Saturday, January 18, 2003

SVG-Tiny hits Slashdot: This morning's article contains 88 mod-1 comments by evening, so this flat low-filtered view of the discussion is practical. Although it does contain clunkers like "Adobe LiveMotion exports SVG", Mike Chambers has already addressed the meaningful objections there. Dean Jackson has one of the more-balanced pro-SVG articles I've seen, over at O'Reilly... lines like "[SVG] offers the same graphics and animation functionality as Macromedia's SWF" are actually true, although many may read that statement as its converse. What would really help the SVG evangelists is a comprehensive gallery of public uses, so people could visually and interactively check current implementations against tasks they have to accomplish.
Batching FLA-to-SWF on Mac: Branden Hall has made an AppleScript to automate production. Tim Goss has already automated the process on a PC. (I can see Luke Bayes doing a little happy dance now.... ;-)
AirPort blog: This is a new blog which focuses on the 802.11g base station, written by Glenn Fleishman and Adam Engst.
[via Charles Wiltgen [via JD Lasica]]
Flash timeline opinion poll: Mike Williams, a member of the team creating the next version of the Macromedia Flash authoring tool, is seeking input on timeline authoring versus scripting authoring. Lots of good comment already. If you have another angle on this discussion then that would be great, thanks.
MX-related blogs sorted by language: Greg Burch has an interesting new feature on his blog. I can't test it 'cause I'm using Mozilla instead of IE/Win, but like he says, that's why he works so much with Flash instead of DHTML.... ;-)
ColdFusion at O'Reilly: In their Web Development DevCenter they now have a special index for articles they carry about ColdFusion, similar to the ColdFusion MX Development Center but with content hosted from the O'Reilly site.
[via Sean Corfield]
"Those *$#%* Flash Ads": If you've got comments on the material in this column then I'd appreciate hearing them here, thanks. There's another thread on the subject over at, as well as a followup-thread to the previous discussions at Suzanne Mattis has additional perspective in her Logged In column (nb: link will change slightly in two weeks). More articles by Guy Vidra and Eric Picard are in the new Rich Media Advertising Development Center, as well as a new gallery on the work behind some of the best Flash ads.

Friday, January 17, 2003

US legal holiday Monday: The Macromedia offices in San Francisco and other US locations will be officially closed on Monday. Offices in the wider world, and online services, should not be affected.
Java and presentation layer: Joseph Shomphe, at JavaWorld, describes various ways that back-end J2EE processes can use an interactive front-end on the client. DHTML can be very useful in some cases but can be difficult to scale in complexity or across audiences, Swing/AWT offers more abstraction but requires a class download and compatible engine, Flash can help in some cases. He focuses on Flash and Flash Remoting here, probably because it's the most novel approach for this magazine's audience, but all three technologies have their place... you just need to do a good match of what each supplies to the current situation.
Same or different? I'm going through a few thousand emails right now. Below are some of the titles that are helping me figure where I can best put my attention. I think most experienced online folks can quickly see the differences in the three groups.... ;-)

  1. "Riddle me this...", "more programming help!", "Final least for today", "Since we were talking about it...", "Inspiration", "Clarification:", "inane threads", "Last one, I think..."

  2. "Recursion and Datastructure", "interactive cdrom", "quick xml question", "streaming video", "iframes?", "legal help", "MS Access", "SQL question"

  3. "optimizing client-server XML communication", "Help writing GREP pattern", "external swf - too big?", "SSI previewing with DW", "IE 5 and 6 on same box?", "JavaScript focus & getElementByID", "ecommerce: implementing back orders", "explaining RDF/RSS to clients"

Group #3 advertises what the person is seeking, and is more likely to get the desired results. #1 is how the writer feels about the subject, #2 says what the general subject is, but only #3 explicitly advertises for what the person is seeking. An online group also serves social purposes as well as practical ones, but if you're really seeking a particular answer, then letting others know economically can help you get what you want.
Who owns a machine in the network? Tim Mullen had an op/ed in The Register this week that bears on a number of topics we have to face over the next few years. He specifically writes about de-fanging a remote infected machine which makes incessant calls upon a local machine: "I believe you should have the right to neutralize a worm process running on someone else's infected system, if it's relentlessly attacking your network." He got a very mixed response... the new question broke old coalitions. On our part, what happens when a poorly-behaved machine consumes a web service too often? when someone scrapes data off your HTML page for use in an XML service? when one participant talks too much in a video conference? When machines work together across long distances, where do ownership and responsibility start, and end?
Anonymity works both ways: This article at The Register talks about the person who allegedly helped the Recording Industry Association of America dump trash files in peer-to-peer filesharing networks. I know lots of people get upset about this, but I'm not sure how... there's no terms-of-service agreement between parties on the network, and no accountability for truth-in-advertising there. We need to evolve better, more sustainable ways to handle the trade of digital content. On Wednesday, "The music and computer industries have come out against any moves by the US government to embed anti-piracy technology in software and consumer electronic devices." I think that's a great acknowledgement of reality, because prohibition has such a bad track record. Figuring how to accommodate the needs of both creators and consumers is key. I suspect interemediaries may find their roles greatly changed, but glue roles like that should be more oriented to dynamicism than staticism.
Pedal-powered computers in Laos: More on the Jhai Foundation, connecting people in remote urban areas. This article in the San Francisco Chronicle is more of a personality-piece than some of the other articles, but it's nice to hear about people being for something, rather than just against others. Mental exercise: What types of interfaces and interactions would you design for such an audience? How would you accommodate people of this experience in current designs for mass audiences?
PowerPoint to Flash conversion: One comment I've seen in a couple of places on yesterday's news of Presedia joining Macromedia was a focus on PPT->SWF conversion. Presedia Express does this, but it also tracks authoring materials, adds voiceovers, wizards up quizzes, handles the streaming and tracking of user testing... Presedia Express is more of a solution for easy training than a file-format conversion utility. There's a good number of standalone and bundled PowerPoint-to-SWF converters out there though, as the above link to Google points out. I haven't compared feature sets, but you don't need Presedia Express if all you have to do is convert some PowerPoint presos to the web.
Another Macromedian blogging: Mike Williams is starting up an online journal with comments this week. He does product management for the Flash authoring tool, easing the interface between customer demands, market requirements, engineering possibilities... product managers are the central hub in making a product work for everyone. Some of the Macromedia bloggers are liasons to the user communities (me, Mike C, Matt, Bob, Christian)... some are engineers or other staffers who blog (Sean, Greg, Waldo, Dave)... Jeremy Allaire is an exec who drives projects forward... this is the first instance of a product manager going public this way. (Hope I haven't scared him off!) Everyone has a different rhythm for keeping a public log/discussion, and it can take awhile to find a groove, but I'm looking forward to what comes of it. Welcome, Mike! 8)
[via Mike Chambers]

(Sidenote: I'm sort of slow on updating my template here, because I usually break scripts during editing, but I need to add Mike W and Christian to the sidelist, as well as change Mike C's address. If I shame myself here in public like this I'm more likely to get around to doing it.... ;-)

Thursday, January 16, 2003

GeoURL: This service gives shows a map of blogs in a given geographical area. When this was heavily linked last week something didn't feel right to me... why bother putting tags into the blog template? This isn't recurring information. Why not just enter your URL and GPS coords once into a database...? ("Why RSS!? Because it is there!!" I guess.... ;-)
Update: Good info in the comments from Rogers Cadenhead and Paul Willoughby on this.
"Street Sensation" Map UI: Excellent connection between what we intellectually know and what we can actually see... this map of certain streets in London uses long tiled photographs of the shops, taken from eye level... "it's that store next to the pipe shop, no, the next block over". Smart way to make info accessible.
[via BoingBoing]
Discarding a computer? Simson Garfinkel describes an experiment with discovering what personal data is left on drives which are sold, recycled, or tossed in the trash. They learned a lot about certain people....
Transmedia Storytelling Henry Jenkins in Technology Review discusses how fictional characters can be used across media. He points out how the medium itself shapes the content -- books offer different strengths than video, than web -- it's not just neutral "content" waiting to be poured into different containers. Quotes: "The kids who have grown up consuming and enjoying Pokemon across media are going to expect this same kind of experience from The West Wing as they get older.... audiences want the new work to offer new insights into the characters and new experiences of the fictional world... consumers are choosing to invest deeply in a limited number of franchises rather than dip shallowly into a larger number" Same might be true of a business... is the website a duplicate of its paper brochures, or does it take true, deep, and novel advantage of the medium?
"Eldred" wrap-up: I didn't write about this yet, mainly because the only things I could think of were unprintable. Richard Koman has a good summary of the first day's reponse over at O'Reilly today. (What happened: US Supreme Court said yesterday it will not overrule Congress's remarkably liberal interpretation of the Constitution's "a limited time" for monopoly use of the expression of an idea.) It's pretty sick that you have to pay someone to sing "Happy Birthday" in a public place. Then again, it's pretty sick that someone's life can be ruined by a cannabis-possession law too, so it's not like this outrage is anything particularly novel. Me, I'm more determined than ever not to subsidize Hollywood or other big-entertainment businesses. Most of the music I play is public-domain already, and I'll be looking for additional ways to wean myself from those businesses. (I don't usually speak so emotionally here, but I'm sort of taking refuge in the full moon today.... ;-)
More on Great Firewall of China: New Scientist reports that people in mainland China again have access to most reporting hosted on Blogspot. The censorship has apparently been refined to one particular blog which offered advice on ways to avoid blocks by political forces. Since I can apparently be read again in Beijing, I'm hoping someone there will slip the Supremely Tasteful Leader an ExLax or two....
MSNBC expands blogs: In a magazine format it almost feels to me like quicker articles without the editorial cycle...?
Macromedia acquires Presedia: This presentation is made in Presedia Express, and features Rob Burgess and Norm Meyrowitz explaining how it fits together. (Presedia's software enables online training and testing devised by office workers... they use their PowerPoint skills along with wizards to create voiceover presentation and quizzes, which is all converted to SWF format, and then quiz results are tracked on the server.) The audience for Presedia Express is more like Macromedia Contribute than Macromedia Flash -- most developers would be interesting in the PowerPoint conversion, I'd wager -- but there could be very some very interesting things coming down the line as the teams work together. Anyway, both the content and structure of this presentation with Rob & Norm fill in the details, check it out!
Poooodle Predictor for search optimization: Richard Bennett puts together a cool-looking tool... input an URL, and it analyzes the site as a search engine spider would. It offers a diagnostic, source, and other views into how well the spider navigated the page. There's a discussion following the original thread at Evolt.
Iokio Camera Finder demo: Very cool interactive infographic. They have a field of 100 cameras, each displayed with a thumbnail. To the right of the screen are sliders and checkboxes for price, resolution, flash, weight, other features. As you adjust your desired features individual cameras fade in and out of the display. Clicking on a camera brings up detailed info. It's a very fast way to survey a field of candidates and their complex feature sets. Smart stuff!
[After intro, choose bottom-left "Camera Finder Demo".]
Flogspot? Daniel and Josh Dura are working on something interesting... if I'm understanding correctly it's a server-side RSS aggregator which uses a Flash front-end on the client, and which appends a discussion forum to individual blog entries. Sort of Third Voice...? Will be intriguing to watch the social dynamics.
Java vs Flash for streaming ads: This is the second article in a series. I'd link to the first, but its address isn't obvious on the page. Notes: choice of Java or Microsoft is often a religious issue, but the MX approach works with both... some confusion between server-side technologies and client-side technologies... there are still some Java-based browser video technologies out there, but they rely on a compatible Java plugin and then the downloaded classes to show the media... there are stats showing which formats ad servers use, but I'm not sure if the numbers aren't apples-to-oranges... there's a typo in her Flash stat numbers (she saw the September audit in December?)... some firms send video through email (only to consenting recipients, I hope)... the integration of tools, servers, and clientside players seems like the grail to some in the field.

(btw, I've got a column coming up for the Developer Center on the subject, which should be up next week... the title I sent it in as was "Those *%$&#* Flash ads!!", let's see how it survives the editing process.... ;-)

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

List of web services: I was searching for something else, and found a blog called "Web Service of the Day". It seems to have petered out in November, but there's still a categorized list here.(I found it through the Open Director Project category for web services, and usually use when I'm trying to find a particular type of service.) Hmm, as long as I'm leaving links here, I'll also be evaluating ("your strategic guide to web services"), (seems like press releases from various companies?), WSIndex (looks like a big directory, may be fruitful), (layout seems chaotic, but there may be useful reference material here). Do you have recommendations for how to find specific types of free data feeds...?
NPD stats on consumer viewability: In December MediaMetrix/NPD asked whether members of their regular consumer-testing groups could see various types of web pages. They found that over 70% of consumers tested could immediately see Flash 6 content without having to download anything new.

This makes it most widely viewable video technology on the web.

But please don't assume that 70% of people who visit a particular site will have this capability, or that 7-out-of-10 people you meet on the street will have it in their browsers. You'd first have to prove a match between those samples and a regular consumer-focus group. Most consumers use their home machines where they can choose to install things. On a business or school machine someone may not even have that option. It can be tricky to directly extrapolate from a particular audience to the overall consumer audience.

But what is useful is that, among regular consumer groups, Flash is now the most widely-viewable video technology for the web. Absolute predictions are hard, but relative differences are more reliable. This growth in less than a year is just plain amazing.

(That "tech breakdown" page measures people who can see any version of that content, while the "version penetration" pages present the results of additional tests on Flash and Shockwave versions. That's 4 Shockwave pages, 5 Flash pages, 6 other pages. (See a sample test here.) It would be great to get more precise versioning instead of just "any viewable content" -- how many people upgrade Acrobat? how many people install more than the bare Viewpoint shell? -- but too many test pages tends to increase dropout rates among consumer samples. The methodology page notes a 5% margin-of-error across the entire sample, so subsamples from a particular continent can swing more radically.)
"intended to supplant": CNET ran an article yesterday how the two newer flavors of the SVG file format ("tiny" and "basic") have passed through Candidate Recommendation stage to being a Recommendation. One line caught me up short, and I've heard others online questioning this today: "SVG, which is intended to supplant Macromedia's dominant and proprietary Flash animation technology, has been wending its way through the W3C for years in one form or another."

I don't think this is a direct quote from the W3C, but suspect it's a bit of editorial comment added by the reporter to make the story more interesting. W3C staffers do tend to contrast "proprietary" file formats in a single player with W3C-defined formats in multiple proprietary players, but I haven't heard any of them actually assert that a recommendation on how to describe scalable vector graphics is "intended to supplant" what people are actually doing with the various Flash technologies today. (If I'm incorrect, then that could be an interesting discussion.... ;-)

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Example of Apple Keynote XML: This doesn't explicitly list the permissible structure of such a document, but it shows how the new presentation software stores its native files. I haven't examined it deeply yet, but it might be possible to consume such a document within a SWF and actively construct a version of the presentation anywhere on the web...?
Update: Some SVG advocates are apparently upset that Apple uses a tailored application of XML instead of the W3C's Scalable Vector Graphics form, but this thread shows that there are some different constructs in the presentation language.
[via Tim Bray]
Usability of business apps: this CNET article describes a report from Forrester Research about interface and workflow costs in business applications: "The costs to businesses that use poorly designed software is huge... Companies often end up investing tens of thousands of dollars in additional training they hadn't budgeted for. A ponderous interface can also disrupt worker productivity. In the worst case, it can cause workers to abandon the software all together in favor of manual processes, negating the benefits of projects in which businesses typically invest millions...."
Comment outage: I've noticed the servers at Haloscan have been intermittently available today, so "comments" here blink in and out of existence.
RIAA & Gobbles: This article in The Register says the Recording Industry Institute of America had hired a hacking group to infect MP3 files, and that now 95% of peer-to-peer hosts have hidden tracking and reporting mechanisms. Subsequent articles say this is a hoax. To my mind, whether the RIAA has done this or not isn't as immediately important as whether it can be done -- if promiscuous file-trading is a vector for infection, then a criminal group could take advantage of it as easily as a corporate group. First look at the vulnerability, and only then look at who might use it.
Games Bond: New blog featuring listings and reviews of new Shockwave and Flash games on the web.
[via hollowcube]
More FlashCom hosting: Waldo Smeets notes that there are actually multiple service providers who offer Flash communication services in Europe. Another resource is the FlashCom Partners hosting list, although I'm not sure whether this is all hosts or just all Partners who host.
Pilgrim's Conflict: Mark has done a lot of great work with web technology, and his blog entry yesterday has been widely linked. Essentially, he has written to W3C recommendations, found that these often don't match the real world and sometimes don't match each other, and he's having a difficult time reconciling all this. He closes "Standards are bullshit. XHTML is a crock. The W3C is irrelevant. I’m migrating to HTML 4."

That seems harsh to me. The root problem may be revealed in the final phrase, where he changes which spec he'll use. Why not write to the real world, and just be guided by the spec? An Official Document of an August Body is a good description of where we'd like to be, but sometimes people seem to think being in conformance with such a document trumps getting actual work done. The map is not the territory; the menu not the meal. Discovering what your audience can support and testing how well you deliver to them can still be guided by august recommendations of ideal behavior.

I wonder if there's a correlation with political and social spheres too... ideas about what others "should" do, whether a treaty actually accomplishes what it says it does, whether people not "of the book" ("of the spec"?) are lost souls... getting binary and non-interactive with an idea of the world doesn't seem as much fun as getting analog and interactive with the observable world. Hey, don't mind me, I may have a cold coming on and my mind may be running loose.... ;-)
PatchLink Update: I caught this press release through Google News. It talks mostly of a buffer overflow with malformed SWF files. (Past press releases say this buffer overflow could theoretically execute code, but I don't recall reports of people actually accomplishing this.) I read the press release a few times, but I'm not sure of what PatchLink actually does. After going to their site it seems like it can track versions of things installed across your local network and compare them to currently-available versions. The news seems to be that they now can track which version of Flash is on your network's various machines. I may have pulled the wrong meaning out of the verbiage though.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Appropriate Punishment For Crackers? Slashdot debates what should happen to people who abuse the systems of other people. "Punishment" through penal systems is sort of weird... it would be more useful if they made restitution, if they replaced value to the people they harmed.
Richard Stallman on CNET: I'm not clear on his argument... is he also asserting that every graphic designer must always give the client all the Photoshop source files instead of just TIFFs, and that all musicians need to also provide each separate source track instead of just the compiled master track of the tune, or is it only compiled software that he compares to cooking food here...?
"Astroturf" discussion: As marketing people learn about the net, they sometimes try to create fake grassroots campaigns. This BoingBoing entry tells about a site which asks people to visit certain newsgroups to talk about the TV show "Alias", apparently run by a marketing group. The discussion links to other accounts, such as where a scooter company hired good looking people to get phone numbers from bars. I suspect Jon Udell's Amazon/AllConsuming comparison may have had a similar origin. I've seen fake grassroots campaigns online before, but the best antidote to free speech is better speech... we can no longer afford to go along with an idea just because other people do. Think it through for yourself -- tear the arguments apart -- reason it out, don't be a robot!
"games as art" blog: Greg Costikyan: "Blogs tend to fall into three categories: online diaries; lists of cool stuff the author found on the Web; and places for someone to ride a hobby horse. This one falls into the third category. In this case, I hope my hobby horse is something other people will find interesting. Essentially, I want to talk about games, and game design, as art. I'll be posting essays, such as this one, talking about the field, about specific things I've encountered, and about business trends in the games industry." Not much posting history yet, but he seems tied in to a network of kindred soles... could be useful.
[via Cory Doctorow]
Latest China net blocking: Detailed info and links... Blogspot is apparently collateral damage. (I haven't been to this "OpenFlows" site before... the layout is odd, not sure where they're coming from.)
Bookmarklet: find colors used in web page: I haven't tested it yet, but it sure sounds useful... Nate at Web-Graphics says: "Milo was kind enough to share a new bookmarklet with us. Called '!usedcolors', it figures out what colors are being used on a page and displays them as little swatches and hex code in a popup window list."
SmartPPC site: Gosh, this looks familiar, I just can't place it.... ;-)

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Flash MX crack: I suspect most people read this blog via news aggregators, but "flash mx crack" is the most popular term used in search engines to reach this blog. Here are some of the recent terms found in my referrers: "bowling tutorial, convert powerpoint to swf, flash mx warez, flash mx code crack, flash mx vbox crack, director mx warez, flash mx crack, phil torrone, crack flash communications server, fireworks mx crack, flash mx warez, jd, flash mx, jd (I wonder how many crack requests JD Lasica gets), dreamweaver mx crack, homesite serial numbers, google unicode detection browser, macromedia mx, creating asteroids in flash mx, macromedia director mx crack, warez authorware, flash communication server crack, flash mx crack, convert powerpoint to swf, wildform linx warez, crack dreamweaver mx, macromedia clothing, dreamweaver mx crack, plasma mx serial". Gee, I'm sure glad I'm an optimist about this world, might be difficult otherwise..... ;-)