Saturday, January 11, 2003

FlashCom hosting in Europe: Hosting services are a practical way to handle the variable bandwidth demands of rich-media communication, and let a wider range of projects come to the public. Some cite the latency advantages of a close geographical relationship; others cite the time-of-day and customer-service aspects of using a nearby provider. A host can also be a community center, a resource for its customers. Welcome!
[via FlashMagazine]
Amazon web services via Flash: This has gotten heavy linkage in the Flash blogs, and I agree... Jason Michael Perry not only shows how to do it, but he provides useful context on how this is such a radically useful approach to web problems. Even if you don't review the code, be sure to check out at least the first section.

Friday, January 10, 2003

.NET no more: Microsoft is apparently toning down the use of this word. I've seen a lot of online discussions go astray because different people understood the term ".NET" in very different ways.
[via MetaFilter]
Derivative works in manga: Lawrence Lessig has a short article at Red Herring about how comic creators in Japan actually benefit from people using their characters in their own work. (Compare Paramount and Turkish Star Trek.) The models of the past may not work for the future... a lawyer's experiences and priorities may be different from a businessperson's desires: "There's a lesson in this example that executives in the content industry should think about before they sign away their businesses to lawyers. The law is a rough-edged tool. It was not crafted by geniuses of economics. How it affects new and different markets is uncertain. A smart business therefore asks not whether the use of its content is 'theft,' but whether the use of its content will (eventually at least) benefit it. The business of business is to make business, not to purify the world of copyright violations. Lawyers (save those from Chicago) are not typically trained to think about the business consequence of their legal advice. To many, business is beneath the law."
[via Slashdot]
Figleaf WysiDraw: Ready-to-roll realtime collaborative drawing, with annotations stored across sessions in XML format. The "HTML Edition" apparently doesn't require the communications server...? More info here. If you need to quickly enable multiple people to work together on identical drawings across distance, then this may be the most efficient path to a solution.
Why are Safari and Sherlock two different apps? Great discussion over at Jason Kottke's place about looking at stuff in a browser and doing things in an application. I printed it out, read it, and just before I posted my own reply saw that he had already collected citations from other bloggers, so I guess I've got more to read and digest tonight.... ;-) (Seriously, if you're into applications on the web and where things are moving, this is a great set of comments to review.)
eWeek on Contribute: It works for them, even though there are definitely changes they'd like to see in the 1.0 version. But what caught my eye is how they noted a cycle, where Dreamweaver started off very approachable, but as it added more abilities it scared more people off, and how simple tools can be much more successful with larger groups of people. I think Flash had a similar advantage over Director a few years ago, where "doesn't do as much" was actually an advantage. But then you get into issues of "who does the creating?" -- development tools are naturally aimed at brainy people, so simplicity and limitation aren't universally desirable. Maybe it gets back to the basic principle of designing for the particular audience....
FlashCoders highlights: List host Branden Hall is starting a listing of interesting topics discussed each day on the high-traffic FlashCoders mailing list. This seems like an economical way to keep up to date on items of interest to the group... thanks to Branden for synopsizing the conversation!
Virtual User Group meetings: There was a note from Judith Dinowitz on one of the lists today that the New York City ColdFusion User Group and the St. Louis Macromedia Users Group will be holding long-distance meetings this month... in the first, the audience can be remote during Jeffry Houser's local presentation, and in the second, speaker Michael Dinowitz will be remote while the audience is local. Both of these will be using the Communications Server for long-distance audio and video participation.
Alexa site analysis revamped: They've added more presentations of data from people using the Alexa Toolbar within IE/Win.You can get an idea of their sample by looking at their top 100 sites, but they might still offer some useful info on your own sites in this engine.
XPLANE, visual communications: This company specializes in making sequential illustrations to convey ideas. A cross between Edward Tufte and Will Eisner? They also maintain a design blog and marketing blog with categorized links to current articles.
Distributed MX, more: Looks interesting... I'll print this to paper and study it on the bus ride home tonight. Matt Brown has info right now on how they extend the Dreamweaver MX toolset.
Update: Yikes! There's tons of work here, incroyable!
Anti-Leech Online: Interesting... this page uses a script so that it will fail to display if your browser blocks cookies, images, or popup windows. I'm not sure of their business model, but I like seeing how life evolves to fill various ecological niches....
DateCam case study: This article is about why the online dating company chose the Flash Communications Server, and what their experience has been. It's basically a marketing spiel -- doesn't document any code -- but the article could be useful if you're trying to make a contract yourself. The bullet points at the end capsulize it... I like how the "Development team" is listed as "1 President, 1 Program Director, 1 Creative Director, 1 Sr. Art Director, 1 Engineer, 1 Lead Programmer, 1 System Administrator." (btw, this Macromedia Showcase part of the site is very useful for finding projects done with specific technologies or in specific fields (medical, education, finance etc)... by now there's a whole truckload of material archived here, and it's a great way to see varied approaches to similar problems, and to get direct testimonials that could help when you're working with clients.)

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Value of cross-platform development: Bryan Rice has a nice post on FlashCoders where he describes how his ability to create an application which works the same on various platforms has often been the deciding factor in getting the contract.
Safari plays SWFs better today: David Hyatt on the Safari team reports that they have already isolated and addressed a problem that prevented SWF content from playing as swiftly as in other browsers on the same machine. I don't know the technical details of what they found or did. Thanks to Eric Dolecki, Rob Hall, the FTF gang and others for pursuing this. (btw, here's an interesting post to the KHTML mailing list about the background and goals of the project.)
PC Magazine on "MS acqusition" rumors: One thing I've noticed about this particular go-round of this perennial story is how more people seem to value Macromedia more highly than before... lots of nice things said, in a backhanded-compliment kind of way. (It's not surprising that public-relations folks at Microsoft or Macromedia don't comment... otherwise they would be in the situation of only commenting on unfounded rumors, which would make well-founded rumors stand out in contrast... that's why they never say anything about such stories.) (Me, I stay out of the executive suite, which is why my comments are usually boring mundanities like "Yup, there's an article up on that website, alrighty.")

Bruce Epstein has a nice quote in there: "What's the biggest threat to Windows as a dominant platform? Flash." I'm not so sure about that... I think that man-made barriers to technology adoption may be the bigger and more long-term threat, whether violence, starvation, or intolerance. That's why I'm heartened by efforts like the Jhai Foundation. The market for existing computers is only a small part of the way technology can help empower all people over the next few years, as noted in Gates' CES keynote this week.
Read blogs in newsreader: If you use a newsreader to access Usenet or the Macromedia forums, you can now apparently set this up to receive RSS feeds from blogs too. I haven't installed or tested this yet myself, but it looks promising and goes on my list.
[via Ben Hammersley]

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Sensors in market shelves: One of the big themes over the next few years seems like it will be pervasive computing, where varied everyday objects can report on their condition or accept instructions via wireless connectivity. This article describes how certain high-ticket items in supermarkets (shaving & beauty supplies) will be tagged with short-range transmitters to communicate their presence to a wired shelf in a supermarket. Markets these days often track what comes in the loading dock, and what goes through the register, but seeing what's on the shelf has previously been a manual process. It's a big boon for micro-tagging technology, increasing the options for other goods to be aggregated on a server and the info exposed as a service. This article also discusses some of the social aspects of having things connect together....
Alpha Market: This isn't tech-related at all, but Volkswagen is using my neighborhood market (Alpha Market, Cole & Parnassus, SF) in its latest television spots. I don't recognize the folks in it though... they're probably actors bused in from Noe Valley or something.... ;-)
[via Jason Kottke]
MapServer to export SWF? On FlashCoders, Dylan Marks notes that the next version of this open-source PHP mapping server will include the ability to output SWF... more info to come in its wiki.
NewBay Foneblog: " FoneBlog is a comprehensive software system that allows mobile phone users run personal websites (called "blogs") by sending pictures, text and soundclips from their phone." More at The Register.
[via Dave Winer]
Light blogging day: I'll be walking the floor at MacWorld Expo much of the day... there are a couple of topics to research.
Flash speed in Safari: Several folks have noted that SWF content plays back at a slower framerate in the beta of Apple's new browser than in other browsers on that platform. If you've got the bandwidth to test, then how does that browser compare with other time-based plugin content, like QuickTime and Shockwave? Reason I ask is that browsers, like operating systems, do differ in how they apportion processor cycles among guest processes, and this test could help show how deep the difference is. Another variable to control would be whether there's network downloading happening in the background... I've seen playback differences in various browsers depending on whether the SWF was fully loaded or was still streaming in. Thanks for any word on this!

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Flashmagazine on web apps: I'm not certain when this article by David Vogeleer went up, but I think he touches on some of the same things I hit on in the "Tomorrow" section of my searching article this week, about pulling data on demand in response to what the visitor is trying to accomplish. (There's also an interview with Phillip Kerman, complete with charming photo, and a review and tutorial on this first release of the Macromedia Flash Communications Server.)
Searching Tips, Tools, Toys, Tomorrow: I've got a column up in DesDev with lots of goodies in it, and am particularly interested in how people see that "Tomorrow" section... comments would be welcomed within this blog entry here, thanks.
Perlin noise in Shockwave: Can't believe I missed this when it was originally released on DesDev, but it got rotated into a spotlight today... Andrew Phelps shows fractal noise generation in Lingo. (Where the Flash Player has a Drawing API for procedural vectors, Shockwave offers additional procedural bitmap and procedural 3D generation.) Ken Perlin introduced a whole range of realistic image synethesis techniques when he piled randomness atop randomness back in 1984 or so. Matter of fact, I finally got a job here at Macromedia in part because I used Perlin techniques in writing RenderMan shaders for MacroMind 3D. Anyway, I'm glad Andrew points the way here towards ways to calculate natural-looking textures at runtime, optionally with user interaction... more cool stuff!
Helen Triolo expands SVG work: Helen has previously done clientside parsing of SVG in SWF. In this example she moves the SVG parsing up to the server, delivering SWF drawing instruction to the client as a web service. The advantages of this approach include not having to download parsing code, the ability to aggregate and cache drawing requests, and the ability to request SVG drawings from varied domains (the Flash Player only requests data from its hosting domain for security purposes). Impressive work! 8)
Scooter: procedural motion in SWF: Chuck Timmerman has author-time components to control runtime moving, rotating, zooming and scaling... try the "Online Trial" screen on this page to play around with the parameters to quickly get a handle on the algortihms used. (Another example of interactivity beating text, I s'pose.... ;-)
[via Eric Dolecki]
Update: David Emberton interviews Chuck at info on the tool, also perspective on developing components.
Christian Cantrell blog: Christian is the community liaison for server products (more info here), and has opened up a dailog blog made with a custom ColdFusion engine. He's a regular on CF-Talk and the server newsgroups, and also has a background in the Flash community too. (I'll be adding him to my "staffer" sidebar later this week -- am also looking into Bloglet for email delivery, maybe some other changes.)
Update: Christian has an article on the Mac server news up on the Developer Center today.
Jeremy Allaire back online: Congrats on the addition to the family, and it's good to have you back out here. If you want some hints on the direction of the research & development Jeremy's up to these days, then keeping an eye on his blog provides good clues.... ;-)
Yahoo notes upswing: From what I'm reading, there seem to be signficant upticks in overall users, frequent users, and paid users. (The subscription services make extensive use of Macromedia Flash Communications Server for its fast-start video... when people are browsing news the startup time is apparently more of a factor than when going to a destination site such as a movie trailer.) Anyway, this is a nice way to start 2003.... ;-)
Realtime keynote blogging: Kudos to Peter Cohen of MacCentral for his notes during the keynote... these were frequently updated, extensive, and also readable at the same time, a big accomplishment, appreciated. 8)
New Apple Browser: This is built off the khtml engine, similar to Linux Konqueror. Apple's page notes that it can use native Mac OS X Netscape Plugins, specifically citing the Macromedia Flash and Shockwave Players. I am not certain of support for browser-specific features such as windowless drawing, script/object intercommunication, the passing of query terms in URLs, HTTP headers, etc. JavaScript routines and CSS handlings may need to be checked against this new browser. Steve Jobs apparently apparently featured the Flash-based LoopLabs during the keynote -- congrats to Craig Swann. 8)
Update: Mark Pilgrim has already run some CSS tests on Safari; results here.
Mac announcements: JRun 4 is now available for Mac OS X. This is the first full J2EE implementation for the platform (Mac OS X Server include Java 2 Standard Edition). I'm assuming we will now start to see OS X Server machines used for deploying JSP pages.

Building atop this base, ColdFusion MX Developers Edition is also available for Mac OS X machines. This includes the core ColdFusion functionality, suitable for single-machine testing of work. It does not include testing and proofing for high-performance deployment -- can't use it to serve a website -- but if JRun sells well into this platform then that's added incentive to take the next step. The big win here is that developers on Mac OS X can now test their ColdFusion work in a standalone machine, not connected to the network.
ColdFusion release, updates: The previously-announced version of BEA WebLogic Server is delivered. There are also updates for IBM WebSphere and Sun ONE 7.
Lots of news today... some of it was released in press releases already, some later (but leaked by news sources already)... there's also apparently some type of JavaScript error on the site which is delaying some staging... I've been holding off until the definitive version of each is available online. Fun things, though.... ;-)

Monday, January 06, 2003

Historical spam: A link at BoingBoing brought me to this thread Reaction to the DEC Spam of 1978, which is linked this historical overview, which eventually led me to Keith Lynch's spamline, this listing of histories and resources, until I finally found a copy of Jeff Slaton's Atomic Bomb spam, which was the first spam I saw sent to a mailing list (DIRECT-L). (Simson Garfinkel wrote a 1996 article on Jeff Slaton at WIRED.) This isn't directly MX-related, but think of the unexpected user experiences we've seen with technology as simple as email, Usenet, mailing lists... anticipating how people will adapt to our tools is a big part of tool design.
MS/Java ruling: Jason Brooks at eWeek notes that clientside Java is just another plugin, so why should a judge rule on whether it should be included in operating systems? (These articles haven't mentioned versioning... when a player gets an update, how much does it cost each consumer to download and install the latest version?)
2003 predictions: Guardian Unlimited has a list of 25 concepts to watch in 2003. This time of year is full of similar lists, but by focusing on the social concepts here, I think they may be more accurate than lists with only a technical orientation.
[via Ben Hammersley, apparently a fellow pipesmoker]
Phil Torrone in The Register: He's buying Microsoft? No, he just may switch from a Segway to a Veloci or Smover. (I'd go for a Strida, myself.)

btw, for those following my rant on San Francisco banning Segways, this morning a bicyclist on a sidewalk deliberately brushed against me, Saturday a bum on MUNI spat at me, and each day cars block the sidewalks in my neighborhood... and I'm a gentle guy. All these impediments to sidewalk safety are already illegal, but only selectively enforced. I'd rather have the power-swollen at least try a new technological advance before adding it to the ranks of the arbitrarily enforced bans.....
Wired: Tiny Cell Phone or Big Brother? Good article by Lauren Weinstein discussing some of the social implications of new phones with image-capturing and GPS abilities. I'm not sure what the actual problems will turn out to be, or how we'll resolve them, but agree that there will be conflicts and shifts that we haven't yet faced. (see also: Osama ditching wireless when he realized he was audible; terrorist cells adopting prepaid phone cards and library computer terminals)
Cam: "Release the hounds!": San Jose Mercury writer Dean Takahashi details how automated cameras are connecting with other computer-controlled functions: "If someone moves past the light beams that line the home's perimeter, the movement will activate the estate's 15 security cameras, which work even at night and record their data onto hard disks. The motion detector will also trigger the garage door to let out the owner's German shepherds." Video data is becoming a common computer datatype, transferred among machines, analyzed and acted upon. ("Big brother"? Only if such techniques are withheld for use by the few... our societies will be evolving more and more quickly to integrate such changes.)
PNG variable opacity: Six years after PNG became the W3C's first Recommendation, most of the recent browsers offer support for its 8-bit transparency, although with the very notable exceptions of Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 and 6.0 for Windows. In this article at A List Apart, Michael Lovitt offers an intriguing hack to make these browsers behave, by using the odd "visual filters" introduced along with DHTML in IE4/Win.
BSA vs Hollywood: Very interesting... the Business Software Alliance is best known for prosecuting software theft. Now they're taking a stand against electronic prohibitions proposed by big-media industries to thwart file-trading. I guess a theme here may be "If someone does you wrong then you can seek redress, and you can definitely seek to protect yourself against being wronged in the first place, but it's not sustainable to impose prior restraint upon others." Or something like that.... ;-)
[via Slashdot]
Rogue ActiveX installs: This link goes to a SecurityFocus article on an XXX company which persuaded people to install an ActiveX Control under the premise that the would get a G-rated greeting card. If you're reading this, then you already know that you have to trust the instructions you execute, but I'm bringing it up here because today I saw a post from a consumer, new to computers, who confused this with the Macromedia Flash Player. There's probably nothing to this, but if you happen across other conversations involving a greeting company, a trojan, and Flash, then could you flag them for attention in the comments here or on your favorite mailing list? Thanks! (Summary: I'm keeping a watch for other citations of a rumor, in case it's not a one-time misunderstanding.)

Sunday, January 05, 2003

How online communities work: Rafe Colburn wrote why Slashdot Is Worthless, and it was picked up by Nick Denton, Glenn Reynolds, and Jeff Jarvis. Rafe was struck by the uninformed comment about the Jhai Foundation's work (discussed here Nov 20).

Online groups each have their own dynamics, because people pay attention to each other. That's natural -- when people invest their own time in a group, they pay attention to the internal dynamics of a group. As a particular discussion area becomes more popular it becomes more attractive for soapbox and in-group banter. That isn't "good" or "bad", it's just what you can expect to see over time, to varying degrees in varying groups.

I've actually been getting more value out of SlashDot lately, myself. It took me awhile to find a set of display filters that worked for me (I display only highly-judged posts, flat for quick scanning, to see where the conversation goes). I think it's valuable to be able to take in all inputs, even lowly-valued inputs. What we need are efficient filtering mechanisms to distill knowledge out of chatter.

Blog comment systems offer one way of filtering: the host chooses the subject. I'm not sure whether commenting would work in InstaPundit or Scripting News, just because the volume of readership is so high, and it would be a troll-attractant. Then again, maybe more people read Dave's blog through aggregators than through HTML, so comment access could be a perk for the high-bandwidth HTML version, I dunno.

Nick says "One day, everybody will have a weblog, and a place to comment, and indexing systems will track the discussion as it reverberates around the web." But we'd still need a way to filter to find the most useful comments... the problem doesn't go away, even though the media may change. We have lots of people, and each can see things a little differently so each person can add unique value, and we need a way to bring the most valuable bits to the surface, make them easy to navigate and evaluate.
Broadband considered harmful? Meg Hourihan, at O'Reilly's, describes how unexpected parts of the network experience changed when moving from high-speed connectivity to dial-up speed in Paris. She had a new appreciation for applications which can retrieve pure data (as opposed to the data-with-markup model of browsers), and also applications which could aggregate multiple data sources and work with stored data offline.
Grant Skinner's Flash OS2: As I understand it, this is a set of very tight routines built in ActionScript... you can think of it as a way to extend the APIs for work such as menus, dialogs, loading, more. I haven't evaluated this personally, but it sounds like a smart thing to do... why wait for the authoring tool or player to change to add support for things you do particularly often? He'll be going into beta very soon, and will be looking for an economic model to support his labor in generalizing this work.
[via Josh Dura]
"Banished words" list: This isn't MX-related, but it bothered me this past week. When you look at Daypop citations for this article, lots of bloggers calmly or even positively accept a list of "banned words". I say, who th'heck are you to say what words other people can or cannot use? If you call it a "List of New Cliches for 2003" that's one thing, but I've got a real visceral reaction against anyone implying they can choose what other people can or cannot say, can or cannot think.... :( This is a group effort, a site to keep an eye on. Spearheaded by Aral Balkan, it grew out of a discussion on, where Scott Manning talked about the negative effects of obnoxious ads on other content developers. I'm usually a little leery of advising other people on how they "should" act, preferring instead just to note the effects of their actions upon me, but some type of "shame" actions have certainly worked in the past. The project is currently a wiki, give a peek in, and contribute if you can.
Peter Hall on DRK 2: Peter evaluates the Flash components on the second release of the Developer Resource Kit CD. (Lots of people contribute in lots of ways to this set of resources, and if you have comments on current releases or requests for future releases, then this link will get your feedback directly to the group, thanks!)
Judith Dinowitz interviews Christian Cantrell: Christian has been in the developer community for years, and recently joined Macromedia in my group as community liaison for server products. Judith and Michael have made amazing contributions over the years in online and New York City ColdFusion groups. In this conversation they touch on Christian's background, what we do in this group, how CF and JRun are developing within Macromedia, more. (btw, I really like how Dina Hess summarizes current CF-Talk discussions on the front page of FusionAuthority... this type of editorial work really helps more people harvest more information from the group mind, so thanks! 8)
Leaves & brushes in SWF: Very pretty examples from Samuel Wan about using Flash's Drawing API for naturalistic shapes. This opens a very different type of look for vector artwork....
Back online: I purposely held back on blogging over the holidays, because news was slow and I didn't want to risk loading up on blogging news, current events or other non-MX stuff. Hi, nice to see ya again.... ;-)