear.)
SWF Searching: These "Webmaster Guidelines", part of Google's info for webmasters, may help. I've seen multiple discussions this week about searching for sites which use SWF, probably as a result of that SearchDay article I linked to last week. Part of the confusion is because I can't say the exact algorithm each of the various search engines uses internally. I do know they can extract text and links from SWFs, and I know that many use it, but I don't know how they use it... that's why I'm vague here. But for Google, Teoma and other link-evaluating engines, one of the key ideas in getting good placement is to make sure you have good links pointing at you. The engines know SWF, so they won't assume it's just a talentless hack, but it's more important to clearly let the spider know what the content is than to feed them every little word or outgoing link within it.
Macromedia to buy Microsoft: For what it's worth, I haven't seen any indications of this myself. I do not know what evidence the writer is basing his conclusion upon.... ;-)
Open source and Flash: David Vogeleer has an essay on FlashMagazine about the blend of for-free and for-pay that we're all morphing towards. Providing more opportunities on each side of that balance seems like the way to go.
Do you own your email? This is a long, yet readable, lawblog entry of someone who found their email forwarded without their consent. Once you create digital content, do you implicitly control it, or can anyone who sees it reuse it and recopy it in any way they wish? Towards the bottom he draws parallels with the music industry... we've got the same issues with site design, applet design, any type of delivered code. For Rich Internet Applications some of the guts remain on your own server, but then we've got reuse of web services to think about as well....
"Dogfood and showstoppers" Scott Guthrie from Microsoft has another interesting post about software release. "Eating our own dogfood" means relying on the same software customers rely on... a "showstopper" is a problem found during release-candidate stages which prevents shipment... making sure the software works is a different task than making sure it works in all conditions and uses... the first step in addressing an intermittent problem is to find a way to reliably reproduce it... some of these problems and processes you'd recognize from any site/project release, but there's an additional layer atop that when the release can be used to make other releases.
Technology blogs: Jon Udell searched Google on phrases "microsoft blogs" (46 hits), "apple blogs" (105 hits) and "linux blogs" (691 hits). I got curious about the phrase "macromedia blogs"... found 781 hits. The term "flash blogs" got a ridiculously high number, but I suspect this included a lot of repeat citations and irrelevant false hits.
A monster, not a robot: Ben Hammersley started a conversation on new RSS reader NewsMonster, and the comments sparked a lengthy debate on whether such new ways of consuming web content should follow the Robots Exclusion Protocol which tells search engines which pages to ignore. If you put information on a website, you would not expect someone to copy your design or text. But suppose they scrape the text out of your HTML and link to you -- is that okay? Or suppose they download your graphics and stylesheets in case someone wanted to read your source presentation offline -- is that okay? Suppose this drives up your own bandwidth costs -- is that okay? The music industry has already been forced to deal with rights to digital content, but I think we've all got a lot more to think through here still....
Jon Udell on MS Office XML: This article is a sneak-peek at Microsoft InfoPath (formerly XDocs, or NetDocs), but also contains detail about the types of XML the Office applications use for communication. I'm assuming there will not be barriers to creating non-Microsoft applications which access and create such data-sources... assuming we'll eventually be able to create alternate views into business processes.
On2 video reporting: This isn't directly germane to what we do, but I think it's a good indicator of the general trend. ABC News has licensed from On2 Technologies the "Laptop News Gathering (LNG) system--technology that compresses video files at high bit rates to achieve broadcast-quality playback... [to help] TV correspondents to report live from a location using only a small camera, a laptop and a satellite phone". TV-quality video is encoded at a rate of 750KB/second, and I'm assuming the source material is something like 16-bit NTSC 544x372@24fps, or just about 10M/minute... maybe a 6:1 ratio of compression-to-action, if I didn't miss a decimal somewhere.... ;-)
Map of digital theft: This Forbes infographic by Nina Gould brings together data for the International Intellectual Property Alliance, the Business Software Alliance, and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Mousing over a country gives 2001-2002 data on uncompensated use of software, films and music (they don't yet include stolen site design however). The theft proportions seem to follow the same curve as environmental damage... percentarge rises in developing countries, then lowers as more become enfranchised. Anyway, Nina's graph is a good example of combining several text sources into one visual display can increase accessibility.
Media molds thoughts: The recent Guardian article about how PowerPoint shapes ideas got a lot of play, as people discussed how the nature of the medium itself can shape the ideas which get expressed. I hadn't seen Aaron Swartz's translations of Robert Frost and Martin Luther King text until just today, though. He also cites Peter Norvig's Gettysburg Address translation to Powerpointese. Graphics, animation, audio and video can expand expression beyond just text, but each medium can also influence the thoughts themselves as well....
Blog notes: Sorry for the absence this week... spent time writing, handling a number of things. I'll be moving soon to an internal blogging system, like Mike Chambers and the rest of the gang... for the HTML blog will get you to the right place regardless. (I'll have the RSS address when it goes live.) The commenting system will function more reliably then too.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

"Persuasive Design": This interview at User Interface Engineering goes a step beyond "usable design" ("Can the visitor use the site successfully?") and focuses on ways to help achieve the site's goals. A key tactic is to make sure that the visitor can get the information they want, rather than just making the information you wish to provide more usable. "Professional services, such as doctors and lawyers, tend to be the sites that miss the persuasive design boat the most. They often just provide basic office information without emphasizing why someone should choose them as a service provider." Related articles: John Rhodes interviews Jesse James Garrett, and Persuasive Architecture.
[via WebWord]
NewsMonster: Looks great -- a clientside aggregator built atop the Mozilla platform. Fast download. I can't get it to work, though... keeps saying it can't find its .JNLP file, and it doesn't display Help contents to send out a problem report. I'm in Mac OS 9.x... I don't see that they tested there. Will play with it more later. But I was impressed at how easy it was to install something built atop a platform... don't know if I'd do this all the time, because Mozilla's sandbox isn't as restrictive as a plugin's sandbox, but it's really nice to be able to quickly install just the instructions to give new abilities to software I already installed.
Camphone problems: CNN describes the "unusually high demand" for mobile phones with cameras, with the result that early models are being rushed to market -- too many buttons and knobs, networks which don't interoperate, lack of standard interfaces. "... despite the problems, 8.4 million such phones were sold worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2002, compared with 5.2 million in the third quarter -- a rise of 62 percent... 'It's no secret that multimedia interoperability is not there yet. Any new technology is complicated because there are many different vendors trying to make it work together. However, we should have all the major problems solved by the end of the year....'"

Social aspects of mobile phones: Lots of fascinating stuff in this BBC article about a 3-year university study... biggest angle was how mobile connectivity let people exercise more control over their own environment... phones with cameras may result in people having to visually prove what they say... they see "increasing acceptance of pushed content" (spam? you're kiddin' me!)... voice is seen as richer and, in some cases more desirable, than text... "Losing your mobile seems to equate to losing control". My favorite line: "Children used their mobile phones to ask their friends for advice. They also tended to have strict views on the use of mobile, seeing parents using text messaging as inappropriate."
Consumer-level SWF presentations: Show.Kit is an approachable tool which uses themes and a tree-view of presentation slides to plug text, image and audio content into Flash files. (There are preview presentations available.) I haven't installed the authoring tool, but from the results it looks like content that could also be displayed in HTML, but with higher production values and a nicer feel than you might get from markup. Not for everyone, but if you have a client that wants to "update my own files", then this might be just the ticket.
[via Simon Barber]
Macromedia tools, blog improvements: Kevin Lynch is soliciting comment on how Macromedia tools can change to help in creating, navigating, and displaying weblogs. If you've got an idea of how things can be different, please drop by and leave a note, thanks.