Friday, October 18, 2002

SWF benchmark test: Martin Fleck posted this to FlashCoders... it tests various visual and computation properties of the Flash Player. I've got an old NT box here and scored 211 with the release player, and 225 with the new beta player, even though I don't know whether this benchmarks tests those things which were actually worked on.
Patent Sanity: Interesting use of US Patent Office... when a technology is introduced with "oh no we wouldn't do that qualifiers", patenting the undesired use is one way to ensure it won't be implemented. (I haven't evaluated Palladium myself and so don't have an opinion on it... the interesting part is the defensive use of patents for the perceived public good.)
New Flash Player Developer Release: This adds a lot of behind-the-scenes functionality, but we need to make sure it doesn't adversely affect existing content. Please check your current sites with this, and if you notice any unwanted change please let us know ASAP. Main areas of change: Compatibily on Linux in addition to Mac/Win; windowless drawing ("wmode") on Mozilla variants and native MacOS X browsers; runtime shared library enhancements; faster ActionScript; customized HTTP headers. Once a new Player goes into general public distribution it cannot be recalled, so please test that your work has not changed! Thanks!
Werbach whitepaper on Open Spectrum: This is a 20-page PDF... after reading Cory Doctorow's summary I printed it out yesterday, read it last night and again this morning. Jeremy Allaire has further comment here.

Personal summary: Electromagnetic spectrum is currently mostly sold like it's land... each frequency in a region has a unique, politically-appointed owner. This made sense when receivers and transmitters could only distinguish signal on the basis of crude frequency distinctions. But now smarter receivers and transmitters can share frequency more courteously. Can we roll back the politicized control and reduce the artificial "scarcity of frequency"? Can we sell it like space on a roadway, instead of like land?

He demonstrates two techniques for a more courteous electromagnetic society: Creation of specific bandwidth "parks" not owned by any individual and with a specified code of conduct (current examples: telephones, device controllers, WiFi); and "underlay" techniques where new technologies are permitted to use monopolized frequencies under a "do no harm" constraint (examples: passing paper notes during a speech, "software-defined radio" where frequencies are constantly shifted to avoid clashing).

You and I may not directly influence whether technology can overtake rent-seeking behavior in this area, but it's important to us whether there are artificial constraints upon communicating devices. Kevin's whitepaper is worth printing and reading.
Discounts to blog readers: If you read the Macromedia blogs, you can get 10% off of many purchases from the Macromedia store... see Vernon's page for a list of current codes.
NEC & MM in Japan: NEC will be incorporating MX into their offerings... sounds similar to what IBM is doing with MX...?
Giants in Six: Humorous Yahoo Spots article about running a computer simulation on the World Series. Ortiz is pitching game two, though, so it looks like they'll have to re-calc. (Seriously, game simulators have become more powerful and prevalent recently... tools like the Director-driven Coach's Edge have been used for strategy already.)
Washington Post infographic: It's a map of the DC area with shootings as hotspots, and you can call up detail maps and more info without changing the page. There's also a news feed page under "Related Information", and I'm not sure whether these links are automated or manual. Team is Giovanni Calabro, Holly Clark, Brian Cordyack, Nelson Hsu.
[via Edward Fingland on Evolt]

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Ubiquitous cams & DC shooter: This article from the Washington Post describes how a video network is evolving in Washington in response to the anonymous killer... highway cams, policecar cams, and now video from military planes are all being analyzed. (See previous entry here.) I suspect that some software is being written somewhere to catch patterns across disparate cams, and such software will eventually migrate into other uses. Catchy quote: "The average American is caught on camera eight to 10 times a day, law enforcement officials say."

Orwell? I used to think so. But his scary computers ended up being decentralized and accessible to everyone... the network effects outweighed the decreasing costs. I suspect the same will occur with ubiquitous cams and server-side pattern recognition software. We'll have to evolve quickly, and it will be disruptive, but just so long as there isn't a politically-enforced Prohibition on viewing and access I suspect things will turn out okay... different, sure, I suspect okay.

(btw, the blogosphere clearinghouse for info on the DC shooter appears to be Jim Henley's blog... I haven't read him much, and reading costs seem to be a little high, but he's contributing by acting as a locus here. There's an unsettling opinion on WorldNet Daily that this may be "market research" for subsequent attacks, but I'd tend to view it in organic terms... they're stimulating in immune response in us at the same time.) Anyway, the evolution of cam communications is being accelerated here.
DW extension compatibility test: Pi has a listing of DW4 extensions that migrate easily into DWMX... more useful info here too, poke around a bit.
Saddam video and Palestinian poster: These are a little off-topic, but both links are flying around today, both struck me, and both use digital techniques for one-way communication. I've got no real take on it, I'm just struck by how even those who decry the current world are using its techniques to create brochureware. (There's a translation of the poster on BoingBoing, along with the William Shatner Bobblehead Doll.)
Films require digital distribution today: I caught the link to this CNN article through Slashdot. The producer of "Star Wars" and others says that films are already heavily dependent on DVD revenues, and this private digital delivery is probably superior to the public analog delivery in theatres. But even this group is still not sure how they can get a return-on-investment when digital content can be copied so easily.
Medium is the message? Timothy Appnel on O'Reilly makes the point that details of "content" often vary with the delivery method... most web pages won't look good on a small-res viewscreen no matter what you do. (This doesn't mean that dual-environment viewing isn't possible, just that it's unlikely.) "Repurposing Web content for mobile is not the answer, it’s a hack. Studying mobile users’ needs and tendencies, getting content into easily consumable formats and developing more usable and appropriate mobile applications are the real answers."
Shockwave Player Stats: I had been checking the site for awhile, and from Mike's blog yesterday I learned that the latest consumer viewability audit had been published. The Shockwave pages in this link show a decline across categories. I haven't yet received word back from the testing staff about the change, so I'm trying to surmise what's going on.

We do know that people rarely uninstall things from their browsers, but consumer samples regularly change. It's possible that more of the current group of consumers testing are using an operating system where Shockwave is on the CD, but not automatically installed. It could be a sampling difference in the consumers tested.

But the numbers are well within the margin of error, too... on the methodology page the confidence level is 95%, so when you're comparing two such tests you've got a 10% margin of error for the comparison. That's for the overall results... regional subsamples would likely have a higher margin. Still, it's odd that each regional sample trended in the same counterintuitive direction.

When I get more info from the people who conducted and published this audit I'll post it in the "Comments" here... if you've got any comments at all on the NPD consumer auditing then I'd appreciate if you could log these here too, thanks!

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

"Four Feathers" movie game: This got mentioned by Ben Morrison on Evolt... this movie has a multiplayer game attached. Not quite my cup of tea, but it looks like a good implementation and experience.
Macromedia analyst conference call: This is a public record, and is a good way to get insight into where the company is going. I took notes while listening and could very well have copied things down wrong, understood them wrong, could have gotten it wrong half-a-dozen different ways (hope that keeps the SEC off my back ;-)... if it's archived then listen for yourself, or if you're a Macromedian who knows this better than me feel free to scold me in the comments, thanks. 8)
  • MX Studio was big hit, the biggest product by far... introductory price "will expire soon" (I'd guess it would likely go up, 'cause it sure is a deal now).
  • Director upgrade is near, and MacOS X support is a big driver. "The implementation looks just beautiful."
  • Flash 6 Player downloads are over three million per day, and should reach 97% consumer viewership sometime next year.
  • Big theme: "Enable better user experiences on digital devices of all kinds." Early adopters are doing incredible things right now in creating the first generation of Rich Internet Applications... for its part Macromedia has work to do in making it easier to create such things.
  • ColdFusion growth continues, and should get a bump up soon from being sold by IBM for WebSphere.
  • New product coming very soon, for a different type of audience... people on intranets can't contribute content right now, even though they know the stuff, because they have to queue up to have a web team publish it. Each department needs to contribute directly, and they can't... on the web team's side, they need time to structure and plan the site, and they get stuck with content requests. (Aside: I've been hearing requests for such a type of solution ever since Dreamweaver 1 arrived... hate to be a tease, but more news soon, and I know it will help a lot of current customers.)

[edited noon Oct17... removed errant "MX" from Director part]
Election bets: Speaking of betting and network effects (see below), this other WIRED article discusses how connectivity allows betting on elections, which can offer predictive abilities ahead of polling. I've been examining sports betting sites recently ("What do people think of the Giants' chances?"), and all three offer ways to tap into the Group Mind... to get a decentralized decision-making, each person is just a neuron in the whole.

Political polling is focused on one person, who does not get realtime feedback about the popularity of their choices, and although questions center around "who do you want", there are also ways to slant various "feeling" types of questions. Online betting is more about "who do you think will win" than "who do you want", and a person's judgment about the winner could well be swayed by the betting patterns they see.

No direct MX connection here, I know, but these types of network effects are what we'll have to engineer around when creating usable and useful applications. When people can communicate in realtime, how does that change the problems involved...?
Upcoming cell phones: WIRED article on tech and cultural trends, triggered by upcoming CTIA tradeshow in Las Vegas. Some research shows people upgrade their phones just for the color screens. There's still not a clear path for ubiquity, but significantly many are betting on ubiquity/
Blog improvements: Comments added, courtesy of HaloScan. I haven't added a complete blogroll, but have listed two fine aggregators, Geoff Bowers (Full As A Goog) and Dave Humphreys (flog). (uh-oh, now I'm worried about whether I should have listed some of the fine SWF experiments in aggregation, but I've got to get this entry up now.... :( There's a "Search Blog" and "Search DesDev" link in addition to the existing "Find link" to find related articles. I've removed some of the errors introduced during previous template editing (Blogger can remove script comments, which is why Sitemeter text had been at the bottom, etc). I think I may have added an extra link at the start of a blog entry for an RSS layout the way Geoff wants; not sure.

Background: I'm a lazy skunk on offlist email, and I owe nice people email about comments on this blog. I've been a little hesitant on adding improvements to Blogger because of template changes and losing entries on another blog, but went ahead anyway. There's still possible work to do, for sure. Give me heck, I'm finally into the twentieth century here.... ;-)
Archiving vs copyright: There's a fascinating discussion on the WebDesign-L mailing list about people not wanting their sites archived through the Wayback Machine. (This list does not have a web archive itself, but you can pick up the Oct 16 archive through email.) Discussion includes: "Just use robots.txt"; "I shouldn't have to opt-out"; "how's it different from a search engine or other cache?"; "it's a library so it's fair use"; "the moment you post to the web you explicitly opt-in"; "there are more caches than you can track"; more.

My thoughts: Wayback Machine feels solid and right to me... I greatly appreciate what they've done. I'm not sure at the moment whether the robot exclusion protocol allows for universal DISALLOW with specific ALLOW exceptions (ie, specific opt-in). The Church of Scientology recently pushed to remove *other* sites from Wayback and Google archives... different situation.

Meta-theme: We've got lots of work to do in clarifying the ownership of digital content. When things can be easily copied, how can the creator sustainably benefit? (See also "Joni Mitchell 'Ashamed' to be in Music Business".) This is a good thread to check if you're following the evolution of such problems.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

"Iron Chef" for web services: At November's Comdex there will be a contest to see who can build "the best web services based application." But they get four hours, wonder how they'll fill it.... ;-)
Unfortunate error messages: Also stumbled across this while going somewhere else... may be worth a chuckle... it's a gallery on of various error messages. My favorite is probably "Error: The operation completed successfully."
SWF for cartography: I came across this while looking for something else, and haven't personally evaluated it, but the Feature Manipulation Engine from Safe Software exports SWF.
Adirondack map: This is a little compute-heavy and slows my old NT machine here (lots and lots of lines in there!), but it's a nice interface to campgrounds in the Adirondack region of New York State. There are overlays to toggle for roads, towns, rivers etc, and you can also toggle a gloss layer for kayaking, camping, etc. Nav controls include zoom and direction, as well as a point-of-interest list. Some way to control level-of-detail might help performance...?
Buying bloggers: There's a bit of controversy across several blogs today, about some bloggers writing about an event when they did not disclose that their travel and lodging were paid to attend. I was in sort of a similar situation after the WIRED article in May, when some early readers didn't realize I worked with Macromedia. My take: Don't believe anything you read, but read a lot anyway. If someone acknowledges their biases then that helps their credibility, that's all.
Slashdot on Flash accessibility: Someone did a short review of the Glasshaus book "Constructing Accessible Web Sites", and included this nice paragraph: "I was surprised that chapter 10 was devoted to Flash, as I expected that Flash coverage in an accessibility book would be limited to a few paragraphs lambasting Macromedia for creating such an inaccessible technology. Well, it turns out that the new version of Flash supports accessibility much better than previous ones. This chapter was a real eye-opener for me. Clearly there is more work to be done but well done to Macromedia for putting accessibility support in!" Many of the subsequent replies do not appear to pick up on even this info, but at least the word is getting out there.... 8)
Answers Panel tip: The Answers Panel in the MX applications connects to the Macromedia site for latest news (technotes, tips, sites, etc). If you're behind a firewall and can't access the net directly, set "*" in your proxy exceptions to get this news directly. (In IE/Win, you can access this system-level capability through the "Security" menu items.)

Monday, October 14, 2002

Web use correlated with trust: This article in The Economist details a study comparing web use in a region to the degree that people think others are trustworthy and good. There are potential weaknesses here, sure -- I'm not sure how accurate or tested the "trust" study is, myself -- but it's interesting food for thought. (Hmm, they assume that trust stimulates web use... could it be the other way around, or might they both be correlated with a third, undescribed factor?)
14 Principles of Polite Apps: This article by Alan Cooper appeared two years ago in a VB mag, but I just came across the link in John Rhodes' WebWord Usability Weblog. Granted, it's a little wacky to read things like "polite software is taciturn about its personal problems", but such a different viewpoint about design work can help recognize and reduce any whininess remaining in your own apps. I'm thinking of printing this out, cutting up each of the 14 traits, and leaving them posted around where I'll run into them a few times.
Lightness Demonstrations: Edward H. Adelson of Cognitive Sciences at MIT illustrates a paper on visual perception with a series of examples in SWF. You may remember that "i cant believe its the same grey!" JPEG posted to various blogs last month... when you progressively see these illusions in motion it is much more startling, much more convincing. Try the "Haze Illusion" to start. Also note filesize differences... "Impossible Steps" is over 10M as a video, only 115K as a SWF.
[via John Rhodes]
Player distribution: The September consumer audits should go live on the site this week or so... I've heard in the hallways that the Macromedia Flash MX content could be immediately seen by 53% of consumers tested, which means the 6.0 Player has reached majority consumer viewership in six months... I'm not sure of realtime 3D viewership with Shockwave yet, but this info should be live on the site soon.

(btw, a few weeks ago Viewpoint had a press release about their 3D viewer, stating it had similar viewability to Flash. We've requested methodology info from them, so it's hard to say how they achieved that counter-intuitive result. I suspect they may have measured the capabilities within their 250K shim instead of their full 1.6M install. If anyone has any similar stats I'd be interested in hearing , thanks.) (And yes, I don't have comments here yet... you can see from the sitemeter at bottom of this page how templates often get fouled... I'm still not sure whether to add commenting to Blogspot or switch sites... if you drop a note on the mailing lists I'll catch it, thanks!)
DevCon registration: If you've been putting it off, I'd urge you to reserve a spot ASAP... we're about at the planned attendence right now, and historically there has been a surge of people registering in the last week. There are still spots left, no worries, but if you defer it much past this week then you may get squeezed out.
Declan's copyright precis: Declan McCullagh offers a short overview of the copyright debate. This affects us all, because all of us create digital content these days, whether as apps or applets, sites or designs. In contemplating P2P Prohibition he draws parallels to the success of other Prohibition movements -- alcohol, cannabis and firearm Prohibitions had more side-effects than successes. (Me, I'm wondering whether the concept of "mass market" may be the critical cause of the problem here... is it natural that we all recognize the name of Britney Spears, and is the assumption that we should recognize such names the true root of the problem?)
Authorware blog: Steve Howard writes about Authorware, Macromedia and the field in general. After working for awhile he is taking a masters degree at University of Central Lancashire, UK. (For the "taking AW seriously?" thread, you're right that development is usually more startling in new projects than in those which already have several years of engineering... new buzz is usually easier to see than continued word-of-mouth and reputation. Things which have received many years worth of engineering have proven they have value.)
Nielsen on Flash accessibility: Seems like he looked at four sites, and wants to share his early findings.His bullet points about "Flash's Main Usability Problems": visitors may need accessibility instructions; developers need to buttress visual models with text models; he doesn't like text or nav which move (ever?); nav systems should still be usable when zoomed in; when constructing an order or other item, start with a template rather than fill-in-the-blanks from scratch. He also offers a 40-page download of 21 usability tips for Flash.

Sunday, October 13, 2002

Washington shootings: One thing I haven't understood is why we haven't logged satellite surveillance of the area. I don't know where the satellites are or how wide an area they can cover, but even if just one satellites spotchecks different areas in the region, even in just an intermittent patchwork pattern, then the uncertainty of being tracked could be an effective deterrent to further murders. (btw, for an intro to the current range of both political and public satellite imaging, see this particular page at I don't know the frequency with which images can be captured, but suspect that the main cost is in satellite repositioning. Jumping up to the site's main page is eye-opening, too.)