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December 2002 Archives


December 31, 2002 9:41 AM


Several years ago my informal career manager (my brother) was quizzing me on the future of my skill set and where I thought I should be headed in my career. He's no fool and knows technology rolls over faster than a well trained dog. So while looking forward, and with sounds of XML working drafts in the background, he asked me...
Don't you think you should learn XML? Because HTML might go away soon.
To which I replied...
Well, there's currently billions of HTML documents out there in the world, and many of those will likely turn into XML someday, so learning XML will be a good idea. But HTML parsing web browsers are going to be around for a while, because that millions of HTML docs just don't evaporate suddenly.
To this day, I write HTML that's better than Dreamweaver's output, or any other gooey editor's output. I've read the O'Reilly XML book, and it is indeed a morass, but it's a morass worth learning, but ginsu HTML skills are still good to have.

December 30, 2002 8:58 AM


I'm sure Carmax is soon going to make some good money off of me, but it's worth it. I sold my dependable little Honda Civic to them yesterday after 6 good years of service and 95k miles. The part of the process was the speed at which a price came back from appraisal. It's wasn't a great price, but it was fair, and the ease and speed at which the offer was made makes the good price feel better than it is.

Carmax apparently has people who do nothing more than buy cars all day, so that's the first 'good basis for a positive customer experience,' preparedness. I walked in the door and the sales guy, who I expected would pass me to a buying agent, helped me thru the process. No pass off! That was 'good basis for a positive customer experience' number two, consistency. 20 minutes later the offer price for the car was handed to me including the appraiser's comments on the car. This is our third 'good basis', speed.

No price would have been good enough, because no amount of money is ever enough. But the offer was within range of what I was expecting. After giving me the offer, they left me alone to make a decision, telling me to go to the business desk if I wanted to accept the offer. This is 'good basis for a positive customer experience' number four, customer control (and no pressure).

Too bad paper work can't be done away with, because that part of the process was endless and annoying. Fortunately, I walked out of the door with a check in my hands, and this constitutes the last 'good basis for a positive customer experience,' full delivery at request time.

How many failed dotcoms can you name that had none of these points going for them?

December 27, 2002 10:58 AM


I'm slowly working thru a redesign of this site, and have chosen to focus on the blog elements more while recessing the other stuff. Believe it or not, this site was originally envisioned as a job seeking helper, and I even went so far as to tailor it to finding a job at AOL (note the 'running man' like dude at the top). Well, that goes away in the next revision, and full bore blogging will be the focus.

I plan on using iframes (minimally) to create a place for other bloggers (eg, you) to ping using TrackBack, and this will appear on the home page of the new design. Hopefully it will actually get pinged and not be abused. It's an experiment with a back up plan of using RSS aggregation to fill its place in case of abuse or lack of use. We'll see.

Currently, I have the home page completed and need to do the archive pages, and then port the old content to the new format, then I'll go public. The challenge will be getting the new UI implemented with minimal disruption to my five or six faithful readers. I'll be attempting some .htaccess hacking to limit access during the switch, so please come back soon if the site appears to be down, broken or in flux. Thanks.

December 24, 2002 10:10 AM


SparthA friend of mine has recently gotten me into playing Quake 3 after years of avoiding that whole crowd of rocket jumpers and twitch adrenaline junkies. Too bad for me. I have been missing out on some of the best level design and game play in the first person shooter genre, and let me be clear, I harbor none of the religious attitudes in the UT vs. Quake argument. I've been playing Tribes and Tribes2 for the last several years. :)

Anyway, I was missing out on superior gameplay, and the visual element. Most importantly, I was missing the work coming from this guy, Sparth. He's a producer of Quake 3 levels, and little digging revealed his portfolio site containing some of the best art work I've seen in years. It's a must see.

December 23, 2002 12:37 PM


In a Wired article about blogging, the following quote appears...

"Bloggers are navel-gazers," said Elizabeth Osder, a visiting professor at The University of Southern California's School of Journalism. "And they're about as interesting as friends who make you look at their scrap books."

She added, "There's an overfascination here with self-expression, with opinion. This is opinion without expertise, without resources, without reporting."
Elizabeth, do you really think there is an "overfascination [sic] with self-expression"? Do you suppose that every art museum in the world should be not be visited due to the massive amounts of self expression contained within? If you don't like it, don't tune in.

Also, the part about 'opinion without expertise' is utter crap. My opinion is based on 100% expertise in being me. God forbid that anyone on the net say what they think from their own perspective. Perhaps those on the cable news channels who are commentators should just shut up? They are, after all, not reporting anything and explaining their positions on issues.

December 23, 2002 11:22 AM


For a long time tech industry pundits and stock analysts alike have been talking about the $40 billion that Microsoft has on hand. Typically the attitude taken is that having $40 billion to spend, but not buying anything and not handing out a dividend to stock holders means that MSFT is out of ideas for growing their business. When this angle is explained to me, I tend to agree, but not having some explain it to me, and recalling the basics from memory, I'm hazy on why that is the case.

Anyway, perhaps now we have a counter argument in the form of rumors that the 800 gorilla is in heat over a purdy young thing called Macromedia. More to the point, that Flash stuff might be useful. Right? The Register says so...

Industry and analyst sources believe Microsoft covets San Francisco, California-based Macromedia's Flash vector graphics design tool and player, which was radically updated this year.

Microsoft's own scripting efforts are regarded as relatively inferior to the cross-platform Flash, which now supports XML, Unicode, MP3 and HTML and which was taken closer towards Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) in 2002. The Flash Player, meanwhile, is compatible with most browsers and used on nearly 90% of desktops.
Now, I don't give The Register the same reporting credibility that I assign to the Associated Press, but they do make a good point that .NET could possibly benefit from the Flash technology base. I'm not exactly sure how, but that's for the Chief Technology Architect to figure out. In my humble opinion, the market place competition factors are more readily understood and equally interesting.

Flash runs everywhere. It runs under Linux and Mac OSX (and Classic of course), which are (imho) the only two competitors to Windows hegemony. MSFT wants Flash to use as a competitor to J2EE, which is a purely competitive move, and shows that there are some ideas coming out of Redmond these days other than tablets and pocket pc's that I don't want. That's good! But if MSFT owns Flash, you can probably say good bye to the Flash plugin in the Netscape plugin format (MSFT has gone ActiveX controls only) which means "good bye Flash" for Linux. I'm fascinated to know might happen to the Flash authoring environment for Mac OSX. Would they continue to build it? Would the MSFT Mac BU expand and embrace?

Who knows, it's all rumor anyway.

December 20, 2002 12:01 PM


In terms of the experience of completing a self evaluation for you work performance, I have to say it's not much better than gall bladder removal surgery. In fact, my experience with that exact surgery has taken less time and about as much pain. Too bad I can't take a few Vicodin to make the evaluation from go away.

Bleh.

December 17, 2002 11:39 AM


While laying down to sleep last night, which is usually the time my best thinking happens (but is the worst time to take notes), I was steaming about the lack of full PNG support in Microsoft browsers. I was trying to understand why PNG's are still poorly supported by Windows based Microsoft web browsers. There is native support for PNG's, but not for full 8 bit alpha transparency, and that's the killer PNG feature (imho).

Just as I was dozing off, I remembered two things.

  1. Unisys owns a patent on the GIF format, and likely makes good margins on that patent.
  2. Microsoft and Unisys are in bed with each other.
I have to believe that MSFT has made a conscious decision to NOT fully support the PNG format for a good reason. They even said a long time ago, in a white paper about Internet Explorer 4, that PNG would enjoy full support. Too bad they pulled that white paper off the web. Check out the online PNG support petition for the original URL that now fails.

Now consider what would happen to the GIF format if PNG had been fully supported under Internet Explorer 4, 5, 5.5 and 6. GIF would be dead because any web designer knows the advantage, and innovative possibilities with full 8 bit transparency at their disposal. GIF would be dead, but if Unisys and MSFT are working together, MSFT has to consider the needs of their business partner, and use its monopoly power to keep the PNG format relegated to the almost-ran-technology-bin so that lucrative GIF liscences can continue to be sold by Unisys.

In my opinion, that's an abuse of monopoly power and stifles innovation. Is any of this true? Does MSFT conspire to keep the PNG format in a crippled support state? I don't know. you be the judge.

ps, Posts about PNG support in the Mac version of IE will be ignored, because the market share of that browser has ZERO effect on the point I am making. 90% of the browsing market needs to have full PNG support before the format becomes fully adoptable by the web development community. That 90% mark could have been reached by now if IE version 4 thru 6 for PC fully supported the format.

December 17, 2002 11:09 AM


I might be inclined to buy The Sims Online, as I really enjoy online games and The Sims is a fun little diversion. If you stop and think about it, this game is a serious twist on human-computer interaction...

Players can explore the neighborhoods around them and meet scores of other Sims along the way. Players get to know other Sims through live text chat and secret instant messages. As players type, their messages appear in speech bubbles above their Sims' heads. Sims can also express themselves through hundreds of animations. A polka, pile drive, or a passionate kiss are just a few of the gestures available for Sims to use to convey exactly what's on their mind.
That's the hype in the press release, but it's all pretty much true. The abstraction of human-computer-human-computer-human interaction is really weird.

December 13, 2002 10:21 AM


As you likely already know, /Netscape has released Netscape 7.0.1 which includes the old new feature of blocking pop up adverts. Advertising is a core business for AOL, and fighting an advertising mechanism in favor of the user experience is good news. Recently the message coming out of Dulles has been about re-focusing on the customer/user experience. I'm glad to see some evidence of this out there on the public internet.

However, I can't imagine how many companies AOL must be pissing off by doing this, but then again, market penetration for Mozilla based browsers is barely in the range of what I would call "significant" so advertisers may not care. Stop and think about when AOL builds this into the AOL client, and keep in mind that uptake of new versions of the AOL client are robust to say the least (8.0 was released this fall, and I think it's already the most used version on the service).

When millions of user go to popup blocking, the popunder ad might become less viable. Unfortunately, according the C|Net "Netscape 7.01 comes with the pop-up filtering off by default."

December 11, 2002 12:05 PM


I am being deliberately taunted by the CLEC's, MSO's and the vast right wing conspiracy in the form of fiber conduit on the sidewalk in front of my house (click inset image).

Regular readers will be aware of my connectivity dilemma (which is basically explained as me being stuck at 56k) while being so close to AOL, Exodus, Verizon, SpeakEasy and GeekSpeed points of presence. NONE of them are able to feed me the gorging amounts of data thruput I so desire. The kick in the pants, represented in the inset pic, is that they already have put conduit in the ground, at the very point those spools sit. They pumped that junk into the ground six months ago!

Just this past weekend I called Adelphia to see what kind of time table that cable modem access is for my area. The gave me the same answer I've gotten for the last year, "2 to 3 months." I think they put the backhoe and conduit directly in front of my house to tease me. Don't you?

December 11, 2002 9:46 AM


While perusing a backlog of WebDesign List messages, I came across one post about a report on website credibility and what effects it. I particularly like how they define the notion of credibility...

In this paper we adhere to the definition of credibility outlined by Fogg and Tseng (1999), with the following discussion drawing largely from this work. In their view, credibility can be defined as believability. Credible information is believable information. It's important to note that credibility is a perceived quality. It is not a property of a Web site, such as how many words the site contains or how many links are on the page. Instead, when one discusses credibility, it is always from the perspective of the observer's perception.
The part where the perspective of the observer is especially important in any user interface design or user experience modeling. Thom Haller talks about the 'disease of familiarity' in terms of the developer of a given web site and how their familiarity of the product/connect clouds their ability to take on the perspective of the intended audience. This paper gives us (ie, web developers) a chance to reset our perceptions.

December 10, 2002 10:22 AM


My phone number is the killer feature of my phone. I've had the same mobile number for about 5 years, and I'm not letting go. The phone companies know that your phone number is a valuable asset as well and "wireless carriers are not required to provide telephone number portability at this time." This is a competitive advantage leveraged by one of the most basic usability rules that familiarity makes things easier. Changing your number doesn't breed familiarity, and prevents me from adopting competitive technologies.

And don't let the wireless carriers fool you, number portability between GSM and CDMA networks has been available in Australia since 25 September 2001.



December 10, 2002 10:09 AM


AOL is now playing Time Warner music artists on the customer help line, and in related news, people are saying things like the following...
How can other companies turn today's interactive platforms to their advertising advantage? First, a company should map all of its interactions with customers through advertising, call centers and retail outlets.
In terms of the user experience, when looking for help, sales pitches aren't considered to be helpful (by me anyway). I like the idea of using downtime in a productive way, but is this the solution? Does a sales pitch meet the user's needs? If they were playing up-to-date ambient and IDM music, I'd be all for it, but they'd need to have that profile info, and be able to act on it. That can't be easy.

December 9, 2002 4:35 AM


I've said this before, and had high profile digerati say I'm crazy, but I maintain that Wi-Fi is a security risk. Uncle Sam thinks so too.

December 6, 2002 8:48 AM


Ok, so I said the other day that I have my doubts about 's new plan of providing exclusive content on the AOL service. In an attempt to be constructive instead of being a wanker, here's what I would like to see out of...

  1. I want downloads of MP3's, or Ogg files, or whatever format that is infinitely repayable using either the AOL client or WinAmp (and AOL property). The music industry has yet to come up a response to the MP3 threat. AOL should answer the big question. If they did, $5/month would be a music subscription I'd be interested in.

  2. I want downloads, and lots of them. I want these downloads available at all times with no bandwidth caps or throttling. What I'm really looking for is a FileShack killer (FileShack is a file download service that offers a paid-for service with faster downloads and no download queues). Access to fast downloads of game patches (usually huge files) and Lord of the Rings previews, et al., and updates to software packages is worth at least $5/month. Downloading from FileShack is a BAD experience, and is an opportunity for AOL to leverage the AOL Transit Data Network and their user experience experience.

  3. I want access to many of the magazines owned by the media conglomerate. This could be a Salon killer where the entire content of various magazines are made available thru SNS (see blow). Beating MSFT in this space is pure icing. Here's 2 or $3/month of value to me.
Enabling this architecture is the Screen Name Service (which you can see/use at the top of an AOL web property website, such as CSS, where you see the Netscape Network banner at the top). Being able to go to various websites to get access to tons of content with fast download times is a good user experience (which I said the other day is the baseline for ). A good user experience with valued content on top is something I'd pay for, but I'd like to see a $10/month price point. That's $120/year. Apple charges less than that for their bring your own access services.

[Some background info: Even though I work at AOL, I have no inside information on AOL's plans, proposals or ideas for the future other than what has been published thru public media outlets like CNBC (which I watch too much). I'm not even close to being an important person at the company, but I sure do have my opinions.]

December 5, 2002 9:42 AM


Samsung N400 Having access to a discount rate on the hardware and service plan, I went ahead and upgraded my mobile phone to the Samsung N400 with Sprint's Vision plan. All in all, it's pretty solid, but lacks true convergence.

Along with the features on the phone like a calendar and a variety of ringers, there's a website that expands the feature set a bit, but doesn't go the distance. I can go to the website, add an appointment to the calendar there, and it will send me a notification (if I asked for one) on my phone. However, it won't send that to the calendar on the phone. Get the disconnect here?

The phone and the website do not synch. This makes any management done on one side necessary on the other. For that reason, I wish I was able to get a SonyErricson with Bluetooth support so I could keep it up to date from my Mac. Cool ringers are cool, but convergence (aka, convenience) owns.

December 5, 2002 9:10 AM


Here's the view from my house today. It hasn't looked like this around here in a long time.
Landscape View of Snow in Northern Virginia


December 4, 2002 5:56 AM


Yesterday I mentioned AOL presenting exclusive content from Time Warner properties. Dick Parsons, the CEO of AOL sent a note out to choir today that included the following...

through Warner Music Group and AOL Music, AOL members will continue to see videos and hear select songs before they air, purchase music, as well as enjoy exclusive interviews and live performances available nowhere else.
Mr. Parsons, PLEASE be sure to let the rest of the world know that. Dump the adverts saying 'so easy to use, no wonder it's number 1' because that's an expected feature of AOL. Tell the world that people can get Lord of the Rings previews only at AOL and they will come. And you better tell them on TV, because telling people from the splash screen, or via email to members is preaching to the choir.

$15/month is still a little steep though. I wonder what Viacom would do if they owned AOL (and the Akamai-like AOL Transit Data Network).

December 3, 2002 11:11 AM


I had my gall bladder removed yesterday after having some problems with Gall Stones. I tried to take notice of the experience while going thru the process, and I have to say it wasn't that bad and pretty direct. At the core, there was a process, step by step that made sense.

It was a shock though to wake up in recovery after the surgery. I've had general anesthetic before and recall the process of passing out, but the process yesterday was different and I wasn't told when I'd be dropping off into la la land. I would have preferred to have known what was going to happen next and how many more steps there were to go, just the same as the checkouts process at Amazon dot com.

I'll be using the downtime this week to work on a redesign of this site. suggestions are welcome. I also hope to pick up the pace on postings which have been kind of sparse over the last few weeks.

December 3, 2002 4:42 AM


today said it will focus on bringing exclusive content to paying cutomers via the AOL service. That content will likely from time Warner properties and be on the order of special 'Friends' videos and exclusive tracks from pop stars. However, the commercials coming out of AOL are all still about the user experience. This is a waste of time to continue advertising ease of use as the value of the service.

If AOL expects to broadband users to shell over $15/month on top of their cable/ADSL service, they better get on the ball and tell everyone why that cost is worth it. I work at AOL and I didn't even know about some of the recent exclusive content that is available from the service (ie, that Friends thing I mentioned above). I know at the core of my being that AOL is supposed to be easy to use. This message has been beaten into my head by zillions of middle class looking commercial actors. It's time to leave the assumed as assumable, and move on to VALUE that I can't get elsewhere.

MSN is easy to use. AOL is easy to use. The user experience being acceptable and, dare I say, "robust" is what I expect to find in an online service now. If I buy a car, I expect it will have wheels. If I but a TV, I expect it to have a remote control.

$15/month for access to content is a HIGH price. I pay less than that for HBO, or for my subscription to Wired. I pay less than that monthly for the movies I see at theatre (eg, Harry Potter and The Two Towers (both AOL Time Warner properties)). I need to see commercials, on TV, during Friends, showing me things I really want to see and are worth $15/month. Until then, I have my doubts about the new plan.

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