Use ThemePark to create or modify the way Mac OS X looks, as well as to change the appearance of individual applications. Just draw titlebars, buttons, and other widgets in the graphics editor of your choice, and move them into ThemePark to create a new theme or modify an existing one. Also use ThemePark to create icon sets that can change every icon on your system, even common document icons. - posted by sryo
C&Lís Late Nite Music Club with Norah Jones Legendary music producer Arif Mardin died Sunday night. This was a very classy man, much loved by all the artists he ever worked with. And the artists he worked with were as diverse an array as anyone has ever tackled. For decades he was a star in-house producer with Atlantic Records, making records with Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, the Bee Gees, Average White Band, Barbra Streisand, The Rascals, Phil Collins, John Prine, Halls and Oats, George Benson, Average White Band and dozens more[sigma]
He retired from Atlantic in 2001 and a few months later he went into the studio with an unknown young woman for his pals at Blue Note Records. The result was the Grammy-winning, multi-platinum debut by Norah Jones, COME AWAY WITH ME. And our song tonight is my favorite from that album, a cover of Hank Williams[base '] classic "Cold Cold Heart."
In honor of Arif[base ']s passing I have 2 brand new box sets called WILLIE NELSON[^] THE COMPLETE ATLANTIC SESSIONS. If you wanna play this game, be sure to include an e-mail address. Just send us your top 10 songs (could be "my top 10 songs of all time," "my top 10 songs by women singers," "my top 10 songs with a political message," "my top ten songs with an alto sax," "my top 10 songs from the 80[base ']s"[sigma] anything). Tomorrow morning I[base ']m going to look [OE]em all over and pick one and John[base ']s gonna look [OE]em all over and he[base ']ll pick one too. And the two winners are going to each get a box of Willie.
(guest blogged by Howie Klein)
I missed the death of Arif Mardin, not hitting the mainstream news.His is a name I remember seeing on so many albums as I grew up. All those wonderful soul albums. I will always associate him with the sound of Aretha Franklin.
For one thing, we're no longer owned by Microsoft, which for some reason seems to make it easier for us to build a site that works as well in Firefox and Safari as it does in Internet Explorer. And now that larger computer screens and broadband have become commonplace, we felt Slate could do more to take advantage of both. The new home page, for example, is wider than the old one and has graphics so numerous that a dial-up modem would have choked on them. We've used the additional real estate to give permanent homes to Explainer, the Has-Been, Doonesbury, Today's Pictures, and our editorial cartoons[~]regular features that have sometimes been hard to find.
I love that remark that suddenly Slate can work in non-MS browsers now.
Skills for Access If this site isn't a testament to beautiful design, and advocating, demonstrating and teaching accessibility, then I don't know of a better example. Also covers multimedia accessibility: Flash, Shockwave and external viewers. Great resource, thanks RJ. read more:
Soup to Nuts Learn how to build a CSS-based layout from start to finish. From design in-flight, which used to be a pay-for PDF magazine only. Nice to finally add some of Nathan's work to this portfolio. He (et al.) does some outstanding work over at web-graphics.com. read more:
The CSS Box Model Hierarchy For developers new to CSS and the box model, this is an excellent 3D visual aid. I also highly recommend following the link to Douglas Livingstone's interactive Flash demonstration version. read more:
How to get high Google rankings with Flash sites Flash movies are a great way to add multimedia elements to a web site. Unfortunately, Flash cannot be indexed by most search engines. For that reason, it is very difficult to get high search engine rankings for Flash sites. This article explains how to get top rankings on Google with Flash sites. read more:
How to rank well with Flash movies Flash movies are a popular way to make websites more compelling. They are useful if you want to impress your website visitors or if you offer web design services.Unfortunately, if you use Flash movies, or if you even design your complete website based on the Flash technology, your odds of getting listed in the search engines are greatly reduced.Read this article to find out how to rank well with Flash movies. read more:
Usability Five new links: "Graphics on Link-Rich Home Pages", "Label Placement in Forms", "SAP Design Guild Articles", "Simplicity Demands Difficult Choices", and "Personable 'About Us' Page Lifts Ecommerce Conversions 30 Percent". read more:
Interactive and Animated Pictures: Mere Visual Stimulation or Better Clarity? Digitalisation has revolutionised the creation and editing of graphics, and ushered in new forms of technical communication on the visual plane. Ballstaedt, Steffen-Peter read more:
Tutorials - Photoshop,Dreamweaver,Vb.Net. Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Excel, Flash Mx, Vb.Net, Spyware + Windows Xp Video Tutorials from $14.95 to $49 - Affiliates earn 50% read more:
Become An Expert Web Designer! Video tutorials and stunning templates show you how to create your own websites and graphics from scratch in the next hour! read more:
AmazType - your word in book cover artwork Amaztype is a nice new application from Japan, drawing your words using Amazon book cover artworks... your have to check this out - Flash is required and it's definately fun to play around there and zoom in/out of the covers...... read more:
Concealed Weapon Permits Win Sheriff, Police Support? Watch Video News Blog (8 min) A growing number of Sheriffs and Police Officials have joined the debate over Concealed Weapon Permits (CCW) as shown in an eight minute Full Disclosure Network™ Video News Blog featuring high ranking law enforcement officials in the Western United States. Available FREE at this URL: http://www.fulldisclosure.net/flash/VideoBlogs/VideoBlog31.php 24/7, on demand as a public service. (PRWEB Jul 5, 2006) Trackback URI: http://www.prweb.com/zingpr.php/Q3Jhcy1TdW1tLUluc2UtUGlnZy1JbnNlLVplcm8= read more:
TattooFinder.com Announces Free Premiere Accounts for Tattoo Industry Professionals TattooFinder.com announces the release of Premiere Accounts (TFPA) as a free upgrade from a standard TattooFinder.com account. This service is offered exclusively to tattoo industry professionals, providing top level discounts on design purchases to tattooists and their customers. Premiere accounts can increase overall business at a studio by offering numerous competitive advantages, and a TFPA operates under several different business models to best fit a shop’s needs. A TFPA provides the ability for customers to purchase flash for the tattoo studio that the studio can store online and access again for future use at no additional charge. (PRWEB Jul 13, 2006) Trackback URL: http://www.prweb.com/chachingpr.php/WmV0YS1Qcm9mLUNvdXAtU3F1YS1JbnNlLVplcm8= read more:
Fort Lauderdale Graphic Design Firm Gains Event Marketing and Meeting Management Firm as Client S.MARK Graphics Florida Inc. has been awarded the graphic design account of American Meetings, Inc. (AMI) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The work includes the development of on-going services including logo identities, invitations, signage, web site development and maintenance as well as marketing campaigns and advertising. (PRWEB Jul 5, 2006) Trackback URI: http://www.prweb.com/zingpr.php/SG9yci1Db3VwLUluc2UtUGlnZy1JbnNlLVplcm8= read more:
Error ''Codec Initialization Error'' when attempting to export as Flash Video (FLV) (Premiere Pro 2.0) IssueWhen you try to export a Timeline as Flash Video, the export fails and Adobe Premiere Pro displays the error message "Codec Initialization Error".DetailsYou are exporting to a hard disk with low disk space.SolutionsDo one or more of the... read more:
Supported file formats in Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 This table lists the file formats that Adobe Premiere Pro can import and export. For more information about importing and exporting files, see Adobe Premiere Pro Help.Format Import ExportVideo Flash Video (.flv) - - xMicrosoft AVI Type 1 (.avi)... read more:
New Titan Poker Gets Rave Review In Categories of Bonus and Graphics The newest online poker room, Titan Poker, is getting good reviews among Titan poker players. Players review the graphics, bonus, and overall quality. [PRWEB Nov 7, 2005] read more:
SEO Chat Forums - Flash Elements on Index Page Date: July 17th, 2006 02:44 AM - Levi - UntitledPost: If I create 2 versions of my site, a static & flash version, can I possibly suffer from a duplicate content penalty since the content... read more:
Browser security versus virtual autism I tend to ignore articles on security because I don't have a lot of respect for the security companies. As far as I can tell, most security stories are credulous regurgitations of these companies' misleading press releases. Their vested interest in FUD, their conflict of interests with their own customers, their alarmist and uninformative tendencies: all these things make it hard to take them seriously.
Just this last week there was one or other of this motley crew claiming 'Windows more secure than Linux'. The numbers were blatant nonsense, counting any Linux vulnerability once per distribution, for example, and I'm not interested in that non-story.
In amongst the usual stream of commercial effluent, I found myself reading a couple of interesting papers on phishing.
If you're anything like me (and I hope you're not) you receive several hundred spam messages a day. For my home account, one of the mod3 Solaris zone hosting dudes set up a greylisting system that pretty much squashed the problem. Work uses a commercial filtering system that doesn't work nearly as well, and doesn't even let me say 'drop anything in any non-European language', which would be a very effective work-around for me. I'll admit to having been nervous about the greylisting idea ('but won't it delay genuine mail?'), but I've only been inconvenienced once so far, and that wasn't for long. I waste far much more time wading through the obvious spam at work every day than I did on the one occasion I've had to wait for a web site to retry its confirmation mail.
Anyway, given the amount of spam that gets through at work, I see quite a lot of phishing attempts. Some would be worryingly convincing if I had any connection with the alleged institutions, many are fairly obviously bogus if you give them more than a second's glance, and some are laughably bad. That last class has always interested me the most. My assumption was always that such mails wouldn't fool anybody, leaving me wondering why the prospective phisher didn't try a bit harder?
Now I'm starting to wonder if the criminals aren't just being clever, expending no more effort than necessary to fool the foolable.
Reading Why Phishing Works, I was shocked by the lack of acumen displayed by the experiment's subjects. The sample size was, I felt, small: only 22 people. I'm also not sure how representative of the general public university staff and students are. All the same...
Even if you don't care about security, if you're a programmer it's worth reading the paper just to see how far out of touch with technology many users are. In particular, they have no idea what's easy to fake and what's hard to fake.
That text and graphics inside the page are more trusted than text and graphics in the browser's own UI shows you just how much the disconnect between the user's model and system's model can cost.
It's also interesting to see how much of the browser people just ignore. I was thanked for adding a 'new' feature to Terminator the other week when all I'd done was add a tool tip to draw attention to a feature that had been there much longer. That was understandable because the feature was otherwise invisible and only enjoyed by people who had just assumed it would be there. This paper, though, suggests that browser features that you and I probably consider highly visible just aren't seen. Or they're seen and misunderstood, which is potentially worse when they're security features.
Not all of the problems identified in the paper are anything to do with technology, though. Except insofar as they suggest that people are bad at transferring real-world common sense to the 'virtual' world, or bad at realizing that they're the same world.
I wonder if the woman who 'will click on any type of link at work where she has virus protection and system administrators to fix the machine, but never at home' would agree to be beaten by said system administrators with baseball bats in the grounds of a local hospital. Presumably that would be fine, because the hospital can fix things up afterwards? So no harm done, right?
And there's the woman who types in her username and password to see if a site's genuine. Presumably she'd be happy to give me her life savings to see whether I can be trusted to return them?
I do hope those two are now starred out. But I know they aren't, and I know there are millions like them, sharing LANs (or even machines) with us.
I showed the paper to my girlfriend. She didn't know about https: versus http:, didn't know there was a padlock icon anywhere (and I'll admit that I had to look for it in Safari; I'll be switching to Firefox completely as soon as it has spelling checking), or what the padlock means, and definitely didn't know anything about certificates. It had never really occurred to me before that there were millions of people out there typing their financial details in to HTML forms without the vaguest idea of which end of the firestick the boom comes out.
We've accidentally created a whole race of virtual autists, devoid of their usual ability to infer trustworthiness.
If you think that's an over-statement, read the paper and look at the cues the participants were using. In ignorance of the high-tech stuff the browser was offering, they were falling back to tried-and-tested visual cues, despite the fact that it's trivial to copy any image, text, or video on-line.
The authors have a suggestion, if you're not too depressed to keep reading. The Battle Against Phishing: Dynamic Security Skins describes a way of improving the browser's security indicators, but I didn't really get how it's supposed to address what seems to be the more fundamental problem: people just don't know what they're looking for. If Firefox's yellow location bar is as invisible as it appears to be, is that battle not already lost? read more:
Why Flash memory is good for your computer
Simply put, flash memory will enable a revolution in improving computer performance in daily utilization scenarios. Your computer will boot up faster. It will launch applications significantly faster. (Hey, it will shutdown faster as well.)
To see why we will have this dramatic performance improvement, let's remember how harddisks work: whenever you have a mixture of random I/O requests, the actuator moves across different tracks to read/write the corresponding data. Switching tracks is a slow operation. For an average SATA drive, this is around 9 milliseconds. This might not seem much, but a few milliseconds per seek means that you can have at most a few hundred random I/Os per second. And this feels like light-years compared with the performance of other components in the system like RAM access speeds or even CPU frequency. So, just to give you an example, a random I/O with 4 KB requests and average of 4 ms seek time per request would mean around 1000/4 * 4 KB = 1 MB per second disk transfer rate. Pretty small, don't you think? Especially when you compare it with sequential I/O, where you can get a much faster transfer rate (say, 60-70 MB/s on a regular harddisk, depending the rotational speed, data density, etc).
One trick to alleviate this performance issue is to minimize seek time by reordering writes and/or serving reads from cached memory. Memory caches can greatly help in this regard, but here is a little problem: applications, the OS, and other components do not expect writes to be reordered. When you a write reordering is detected at the application level, then a data corruption can appear, especially when you reboot the machine in the middle of performingg a set of reordered writes.
For example the applicaiton is performing Write(block1) followed by Write(block2) in one thread, and Read(block1) followed by Read(block2) on a different thread. In the sequence above, the application expects block1 to be written always before writing block2. Having this guarantee simplifies for example applicaiton recovery semantics, assuming that the computer can crash between writing block1 and block2. But if we perform write reordering, and only write to the disk block2, then our application recovery logic cannot be done in any way. And so we get to corruption.
Still, storage controllers perform today all sorts of tricks like maintaining a write-through cache in volatile RAM, coupled with limited reordering. More advanced controllers, or SAN equipment use persistent caches (battery-backed volatile RAM) to perform write reordering, complementing advanced storage features like RAID configurations, etc.
The solution - why flash is good
By now it should be clear how flash can be used in this picture: you can use inexpensive flash as a persistent write-through cache for reads/writes. Also, the fact that this flash is persistent enables reordering I/O requests at an unprecedented level, therefore greatly reducing our nasty seek time bottleneck:
The new 2Gb OneNAND chip doubles the capacity of a OneNAND memory device (from 1Gb) and increases the chip's ?write' speed from 9.3MByte to 17MByte per second.
?We're seeing a rapidly widening market for our OneNAND memory because of its outstanding performance and capacity that has become even more noteworthy with the application of 60 nm technology,? said Don Barnetson, Director, Flash Marketing, Samsung Semiconductor. [...]
Because of its exceptionally high performance, OneNAND can serve as a catalyst in the development of new product markets. A much-discussed example of this application-creating role is in how OneNAND memory is now being specified as the buffer memory inside a hybrid hard disk.
Samsung successfully demonstrated a commercial Hybrid-HDD prototype for the first time at the MS Developer Conference (WinHEC: Windows Hardware Engineering conference) in Seattle last month.
Flash-based I/O optimizations - already present in Vista
One more thing worth mentioning: Vista already benefits from Flash-based optimization. The feature is called EMD (External Memory Device), and can boost the performance of your computer by simply adding a USB thumbdrive and designate it as an EMD device. Under the cover, it works in a similar way with the technique described above.
Thanks again to Jason for his interest, feedback and support. I'm pretty excited to see what cool stuff he'll cook using this and the new web APIs from Yahoo.
As you can see in the demo/index.html file, after including dojo.js and FlashXMLHttpRequest.js, you'll need to initialize dojo and the flash object by calling InitFlash with the name of a function. That function will be invoked once the flash object is loaded and ready to make requests. From there on, you can create FlashXMLHttpRequest instances and use the 'open', 'onload' and 'send' methods almost as you would with a regular XMLHttpRequest object. You can also call 'setRequestHeader', but only to set the content type request header.
More generally, FlashXMLHttpRequest still has some limitations, due to the native Flash capabilities. First, access to other domains is restricted by use of a crossdomain.xml file. Second, you can only make GET and POST requests. It will become possible to support other verbs, such as PUT, DELETE or HEAD, with the new APIs provided by Flash 8.5.
PyMOL PyMOL is a molecular graphics system with an embedded Python interpreter designed for real-time visualization and rapid generation of high-quality molecular graphics images and animations. read more:
R System for statistical computation and graphics; an interpreted computer language which allows branching and looping as well as modular programming using functions. read more:
Get a free copy of Graphics Server .NET: Widgets Edition You can download a free copy of Graphics Server .NET Widget Edition over on David Johnson's blog until January 16, 2005.
The Widget Server edition has a lot of graphical meters & indicators that can be significantly customized for use in monitoring programs. It can be used on both WinForms and WebForms.
Advertiser Sneaks Malware into Flash Ad An underhanded advertiser trick that hit LiveJournal demonstrates a risk of accepting Flash ads -- they can pop up windows:
... the Flash ad contains code to open a popup that leads to a very different destination -- it's what I assume is an affiliate link that attempts to download and install ErrorSafe on your computer (link is to Symantec's description of it).
This, of course, would be totally against any ad company's guidelines. Masquerading as a banner ad, but discreetly opening a popup -- and not only that, but to what people consider malware -- is totally against any ad company's guidelines. So how did it get through?
Simple -- the ad actually contacts its website in the background, and the site returns a response code that tells it whether to display the popup or not - 'popup=1'. My guess is that kpremium.com returned 'popup=0' while the ad company were testing the ad for conformance to guidelines, and then they turned it back on once it was out in the wild.
NASA says another major incident in launching the space shuttle would cast doubts on the program NASA is ready for a second - and likely last - attempt to recover from the 2003 Columbia disaster and resume ...
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Nearly one year since the last shuttle launch and 3 1/2 years after the Columbia disaster, NASA is primed to return to human space flight Saturday with the liftoff of the Discovery orbiter and its crew of ...
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User Experience Software The list of software tools available for user experience professionals continues to grow. From card-sorting applications for Information Architects to prototyping applications for Interface Designers, here are a few tools I?ve been exposed to recently. Drop me a note if you have any interesting additions.
Update: I'm only including software specifically built for a particular user experience methodology like card sorting, user recruiting, requirements gathering, etc. General purpose software like Photoshop, Visio, Flash, and Omnigraffle are therefore omitted from this list.
Microsoft Expression Interactive Designer Deliver exciting next generation user experiences that leverage the full capabilities of the Windows platform to provide greater overall performance, improved usability, and increased customer satisfaction.
xSort xSort is a card sorting application for Mac OS X developed to streamline the workflow of user experience professionals and social scientists.
Axure Axure RP enables application designers to create annotated wireframes, interactive, browser-based prototypes, and professional functional specifications for applications and web sites faster and easier than creating static mockups with their current tools.
Intuitect Intuitect creates a single unified structure that holds all the information about your website project. The three Intuitect views are: Navigation (sitemap) View, Wireframe View, and Flowmap View.
Aurora An adaptable WinFX-based graphics authoring tool that generates instant XAML documents. It can be used as a development tool to create fresh user interfaces for Windows and Web applications.
GenoPal A color picker and color matching software. GenoPal mimics intuitive ways of referring to color: starting with your best guess it presents options and allows you to refine choices.
Morae Morae Usability Testing for Software and Web Sites enables product teams to observe actual users, giving these teams a clear picture of where problems exist and stimulating ideas for fixing them.
Ethnio Recruit users live from your website. Capture feedback from users as they use your site or application. [thanks Geof]
WebSort A web-based software tool that enables researchers to perform remote card sort studies. Create a study, send a link to participants, and analyze the result. [thanks Jed]
GUI Design Studio A graphical user interface design tool for Microsoft Windows that you can use to rapidly create demonstration prototypes without any coding or scripting. [thanks John]
iRise iRise Studio is used for new custom applications, portals, enhancements to existing systems and Web-based front-ends to packaged software. [thanks Parker]
uLog Enables you to log computer events such as mouse clicks, scrolling, and keystrokes, the recording of text strings, the resizing of windows, pop-ups, which windows and applications are active, and more. [thanks Dave]
Serena Composer By providing a shared visual taxonomy for defining application requirements and prototypes, Serena Composer helps business and IT work better together. [thanks Dave]
GUIguide Contains industry standards for effective GUI and web design and for meeting Rich client and HTML standards compliance. [thanks Dave]
stpBA Storyboarding A Microsoft Visio based GUI storyboarding and prototyping tool to visually validate requirements with business users. The tool generates HTML storyboards, screen flow diagrams, reader friendly UI specifications, functional specifications and test scripts. [thanks Sam]
MindCanvas Though not a software package you can run yourself, MindCanvas (part of Uzanto?s research service offering) enables researchers to gather insights about customers' thoughts & feelings through Game-like Elicitation Methods (GEMs).
Web Patterns: Q&A with John Allsopp Following up on part one of the Design Patterns conversation, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with John Allsopp about Web patterns. John is the lead developer of the Style Master CSS Editor and founder of Webpatterns.org, a site focused on the intersection of design patterns and Web development. In John?s own words: ?The purpose of identifying patterns is to use them in our work as designers, information architects, and developers.? We chatted about doing just that.
Q: You've pointed out that HTML has a long way to go to support the semantic structure Web developers and designers need to build today's generation of Web applications. As evidence you pointed to the myriad of CLASS and ID attributes in use across the Web. Are there any particular components or structures that really stand out as recurring needs that HTML is not addressing?
A: A combination of my -and others- empirical research as well as more qualitative research like that of François Briatte would suggest that to a significant extent, Web design is gravitating to a number of strong patterns, at least at the page and site architecture level.
Multi column layouts with headers and footers, breadcumb trails, tree-like page and site navigation, skip to content, search site boxes and other common elements recur frequently.
But, beneath this, at the level of the code, there is little if any consensus as to how these patterns should be coded, to the extent that in no case has a consensus emerged as to what to call these page components -as reflected in the various class and id values used to identify and classify them.
Now, in one sense, HTML addresses the need for all these components and structures, because they can be implemented with HTML and CSS. The question is should HTML provide any or all of these commonly used structures? I'd argue no. HTML is a low level language for creating more complex structures.
HTML also provides a generic mechanism for adding rich semantics to documents - the class and id attributes - which works in all browsers going back the best part of a decade. So HTML, in a sense, does address the need for these components and structures. It's really up to developers to form some kind of consensus regarding semantics and implementation of these components.
The key idea here is consensus. Individual approaches to rich HTML semantics are unlikely to gain widespread adoption. Projects like microformats show what a collaborative and cooperative approach can achieve. We need something similar which focuses on architectural semantics rather than data semantics, which is the prime focus of microformats.
Q: To what extent are these omissions tied to the fact that HTML is a mark-up for pages and, as a result, focuses on defining components like headings, paragraphs, lists, etc.? Surely this becomes problematic when building robust applications online that do a lot more than present information?
A: Certainly, the fact that HTML has its origins in analogues with the printed page means there is a tension between the kinds of patterns emerging that are unique to online use, and the built-in patterns of HTML -headings, paragraphs and so on.
Ideally, HTML would be a more generic language, with semantics added in specific domains -more like the XML model. But HTML is here to stay for a very, very long time. Fortunately, there are well-supported, non-hack mechanisms for extending its semantics -primarily id and class, but also the rel attribute.
So yes, the legacy of the printed page looms large with HTML, and potentially this causes difficulties when adapting its use to more sophisticated online applications than we typically saw over the first decade of the web. But HTML is also a reality we have to deal with for at least the best part of the coming decade.
Q: So what's the right way to address this lack of semantic definition present in HTML? Microformats? Shared CLASS and ID conventions? A user interface mark-up language like XUL?
A: Yes, Yes and Yes. In the near term, microformats (which rely heavily on id and class, as well as the rel attribute of link elements) illustrate a more general solution ?for today?s web?. XUL (and XAML and XForms) point in the direction of potential future ways of building web-based user interfaces - declarative languages - but realistically, it will be the best part of a decade before these are widely supported.
Q: Seems like you've settled on patterns as a good way to build an extended Web vocabulary and your Pattern Quiz seems to be helping you work through that vision. What have you learned to date from the Pattern Quiz? What are the things folks seem to agree on and where has there been the most discussion or divergence?
A: Patterns are a widely used way of capturing problems and their potential solutions in a variety of fields, not least of all in many facets of IT.
In my discussions on this issue with many people over several years, it seems that when people initially think of ways of solving this problem of standardizing page and site architectures they think in terms of 'templates'. The idea being that if you can only capture the best possible solution for any given problem, then standardize its implementation, then everyone can use it and its a win for all.
What people soon realize, even in quite controlled environments like a single organization, is that a one size fits all approach doesn't work, it is far too inflexible - so people customize, 'polluting' the one true solution, and you quickly return to the chaos you had earlier. Patterns offer far more flexibility, and as a result, potentially a workable way of solving the problem.
The idea behind pattern quiz was to get people to start thinking about what they do in terms of patterns in a more formal way. The weakness of most pattern language approaches to web development I've seen so far is that they are idiosyncratic - they rely on the work of an individual or small number of people, often in a close knit team. In this context it is reasonably easy to see consensus and a common way of working. This doesn't necessarily scale.
For standardization to work, it needs to work across the web of developers more generally. So pattern quiz was also an attempt to glean how this broader web of developers thinks about the common problems they are solving.
The quiz has not progressed as far as I would have hoped, which is largely my responsibility. My daughter was born shortly after the quiz started, somewhat curtailing my ability to keep several balls in the air at once. But one thing that did emerge was that people commonly think in terms of content, when it comes to patterns.
For example, when asked to classify the kinds of sites people could think of, I was thinking in terms of 'blog', 'search engine' 'portal' and so on (largely content neutral), whereas many people suggested sites for a band, or a gallery or a bank (which to my mind could use different patterns to solve their problems - a band site could be a blog, or a more traditional static site, and so on.)
Another thing that emerged was a not uncommon attitude that by codifying patterns, somehow a developer's creativity would be stifled. This is an argument I hear commonly against the adoption of web standards. In the case of patterns, it comes in part from a misunderstanding of what a pattern is supposed to do. I put this misunderstanding down in large part to my inability to articulate what a patterns is and how it is useful more clearly.
Patterns are not supposed to dictate solutions, or suggest 'one true way' of solving a problem. Rather, in Alexander's famous formulation a pattern 'describes a problem which occurs over and over again ... and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice '.
But hopefully we'll learn a lot more in the coming months and more.
Q: How about flexibility? Have you found patterns to be flexible enough to accommodate the rate of change in typical Web applications?
A: To tell the truth I don't know. Patterns are meant to capture emergent behavior - not possible or tentative solutions, but problems which developers actually face, and the core of a solution to those problems.
So in theory, and I guess the longevity of patterns in other fields suggests that in practice, a pattern language approach does have the ability to adapt to the changing problems and solutions a profession encounters in its practice.
Q: Jenifer Tidwell has argued that we shouldn't tie design patterns to any particular technology or code-base:
'I worry about the longevity of technology-specific patterns. If patterns are closely tied to current technology, won?t they become obsolete really quickly?'
You've taken steps to ensure integration between Web patterns and semantic mark-up. What's the life cycle of a system like this? How long can it stay relevant?
A: I think that is a really good question, with a number of dimensions.
Firstly, if a particular methodology, like a pattern language, is going to be widely useful then it needs to be widely adopted. Wide adoption requires wide understanding of the methodology and its benefits. Technology neutral methodologies are a very hard sell, because in my experience as an educator, many people learn through concrete examples within a problem domain they understand. Hence 'Web Patterns' focusing on patterns in the sphere of web development.
But there are two not so theoretical reasons why I think patterns are probably to a reasonable extent technology specific. As mentioned earlier, patterns capture problems and their solutions in a specific domain.
Patterns become obsolete when the problems they capture aren't problems anymore. For example, having a low resolution and high resolution image for fast loading slow connection pages isn't really a problem so much any more, so the pattern is obsolete.
The second thing is that patterns are not theories or conjectures - they are actual problems and their solutions. Right now, HTML and CSS are more or less the only technologies relevant to solving web problems when developing for the web. S its inevitable they ill be to an extent technology specific.
Above all, I think it?s a matter of giving it a go, then seeing what happens. Pattern languages have proven very useful in a number of domains. I have a gut feeling they'll also prove useful on the web. But I think in order for them to do so, any such project or projects need to be well explained, and have broad developer buy in.
The Flash Satay method to embed flash in your pages and support standards This weeks tip: Use the Flash Satay method to embed flash in your pages and support standardsThe standard way to embed flash within a web page is to use the object element; the W3C tell us that the object element is an, 'all-purpose solution to generic object inclusion'. So that's fine and handy - however, the object element is not supported by all web browsers. Developers have tried to work around this deficiency by adding the non-standard (but working) embed tag into their markup - effectively repeating all the necessary attributes in each tag. Using the embed tag means that pages will no longer validate - a situation which makes developers who pride themselves on their adherence to standards rather uncomfortable. During a discussion about this issue on the Guild of Accessible Web Designers mailing list, I was alerted to an article by Drew Mclellan who addresses this very problem. Drew provides a solution that ensures flash works in many more browsers without failing validation tests, a solution he calls the, 'Flash Satay method'.For the full story and his detailed solution of how to embed flash in your pages and keep them standard compliant, read Drew's excellent article at http://www.alistapart.com/articles/flashsatay/Links: Guild of Accessible Web Designrs Flash Satay Article W3C information about object element read more:
How to hide a flash movie from screen readers and keyboard users Adding a Flash movie to your web page may be making the content of that page inaccessible to some visitors. For example, Keyboard users and people using screen reader users are likely to run into the following problems: The keyboard cannot be used to 'focus' on the flash movie, i.e. the user can't tab to the movie object and explore the content. When navigating the flash movie via the keyboard it is impossible to get back out again - making it impossible to explore the rest of the page.Here are a couple of tips for getting around the problems:Make the Flash movie invisible to keyboard users. If the flash movie does not contain valuable content, i.e., it might just be for decoration - the following technique can be used to make the flash movie invisible to keyboards and screen readers:Use the wmode option within the embed and the object tag,
Start with the assumption that you cannot predict the access needs of your audience. This weeks tip: start with the assumption that you cannot predict the access needs of your audience. For example, a person with Dyslexia may need a particular combination of text and background colours to comfortably read text on a web page. You could contact a person with this particular impairment and ask them about their preferred colours; but do all people with Dyslexia have the same access needs? Unfortunately ? from a web designers point of view ? the answer is no.A better approach is to design pages so that the presentation of content can be changed by the end user; in the case of the above example, ensure that each person can change the colours to suit their own needs (e.g., via browser preferences or a style switcher). This approach can be applied to all presentation aspects, whether it be text size, layout, or the choice to leave graphics on or off. read more:
Why the 'statistics defence' doesn't stand up I was recently involved in a discussion about whether website designers should be expected to accommodate Netscape 4 users. The case against accommodating Netscape 4 users is invariably backed up with statistics about how few people now use this, admittedly flawed, browser. I've heard 'the statistics defence' (as I will call it) so often over the years that this latest evocation prompted me to think about why I don't agree with this approach. My thoughts and arguments against the statistics defence are not yet fully formed. I would welcome any feedback on the subject. It is such a common argument against accessible web design in general, that a page containing counter arguments would be a good resource for web accessibility advocates.Examples of the 'statistics defence': 'We design for 17' screens because that's what most people use these days' 'We assume 92dpi resolutions because most people use a PC' 'We use IE 5 as a baseline because very few people use old browsers now.' 'We don't provide an alternative to our flash site, because everyone has the flash plugin these days.' 'We don't need to make our site accessible because it isn't aimed at, and doesn't get used by disabled people.' 'We design our site to work on 600 * 800 because that's what most people use.'My arguments against this approachI'll give my conclusion first: content on web pages needs to be accessible to Netscape 4 users - and all the other user agents accessing web content. The argument that we can ignore a particular set of users - because they only make up a small percentage of our audience (i.e. they use a particular browser or a particular bit of access technology) - isn't one web designers should be buying into. It is irrelevant whether a person is using Netscape 4, a screen reader, or a keyboard driven text only browser - the issues are basically the same; it is about accessibility of web content.The statistics defence assumes users needs and user agents are predictableWhat assumptions do many web designers make about their intended audience. e.g. what browsers do they assume they are using? what Screen size? screen resolutions, bandwidth, colour pallette? Are those assumptions based on the computer they have on their own desk, i.e., the one they are using to design the website? Probably - but is this a good approach? - probably not.Have any of the following things changed in the past: browsers, hardware devices connected to the web, screen size, screen resolution, Markup versions? Will these things change in the future? Yes - all of them. Designing for a specific configuration of hardware and software isn't a good way of making pages future proof. Even users with the same hardware and software resize their browser windows to suit their own preferences.A vital lesson to learn is - change is the norm: the most predictable thing we can say is that everything changes. The best chance we have of dealing with this unpredictability is: Use standards so that sites have the best chance of working on the widest range of user agents. Create sites that are flexible enough to deliver our content - no matter what the end user is using. That is not to say that the presentation will be the same on every device - it won't be. The presentation is important - but if the content isn't accessible - the presentation doesn't matter - because there is nothing to present.The web isn't paperCross platform/cross browser compatibility is the strength of the web - that was the problem it was designed to solve. Designing a web page is not like designing an advert or a bus shelter or a magazine page or a document to be printed on a sheet of A4; where the amount of 'real estate', colours, text size and so on is predictable. To take the specific issue of access for disabled people; do we have to accommodate the needs of disabled people? Do we have perfect knowledge about their access needs? The answer to the first question is yes; in the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act tells us that we can discriminate against disabled people. The answer to the second question is no; we don't have perfect knowledge about the access needs of disabled people.10% - 20% of people in most populations have some kind of impairment: some of those impairments are not obvious: 8% of men have colour blindness (.4% women) - approx 5% pop with visual impairments - approx 5 - 15% Dyslexia. Once people get older (say over 40) their eyesight, hearing and motor skill start to deteriorateIn the university where I work we have many disabled students - not all of them are registered as disabled, but approximately 500 are. Impairment Approximate Numbers Dyslexia 230 Blind/partially sighted 24 Deaf/partial hearing 25 Wheelchair.mobility 21 Autistic or Asperger 2 Mental health 10 Unseen disability (Epilepsy, diabetic,etc) 91 Disability not listed 101 Two or more of the above 21 We don't have perfect knowledge about the access needs of each individual listed above - so we need general strategies to deal with this unpredictability. In terms of approach, dealing with the diverse needs of disabled students isn't much different from dealing with the problem of making sites work on different browsers and different hardware platforms. We have to assume that we don't know what the end user will be using - or what their access requirements will be - and think about what this when we make design decisions. If it turns out that our content isn't accessible on a particular browser - we need to find a workaround to solve the issue (while maintaining standards markup and accessible design). There is always an answer - even if sometimes it take a bit of time to find it.We have to make our websites accessible because it is the law.In the UK we have the Disability Discrimination Act and the Special Needs and Disability Rights Act: and in a university that means we can't discriminate against a student on the grounds of their impairement; reasonable adjustment and anticipation of students needs is required. We can't argue that we won't accommodate disabled students because they only make up a small percentage of the student population. Equally we shouldn't argue that we won't accommodate users with particular browsers because they are part of a minority. In relation to the particular case of Netscape 4, it is legitimate to ask users to upgrade so that they get both the content and the good design - but not legitimate to argue that they won't get the content if they don't upgrade. read more:
Film Fight 2006: May
Yes, it's late but, in my defence, we've been having remarkably good weather these last few weeks. This month there are six films up for review. Onwards.
First up is the suprising Silent Hill; surprising because despite some fairly impressive special effects with which to play (the melting between worlds), the film is incredibly bad. A bad mix of the first two Silent Hill games, the plot doesn't really know where it is going. The acting is as b-movie as you would expect, with Sean Bean putting in a terrible performance (the man cannot do American accents, don't make him try). Couple this with a plot unravelled in a haphazard mixture of dream sequences, narration, flash backs and every other bad ploy taken by poor film makers in recent years and you have a film which does not do the plodding source material justice.
Slither is an excellent comedy horror film that finds the right balance between laughs, characters and a hokey plot. Sure, it's a fairly textbook premise (aliens body snatchers 101), but the spirit of the film is good natured and never tries to be more than that. It won't be winning any awards, but worth the effort.
On the action front, Mission:Impossible 3 is exactly that: a dumb action film. Arguably better in many ways that it's fairly shoddy predecessors, this take is handled with more style but the same logical gaps that make the series exasperatingly painful. Hoffman did the best with what he had to work with and Cruise... well, Cruise runs about a bit. Expect to see the same old rope tricks and face changes.
An American Haunting is a schizoid horror film. Set primarily in the 1700s, it chops and changes between wanting to be a ghost story, to something far more pedestrian but chilling, to a ghost revenge story, all bookmarked by a pointless narration in modern times. The desperation of the family comes across as laboured, and the decline of the main characters as expected. Terrible.
Scott Ryan has put together a delightfully offbeat mockumentary in the form of The Magician, the story of a hired killer who is eventually offered a large cash sum not to kill a victim. The subject matter is dark and the humour is too, coming mostly from the bizarre conversations between the central character, has cameraman and would-be victim. Funny, different, good: go see.
The gross-out comedy stuffing is pretty stale these days, but Waiting... is a decent example of serving it well. The guts of this comedy revolve around a simple recurring joke involving male nudity (if you haven't been introduced to 'The Game' then it's not my place to get you in), but it hits just the right spot. The character development etc are as weak as one might expect but like all films of this genre, it's about the quirks of the characters as they stand. Not a masterpiece by any standards, but still a fairly stand-up, dumb comedy.
Finally, Down In The Valley stars Ed Norton as a cowboy who finds himself a cowgirl in the sprawl of Los Angeles. Things, inevitably, go wrong and Ed goes a bit off the wall. While Norton puts in a decent performance, the film itself is fairly meandering and badly cut. Dull, turgid, bad.
Interview with Bob Regan on Accessibility at Macromedia All, 2nd April 2003, Nigel Peck. Bob Regan is the Accessibility Product Manager at Macromedia, creators of high profile products including Dreamweaver, Flash and Director. I spoke to him recently to see what's happening at Macromedia with regards to Accessibility. read more:
d.Construct schedule and podcast
As you’ve probably heard by now, Clearleft is organising another d.Construct conference this year, set for Friday 8th September. Like last year we’re keeping it nice and cheap – the idea is that even freelancers can afford the £75 entrance fee. But because it’s cheap, you’ll need to be quick – last year sold out in half an hour!. Tickets go on sale on Tuesday 18th at 10am (British Summer Time) and to help you get in quick, we’ve put together a funky little countdown on the registration page. We’re hoping plenty of folk can stay the weekend in Brighton (which is why we put the conference on a Friday) but if you do, beware that another conference is on shortly afterwards, so hotel rooms may get booked up pretty quickly.
d.Construct is essentially about building the new wave of web applications – Web 2.0, Ajax, tagging, user-generated content (authentic media) and all that. You can now see a run-down of the schedule, and on it you may spot the main focus for this year is APIs. For me this is the biggest thing about Web 2.0: websites sharing information and content by design. We have Jeff Barr from Amazon; Simon Willison and Paul Hammond from Yahoo!; and our own Jeremy Keith talking about different aspects of APIs – innovation, business implications, inspiration, technical challenges and group mashups are all covered.
Also on stage, and back by popular demand, we have Aral Balkan who will once again be opening our eyes to the – frankly astonishing – world of Open Source Flash, Flash Platform and Flex 2. We can’t talk about Flash without mentioning accessibility, and that’s exactly what Derek Featherstone will be doing, by way of giving us strategies for making Web 2.0 design patterns more accessible. And we can’t talk about Web 2.0 with mentioning tags. Thomas Vander Wal will be explaining how we can make tagging systems live up to the hype (incidentally, if you’re blogging about d.Construct 2006 please you tag your blog posts with dconstruct06 for easy Technorati collation). Last but not least, we’re dead chuffed to have Google’s Jeff Veen wrap up the conference with thoughts and solutions on designing the complete user experience – anyone who saw his talk at @media will understand our excitement about having Jeff with us in Brighton.
As with last year, we’ll be podcasting d.Construct. But for this year we’ve started podcasting early. Jeremy has done a fanastic job of splicing together a review of last year’s conference. He’s also been chatting to attendees and speakers for this year’s conference, something which Garageband makes fantastically easy to podcast as it automatically detects an iChat and puts each particant on an individual channel so that filters and levels and be applied to each. Pretty cool stuff, I thought. Anyhow, you can subscribe to the feed directly or go the podcast page for more info, iTunes and Odeo links etc.