Saturday, May 18, 2002

SWF RSS reader from Lightning Burst: This apparently retrieves, parses, and renders an XML document containing site info, and I'm sorry I don't know who the author is, or how it differs from Samuel Wan's implementation. It appears to be the same content as the text version. Right now I prefer the text, mostly for the standard UI components, but this type of interface may come into its own if the client-side interactivity and live data requests are used... consider a window which you can keep open, which periodically asks your server to ask several sites for their latest information, and which downloads and displays only those topics under certain desired categories. (ie, "Every 15 minutes check sites A,B,C and D, and show me any new items about 'XML' or 'journalism'.")
[via Dave Winer]
ColdFusion Robot: Samuel Wan is now controlling a Lego robot from ColdFusion server. "I think the high point of the day was when I sent my browser to http://localhost:8500/webrover/test.cfm , and my robot suddenly smacked into the wall on other side of the room. It scared the heck out of my cat!" If I'm reading things correctly the robot is actually controlled by an infrared connection to a local computer rather than wireless IP directly within the robot, and the main work was in triggering arbitrary PC executables through Java through ColdFusion, but I'm pretty sure Sam did succeed in "being the first person to hook up a mobile robot to Cold Fusion".... ;-)
Hyperlinks Matter, by Jon Udell in InfoWorld, shows how he transformed the XML news feed from the Macromedia Designer & Developer Center into an RSS document. He also summarizes the REST/SOAP debate: "RESTians see through the lens of hypermedia, while SOAPistas wear client/server spectacles."
Cardiff Forms and Flash: Their forms-management server, "LiquidOffice eForms", will apparently be communicating directly with the Macromedia Flash Player and Flash Remoting by the end of the year. Aside from ubiquity and compatibility, the press release focuses on the multimedia abilities, which I suspect may be overshadowed in real use by the compact client-side interactivity and the "what you see ain't what you get" printing (ie, an entry form can be laid out optimized for screen, and then printed out in different form-factor optimized for paper display). This announcement could also help those who design for intranets and have to prove that technology is credible, and if I'm reading things right it also shows how Flash Remoting will mesh with other server-side technologies. (You could hand-roll a path between the Macromedia Flash Player and an arbitrary server application, but using Flash Remoting as an intermediary eases development and speeds final performance.)

Friday, May 17, 2002

Guy Watson's FlashGuru site was relaunched today... looks like he's been busy.... ;-)
"ASP equivalent of CFML group?" A thread on Evolt which quickly illustrates the differences between ColdFusion Markup Language and server-side scripting... high-level constructs like "cfoutput group" are faster to develop & debug, and easier to maintain. If you know ColdFusion you know this already, but if you're evaluting server-side languages then this can be a useful thread. (Not all the reply-to fields are in order, so you may have to go back to the main Threads page to follow the conversation.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Hot issues + 1 That column that got pushed live this afternoon doesn't reflect all the hot issues, or even the top tier of hot issues... the section I wrote on HomeSite was removed. The list of answers to the actual Frequently Asked Questions about HomeSite is also not up yet, and I don't know what to tell ya'll about the reason why, sorry. They'll get it eventually.
John Gilmore on copy-prevention chips: The meat of this BPDG discussion is towards the bottom, including "To get these censorship chips, or the technical info needed to build a speaker with them, my engineer friend would have to sign nondisclosure, and sign a 50-page contract promising never to build them into a system that could ever be used to copy music."

I don't see this working, just as previous attempts at prior restraint of goods or technology have not worked. Making non-censoring hardware illegal won't prevent such hardware from existing, it will only create an extra-legal market for users of such hardware. The net effect of making the majority of digital machines unable to copy some-or-all streams will be to create a bootlegging market outside of the legal system, similar to how the US Volstead Act helped boost crime networks, and how today's "controlled substances" laws actually help subsidize criminals and increase violence.

Goodness knows I've got my own problems with digital theft (the number of people arriving here looking for "dreamweaver mx crack" has not diminished, even though it's just a Preview!), but passing laws against certain hardware won't make the hardware go away, as the actual effects of "gun control" have shown. If bits can be copied, they will be copied, just as being able to spam insures that some losers will spam, or being able to litter or graffiti insures that some weenies will do so. Political force should address the actual action, not just the capability, and for our part digital content providers should seek ways of providing value that cannot be as easily parasitized.
openLingo Project: Robert Tweed and friends are starting "an open source Lingo community, the goal of which is to create a single library of high-quality reusable code, from low-level stuff to plug-n-play behaviours." The website is under construction, but the mailing list is already active. (For other Director community sites, see this technote.
[via DIRECT-L]

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

The fake persuaders shows how pseudonymous trolls have worked in the scientific community.The real meat is towards the bottom of the article.

Someone's reputation is an integral part of their message. People who post anonymously should still be listened to, but their words carry less weight than people who are really part of an online community.

Things get complicated when the credulous get chatty, though... when a newbie takes a non-vested poster at face value, then the volume of messages itself can become a problem.
Rich Media Surprises Even a Believer by Jeremy Lockhorn at examines a particular ad campaign split among several form factors. On each metric the richmedia ads outperformed the static presentation.

You may not work ads yourself, but it's useful to watch the ad-makers, because they make the biggest investments in studying how their messages carry. A good interactive presentation has a definite impact on the overall perceived content of a communication.
Thread titles I skipped over today: "Can this be done?", "Help please", "URGENT - going crazy!!", "Test this?", "This is all absorbing", "Here is a strange one", "printing", "test", "Re: books", "Why doesn't this work?", "Another question!", and pretty much anything with "CSS" or "site check" in the title.

Cold, I know, but if someone couldn't attract attention by describing what they wanted in the title, then I've found it often means that they haven't searched first, or sometimes haven't even considered what it is that they want from other people. Email with a clear title and request usually gets fastest results online, because it's less expensive to read, and attracts the people who have the info you're seeking.

You can get fastest results by figuring out how to find what you're seeking. But some things are indeed hard to search... for these you can get fastest results by asking people for what they can give you (instead of describing what you're doing that doesn't somehow do what you want), and then advertising in the thread title for exactly what you're seeking.

Using "Urgent!!" in a thread title doesn't always do the trick anymore...!

Update: Jarle Bergersen posted a link to Eric Raymond's How To Ask Questions The Smart Way... while he uses more, uh, colorful language than I would, he offers examples and advice that ring very, very true in quickly getting accurate answers online.
FreeMovie: SWF construction via PHP Jacek Artymiak has an article at O'Reilly Network about a PHP API for SWF construction. Unlike libswf it's portable... I haven't tested Ming but believe it's also platform-bound. Seems like this new work could fulfill some needs...?
[via FlashMagazine]
App Servers Mature by Timothy Dyck at eWeek is a useful article, showing the different spaces that Macromedia ColdFusion and BEA's WebLogic inhabit. (I'm not sure how "CF is more verbose than ASP or PHP" could be written, however... probably a typo.)
MacOS X trial wrapper threads continue to increase. The problem is that the conversation obscures the information... those "me too" messages make it harder for others to find the reminder to check the technotes before posting. There's info readily available on how to handle VBox or VSetup alerts.

Recap: Macromedia made a big push to get trial wrappers for MacOS X in addition to the other platforms. The wrapper company succeeded, but found an ambiguity in MacOS X documentation for how laptops switch networks which can cause premature expiration. They've got this fixed in their next version, which will be ready by the time we ship the actual trial versions this spring.

(The Homesite threads are feeding on themselves now too, where the increasing conversation is obscuring the existing information. Dreamweaver MX is where engineering investment is going. This doesn't mean Homesite "is dead", it just means that that text editor won't change much in the future. Specific change requests are always welcome.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

I like Mozilla I'm late trying it, for sure, but am turned on by two things in particular: the preferences to bar popup windows (in the "Advanced" section) and the ability to single-click a link to have it load in a background tab. The latter is very handy... when I read a page with a link I'd context-click it for a new window, then click again to get back and continue reading, and hope I didn't forget how many linked articles I had opened up. Now they're all in a single window. Really handy.
Structure of online conversation: Jason Kottke and Nick Sweeney discuss how the value of a conversation often can change with the number of participants... how Plastic, MetaFilter, SlashDot have changed over time. I've seen the same since I first got on Usenet. Filtering methods need to be more subtle than just a killfile, and content needs to be clarified too. I'm not sure yet how we'll evolve in this direction, but I know we will.
Flashdot: If you have a client or colleague who invests time in Slashdot and is concerned about this article, then Mike Chambers has assembled the missing source info in this list
News syndication UI? Some Flash-savvy bloggers, Branden Hall, Jarle Bergersen and others, are discussing more efficient ways to learn what people are saying. "I like that there are all these sites, but there are too many to visit... headlines as RSS feeds might help."

I know other people have been thinking longer and better than me at this, so I'm probably covering old ground here, but when I visualize how I'd like to learn what's new, I see some type of Preferences for choosing authors and topic subjects. I'd usually want to see new material chronologically sorted, but I know I'd want to do a quick sort by multiple subjects too (eg, "show me everything that came up for SWF and databases last week"). I don't think I'd want to scroll... Daily Rotation is cool, but it's hard for my eyes to parse.

When I think of the mechanics, the display changes and preferences seem most efficient controlled on the client, with data only pulled as requested... I don't want everything downloaded just in case I want to look at it, I want just-in-time delivery and want to retain the most recent deliveries even though I've changed my display. I'd also prefer to keep my reading preferences local.

One thing I haven't been able to visualize is the form factor of such a news aggregation display. For awhile I was thinking of a small SWF news ticker that could be on the Macromedia DesDev Center, or maybe in the Answers Panel of the MX applications, but I recall screenshots at Dave Winer's that showed aggregation as a composed HTML page with hierarchical links. (I've installed a trial of Radio but haven't explored all its features yet.) I could see an HTML page which, when refreshed, would show you anything new that came in from your favorite sources since the last refresh, but that straight chronological sorting doesn't suffice for all needs.

I've got no conclusion here... just noting that a lot of us are looking at a similar problem from different directions, and my gut feeling is that we'll see some interesting solutions here soon.

Monday, May 13, 2002

Slashdot posted an article from someone who just now noticed the webcam controls available in the Macromedia Flash Player. In the first ten minutes there were 40 posts, some with people worried their computer was watching them undress, others with the voice of reason.

(Background: The new web players do offer an option to use your cam or mic, with the default condition being "off". This isn't so useful today, because you can only access your own cam, but the upcoming communications server will offer ways to use this for conferencing.)
Drawing (and Doodling) With Countryside as Canvas Shows how remote electronic sensing is being used to create illustrations, constrained by where people actually travel. Hugh Pryor's 3D Shockwave viewer allows examination of the paths he and Jeremy Wood made. More info at the Global Positioning System drawing project.
[via The Shifted Librarian]
Current browser vulnerabilities: I haven't checked this for accuracy, but am impressed that it discusses a number of browsers, and isn't just MS-bashing. Security is a big issue for the Macromedia Flash Player too, but our sandbox is much smaller than that for a browser, and the plugin is much smaller to download, less of an environmental change than getting people to change their entire browser. (I usually use minority browsers myself, figuring that the majority viewing experience is likely the juiciest target for hacks.)
[via Daniel J. Cody]
100 Greatest Online Games Lots of Shockwave and Flash here, and I haven't checked into who made these games or their relationship to the site, but popular games get popular for a reason... there's something about the interface and the usability which works. The spread of Mahir was not some fluke of probability, there was a reason people responded to "I kiss you!" What actually works, that's the key question. (btw, if someone gives you grief when you're playing these games, tell 'em it's okay, I said you could do the research.... ;-)
[via metafilter]
When SWF, when HTM? Article by Shawn Morton at explores aspects to consider when determining which delivery format to use. This ends up being mostly about when to use SWF... one of the things I'll be focusing on over the next month is laying out the balance points for each of the file formats.

He takes a fun jab at those "Please wait, loading..." screens, but brings up an important point about links. Lots of times I want to know where a link goes before I click on it. (The Macromedia nav system is an example.) Browsers offer spotty support in receiving messages from extensions, so in a nav system using something like a tooltip or your own status bar can be helpful feedback.

(There's a sidenote on the "browser back button" issue, how that browser button doesn't return to a preceding state in the same SWF on the same browser page. That's true, because the browser does exactly what it always does! In the latest version of Flash there are some hooks that help some browsers go back to a previous display within the same SWF on the same HTML page. HTML pages don't have any retained state, but SWF does, so for best results we'd likely have to develop a new UI metaphor for "show me the part of the SWF you showed me before". Atop that, some web applications could interpret a "back" command as resetting all local variables to their previous values as well. The key issue here seems to be in figuring out what the site's visitor really wants to have happen, and this seems like it would vary across web applications.)

I got the link to Shawn's article from CHris MacGregor's Flazoom site, which focuses very strongly on SWF interfaces and usability. CHris also mentions a new SWF-oriented site, Valyard, which offers screenshots of new interfaces. For fast access to SWF related news I read Jarle Bergersen... my home browser can't render the commenting system there, but he's always fast on picking up on what's out there. is another good SWF news source. (Jarle asks about FlashKit, and while I've spent time there in the past, it's really a slow loader for me, so it's harder for me to keep on top of things there.)

Sunday, May 12, 2002

"Will Watson Make Web Browsers Obsolete?" by Erick Schonfeld in Business 2.0 discusses a MacOS X application which pulls desired information from varied websites. This was a big topic during early Shockwave days, but interest died down over the years because of the practical difficulties in writing various HTML scraping routines -- of separating a site's data from its confounding markup presentation. Now that more sites are also presenting their information as neutral XML data, we'll likely see a resurgence.

For me, the big issues in this area are in interface design. How can you choose which types of feeds you want? How can you view desired information from different domains simultaneously? How can you set preferences for ranking of various news sources? Once you have the data, how will you display it? Will one display and prefs UI fit all situations, or will these be handrolled for different applications? How will you know when it is efficient for the server to cache frequent requests? I know there's work being done in various environments for these questions right now... it will be fascinating to see how this evolves in the "rich internet application" area over the next year.