Tag - design

Site history as content: egoSurf.org

Was interesting to google my name and see a link to this page on egoSurf just 5-6 items down.

Looks like egoSurf is making all past searches part of their website content, probably in static spider-able pages. Very, very smart. Now amazingly, incredibly, their site’s content from a search engine’s point of view is growing by leaps and bounds, amazingly quickly.

Which makes egoSurf more discoverable, which increases their traffic, which …

You get the point: virtuous circle in action. And in fact, their home page is mostly exactly that: history of searches.

Like it!

Architectural design on Mac OS X

I’m sort of in the market for a design tool that will let me have some fun with home design and architecture, and there are two tools that appear interesting right now.

One is Microspot Interiors. Looks very cool – you see it in action via a demo movie. A bit pricy, perhaps, at about 120 Euros.

The other is much more an architectural imagineering app. Sketchup is an extremely powerful tool to create and manipulate incredibly detailed 3-D mock-ups. Once you’ve made it, you can fly through it in a QuickTime movie, see shadows at various times of the day, and much more. It’s also not cheap, but since I’m a student (getting my Master’s part-time) I can pick it up for $50.

As I try these two apps out, I’ll post more impressions.

Photoshopping fun

I’m building another calendar and wanted something annoying out of a picture of my daughter Gabrielle.

Here’s what 30 minutes of photoshopping bought me:

photoshopping.jpg

Not too shabby, although far from professional.

As is usually the case, poor composition is the problem; I should never have taken the shot with that buoy in the background.

This happens to be at Steveston beach in Richmond, BC.

Open-source CMS summit – Vancouver

I just found out via drupal.org that there’s an open source content management system summit in Vancouver, BC, February 9-10.

Very cool!

They’ll be talking about WordPress and Drupal (see my recent article comparing them on a very shallow level) among other things.

And it looks like Rasmus Lerdorf is going to be there. Rasmus, of course, is the original creator of PHP … probably the most common website development platform in existence right now.

They’ll also be talking about online identity, and Sxip will be presenting. Hopefully they get Dick Hardt, as he’s a great presenter.

I’ll have to put this on my calendar, as there should be some interesting people in town.

Drupal versus WordPress: not a contest

I’m looking for a way to manage several blogs at once, so I’ve been investigating Drupal just a little.

I wouldn’t need to manage the blogs within Drupal, although that could be done, but I would like to aggregate their posts on one page, which would then become my home online.

Since my web host has a control panel thingamabob that can automatically install about a million different content management systems, stores, scripts, you name it, at the touch of a button, checking out Drupal was easy.

I only have first impressions to report, but I have to say my first impressions are not very impressive.

Drupal is light-years behind WordPress in terms of site administration and management.

Maybe the problem is that WordPress is just too easy, but I find Drupal disorganized, piecemeal, and confusing. By contrast, WordPress is clear, direct, and vastly more elegant:

wordpress-control-panel.jpg

My perception is that Drupal is powerful, and can do many things, but the reality I encountered is that even changing elements on a theme is 2 or 3 times harder than in WordPress. Understanding which modules are activated, and when their permissions are correct, and ensuring they show in a particular place on a particular page is a challenge.

I’m glad for the brief glimpse, but unless I see or hear something fairly different fairly quickly, Drupal will not be in my future web plans.

“Web twenny” apps

Somone at Virtual Karma has posted a “complete” list of web 2.0 apps. The community is already adding to it in the comments, of course.

It’s a little amusing that this comes out just a day or so after Jeffrey Zeldman has posted a great article about his annoyance at the whole Web 2.0 meme.

Later I gnawed my knuckles. At some point, in a kind of fever, I may have moaned.

I feel for Jeffrey. I really do. It’s incredibly annoying when people co-opt something that they don’t grok and get orgasmic about it.

But one thing I’d like to say in defense of the web 2.0 moniker: it’s a label. And at the very least, what it does is serve to communicate something in a couple of seconds that otherwise might take you half a paragraph:

You know, the websites that are really quick to respond, and, um, use Ajax, and sort of look cool and encourage people to interact with them and not just read them … and … and …

The problem with labels, of course, is their definition is determined by the crowd using the label. But having one is kind of nice.

Talking to clients and other scary things

Had an interesting email conversation with Rastin Mehr today.

He had shot me a link to Nature.com’s article about web design. A writer is reporting on a Canadian study that suggests that users make snap decisions about websites they visit. In addition to this stunning scientific advance, the article offers some conclusions about site structure and design.

Me to Rastin:

Take a look at the content area on the website this article is published on … I think it violates almost all the rules it advocates!

Rastin’s reply:

True! I guess they wouldn’t consider redesigning the whole site because of a submitted article.

:- )

Which motivated me to say … because I couldn’t state the above sentiment on the website …

You know it’s interesting, but articles without a place to comment on them, and see others’ comments, are just less and less interesting to me.

To which Rastin wrote in heavily sarcastic shock:

You mean to take the control from the site owner and handing it to the users? But what if users write stuff that the author didn’t like?

My turn:

Could be bad. Tell you what’s worse: they lose interest and go away.

Rastin:

Good let’s do that then.

:- )

Me:

🙂

There’s gotta be a lesson in there somewhere. If you don’t want to allow full client interaction with your site, at least put a blog on there somewhere. You’ll be smarter for it.

Survey shock: people don’t follow through

Saw this on an article about how HDTV is still too complicated and difficult for the average person:

In a fall 2004 study, her company found that about 10 percent of consumers planned to buy an HDTV in the following six months. In such a study, researchers would normally expect about 7 percent to actually make a purchase. Only about 3 percent did, she said.

The reason: people are overwhelmed by options, choices, resolutions, technologies, and hookups. Here’s the story.

This confirms a few things I’ve been thinking lately.

But the more interesting thing is this: the survey/reality quotient sound bit from Frank Magid Associates, a public opinion, research, and consulting outfit in NY, LA, London and, improbably, Marion, Iowa.

The stat sounds similar to what I’ve been told: about 70% of people who say they’ll buy something in a survey actually will. But the reality (in this case) sounds close to what I’ve actually experienced: 30%.

This is hugely important, of course, when you’re launching a new product and spend $30,000 on market research.

How do you interpret your results? Do you have to research the research? What multiplier do you put on the percentage of people who say they’ll buy your widget?

Tough questions.

Lowest is fiscally safe, but not necessarily smartest.

Harman Kardon: pump up the volume

OK, I’ve done it with my iPod, as have thousands of others.

Why not with my Harmon/Kardon AVR 240? Here’s about a 3-second exposure with the camera on a tripod.

hk-volume-knob.jpg

For companies that still don’t get it: aesthetics are important. Aesthetics are important. Aesthetics are important.

At least, if you want anyone to love your product. If you don’t care, if it’s just a utility, if it doesn’t matter to you whether people will get passionate about what you produce, go ahead and make it beige and boring and bland.

But don’t expect your brand or your sales to be any different.

WordPress 2.0: Image Uploading Broken

I use WordPress as my blogging software, and I recently upgraded to the new version 2.0.

The new version is excellent in most ways, wonderful for integrated comment spam blocking, it is driving me nuts with its silly image uploading problems.

I format my own images in Photoshop and (in the old version of WordPress) customized the image upload page’s handling so that it returned a bunch of HTML that incorporated image placement and bordering code.

Well, WP 2.0 has integrated image uploading right into the blog posting page. Good idea – it looks like this, right under the post entry form:

wp-image-uploading.png

The problem comes in after you upload a file. You get a little preview, and when you click on it, a list of options:

options.png

All well and good – until you actually start to use them.

Using thumbnail, if you leave it, would suggest that WP would stick a thumbnail image into your post, which would be clickable if someone wanted to see it full-size. Nice feature – if you want it.

When you deselect it, like this:

no-thumbnail.png

You would think that the result would be a full-size image dumped into your page when you, immediately thereafter, click “Send to editor.” But you’d be wrong.

Instead, WordPress just sends a thumbnail version to your post … so if you save and publish, you’ll get this wonderful result:

teeny-tiny-image.png

Not cool. Not cool at all. While you’ve just told your software to use the original, it’s disobeying you and, instead, displaying a thumbnail version.

In fact, it’s doing precisely opposite what you asked it to do.

Of course, it’s not actually creating a thumbnail. That would require actually editing the image and rely on a variety of other software being installed on your server. Instead, WordPress is simply setting the height and width properties in the HTML to some fraction of the actual image height and width.

So it’s

1) disobeying your direct instructions
2) not saving you any bandwidth at all
3) making your blog look awful, or
4) forcing you to do more work to get it right

WordPress development people, Matt, whoever: please fix this!

. . .
. . .

Of course, a variety of people around the web have already found this out … and there’s a discussion about it on the WordPress support forums, as well as here, and Techcrunch has a few notes on it as well. Also see this post of a set of general gotchas with WordPress 2.0.

[ update Jan. 13 ]

I’ve hacked WordPress’s file inline-uploading.php to do what I want. I want it to upload files, to stick them in the editor, and not do any resizing.

(Oh, and btw, I want it to automatically center them, and apply my pic CSS styling to them, which gives them a little grey border. But that’s incidental.)

To accomplish what I did, grab a copy of inline-uploading.php out of the wp-admin directory. After making a backup copy, delete lines 236-247, and replace with this code:

(Then, if you wish, just strip out my custom additions. They are the “div align = center”, the closing div tag, and the “class = pic” chunk.)

C’ing My A
Use at your own risk, your mileage may vary, make a backup first, and note: this will kill the thumbnail generation …. which is exactly what I want it to do, but I’m not sure if that’s your desire as well!

Firefox = crappy typography?

I’d like to use Firefox more. I honestly would.

But when I get stuff like this, I really, really don’t feel like it.

firefox-ugliness.png

There is not a bold or a strong or a css class tag anywhere in that paragraph.

Firefox has stronger compatibility across the entire web. There are occasional sites that do not display or behave in Safari, and so Firefox is necessary. And, since I use WordPress to blog, and Firefox has better compatibility with rich-text editing and other web 2.0 features, Firefox is handy to have around.

But aesthetics is important. And Firefox isn’t even in that race, Safari’s so far out front.

Tagging, fuzzy data, & fuzzy surveys

I’m engaged in a fairly major research effort right now. We’re trying to understand some business conditions a little better, and are using a variety of tools to try get a handle on it.

Oddly enough, I also happen to be taking a graduate course in research at the moment.

And I’m wondering about research methods, mostly because I’m investigating something that I don’t want to assume that I know anything about. And when you’re doing that, the standard survey will not work.

Think about it: a standard survey has questions and lists of potential answers. To create that, you need to know (or think you know) at least a large fraction of the possible universe of answers. In my case, I don’t want to assume any of the answers.

So I’ve constructed three one-page “surveys.” They’re basically short-answer questions. And I’m wondering if I can apply a sort of fuzzy analysis to the answers that I get.

My inspiration comes from tagging. Tagging is the opposite of taxonomy. Taxonomy is a science of classification: phylae, categories, rows, matrices. Slots that you create and slots that you fill. A place for everything and everything in its place.

To me, tagging is a much more organic beast. It grows exponentially. It accepts that fact that something things don’t fit into just one category. In fact, many things fit into many categories. It’s an inherently scalable way of dealing with complexity – because in the tagging world, you don’t have to manage that complexity. You don’t have to beat it into intellectual submission, understand it, categorize it, or make it all make sense.

You just do it … and “it” builds “itself.”

I’m wondering if we need to develop new ways of analyzing and modelling datasets that are (self)organized by tags. Maybe they already exist. Maybe a hundred postdocs are already hot on the case.

I hope so, because I’m going to be getting a lot of fuzzy data. And I’m planning on tagging it and putting it in a shaker and seeing what comes out.

Removing titles from OmniOutliner printed documents

OmniOutliner is an excellent Mac OS X app for outlining and organizing just about any kind of information.

It’s intuitive, powerful, and elegant, but there’s one thing that annoyed me about it: it insisted on printing the title of each document at the top of the document.

This totally violates the WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) principle, since the title, of course, does not appear on the screen while you’re building your document.

After trying in vain to find a way to undo this via the app’s preferences, and then searching in vain for support information on this, I emailed support, and (after a couple of iterations) got this answer:

If you’d like all new documents to print without headers & footers do the following:

* open the preferences
* Press Edit New Document Template
* Open Page Setup in the document that appears
* Select the OmniOutliner option from the Settings pull-down
* uncheck the headers & footers option
* Press Ok and save the template

Now all new documents will have that options disabled. Follow the same instructions for any existing documents and that option will be saved with them. Let me know if you have any more questions.

OK.

Now, I’m happy that my document titles, which are intended for my view and my use, primarily to help me find them back on my computer, etc., are not appearing on the public, printed, presented final form of my work.

But should you really have to go through that much labor to take something off that shouldn’t be there in the first place?

In any case, if anyone else searches Google in frustration after trying to rid OmniOutliner of its omnipresent titles in printed form, hopefully they’ll find this article and be able to do it!

Phaeton phantasmagorical

Saw this on Boingboing just a few minutes ago: a photo tour of Volkswagen’s Phaeton factory in Dresden, Germany.

phaeton factory in dresden, germany

Unbelievable. This is no factory, it’s a work of engineering and aesthetic art. I’d work in it any day.

Glass, steel, laminated wood flooring: it’s a modernist dream factory made real.

. . .
. . .

Of course, I think the car is a gas guzzling brute, even if it is somewhat better than a lot of SUVs, and incredibly, amazingly, wonderfully beautiful. However, it can be purchased in a much more efficient V6 turbo diesel TDi version.

Big wall small art

One of the problems in our house is an enormous wall in our living room for which we have never yet found a suitable piece of art.

It’s about 20′ high, and perhaps 12′ wide … a standard-sized painting would look puny and insignificant, not to mention re-emphasizing the sheer size of the space.

The solution might be at Better Wall … a company that specializes in collecting enormous banners from art shows at galleries all over the world and re-selling them to me and you:

This year, give the gift of art! BetterWall is your exclusive source for authentic, limited-edition street banners from museums around the world. When you give someone a banner from BetterWall, you are giving them a unique, dramatic work of art. You are also giving back to the arts, as a percentage of the proceeds go back to support the museum. Show your good taste – and good will – by giving a unique banner from BetterWall. What could be better than that?

Very, cool – and there are some great pieces that you would not find at Wal-Mart or your friendly neighborhood art (read: poster) dealer.

I particularly like this this piece based on art by Modigliani.

Blog usability

I have been meaning to post on usability as it relates to blogs … I happened to see Jakob Neilsen’s article on blog usability the other day.

The funny thing is that from a day-to-day perspective, blogs (most of them) are about as usable as you can get … because all the content is spread right out there for you to see.

But Neilsen’s right: beyond the current content, it’s a hopeless mess of search and chronologically sorted postings. Categories help, but they’re time-sorted too … meaning that even in my slowest categories, finding old posts is a somewhat laborious process.

In any case, I hope to be spending some time on the usability of this website in the next little while.