March 2003 Archives

Marketing oneself is something “they” always say is important… but it’s just plain hard. I suspect girls aren’t taught to praise their own abilities — much less girls raised in religious settings where pride is a sin. But I digress. If we don’t approach folks and let them know we can do the job, nobody else is going to do it for us…

So today we put out some feelers. One employer had an ad in the paper, looking for a part-time webmaster to develop database-integrated internet and intranet sites. We contacted them and suggested they consider out-sourcing the project to us. We also contacted the Yukon Progress, our local newsletter, to let them know about our services and suggest how beneficial a website would be for them.

On a (perhaps?) unrelated note, I contacted a local pet-related business that I just noticed was for sale, to see what their asking price is. It’s probably a long-shot, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

And Billy followed up with the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, regarding both information on joining the chamber and the possibility of designing their website.

Hopefully, some of these leads will pan out. If not, at least we’ll be that much better at approaching businesses and telling them why they need us!

I finally figured out how to turn off the sound on the CultureQuest quiz today… after attempting it at least two other evenings. I wanted the sound on/off button to set a global variable… but for some (as of yet undetermined) reason, I was having trouble defining a global variable despite declaring and initiializing exactly like the help files told me to. The solution? I ended up using a _root variable instead. Seems to have the same features the _global is supposed to have… with the added bonus that _root actually works. I need to do more research and see if there’s something I’m missing on why that didn’t work. I’d also like to find out more about the differences between buttons, graphics, and movie clips — and why certain properties are specific to certain object types. I’m not sure I understand why there needs to be a differentiation… especially when it comes to properties like clickability, visibility, and transparency. I’ve still got a lot to learn about Flash.

In addition to adding the functionality to turn on/off the sound effects, I also modified the wording at the end of the quiz. Previously it told users to sign up by April 1st; now, it just tells them where to go for more information.

And while I was working on tweaking things in Flash, Billy did more networking. The OKCPCUG sent our new membership forms yesterday, so Billy filled out the areas in which we would be willing to donate our time. We selected website and software design, in addiition to hosting a web design SIG and writing for the eMonitor. Speaking of which… I just looked at their website and noticed they’ve posted the articles for the April eMonitor — and my review of FotoAlbum is among them.

Online networking can be a great way to get referrals, particularly for people who stink at real life networking. Finding the right Internet communities is key. You need to find people in the same field, or in a related field.

Today, I joined Fast Company’s “Circle of Friends” program. It is an online community for entrepreneurs within similar fields to meet each other. I’m not sure yet what all I’ll get out of it, but at least I’ve found another way to communicate with my peers.

Also, Angela had a good idea. Our local newspaper just changed ownership, and they do not have a website. If they are looking for new ways to expand the paper, they might be interested in hiring a local web design firm to get them online. Definitely worth looking into.

We ordered Maximum Accessibility to learn more about web site accessibility so that we can specialize in such things. That arrived today. We also picked up some books on wireless networking and on eBay selling to help us prepare for other potential ventures.

Yahoo! News - Music Industry Drops Anti-Piracy Pamphlets on Campus

Isn’t this how wars start? Recording industry forces are expected to start bombing runs next, mostly with Celine Dion CDs.

We are now one third of the way through our little business experiment. Time to look at where we have been, where we are going, and where we would like to be.

I would like to be on a private island in the South Pacific. We’re not there yet.

In this first 30 days, we’ve come up with lots of ideas, started some advertising, and started (or, in some cases, restarted) several personal projects. But, no new clients. Yet.

Not that I really expected any at this point. We’re still building our identity — developing our business plan. There is much more work to be done. Every day we look for new ways in which we can expand our company. Some days we take major strides; others, baby steps. It’s all cumulative, as long as we keep going forward.

That’s the main thing we have achieved in this first 30 days — we are working on our business, every day. That, by itself, is a major accomplishment. It makes it feel more like a real business. As long as we can keep this up, I know we’ll make it. In 90 days, you ask? We’ll see, I respond.

Now, for our accomplishment of the day: Angela’s Keep the Change game has been featured on A nice pat on the back for our Flash developer is in order, don’t you think? It will be interesting to see how many referrals we get from this. Not a bad way to end the first third.

[Update from Angela: I fixed some small bugs on the Keep the Change game. The Give Up button wasn’t changing colors on a mouse roll-over. The text was slightly too large for the text box on some monitors when someone got the answer wrong for the “college kid” version of the question, so I made the box bigger. And I figured out how to set the focus to the answer text box, so the keyboard can be used exclusively once you’re inside the game.]

So, 30 down, 60 to go. Onward and upword!

Joining trade associations can give your business a bit of credibility. It is also an opportunity to network with others in your field — exchange ideas, learn, and form strategic alliances. It works on Survivor, and it works in the real world.

Today, I joined the International Webmaster’s Association. The IWA is the first such organization I have joined. I started with them for a few reasons: membership is free, they have local chapters, and their page validates.

The Oklahoma City chapter of IWA seems to be defunct, so this could be a good opportunity for us. If we can get permission to establish a new chapter, we can take a leadership role among area web designers.

Other organizations to consider:

Since my parents are going to be visiting this weekend, and since we’re spending the time until then busily cleaning house, I’m not going to even try to squeeze in an hour of volunteer work this week. So week three becomes my first week of donations. I’m counting the membership fee I had to pay Pets and People to volunteer for them (seem odd to anyone but me?) as half of this week’s donation. I also chose to donate to The National Arbor Day Foundation, especially appropriate since Oklahoma celebrates Arbor Day this week. As an added bonus, the Arbor Day folks give a free gift of several trees in exchange for the donation… so we can help the environment by planting those once we receive them. I noticed the dog park was completely tree-free. I wonder if they would appreciate a donation of a tree or two?

We’ve decided to work towards making our sites (and as we get new clients, their sites) accessible. Of course, the first step in this is becoming aware of makes sites inaccessible. We both attended some sessions at SXSW, we’ve got a book on order, and tonight we downloaded a trial version of Home Page Reader. Though it’s probably one of the more basic (and sparsely-used) screen readers, it’s one that is somewhat affordable… Once we get Linux working on one of our PCs, we’ll install EmacSpeak, which is free.

So far, our own sites haven’t fared too poorly. I’ve noticed some things I definitely need to be aware of, like having an annoyingly long menu that has to be read at the beginning of each new page… or like using abbreviatons in writing. ‘Ave’ and ‘etc’ just don’t work when you read them aloud. Of course, HPR doesn’t recognize the acronym tag, which might help in some scenarios. As we delve into this more, we’ll have to keep in mind the limitations of this particular screen reader versus some that are more widely-used.

Continuing our efforts to learn and grow through volunteering our services, I applied for a volunteer opportunity through VolunteerMatch . I volunteered to do development and maintenance for Healthy DuPage. I’ll keep you posted on what I hear.

One way to market yourself and add to your body of work is to write an article and get it published. Surprisingly, writing in your blog about the minutiae of building a business just does not cut it. By writing for websites, magazines, newspapers, etc., you establish yourself as an expert in your field. People like to hire experts.

Today, Angela submitted an article to the eMonitor. She reviewed a piece of software we think highly of. Once it’s published — I have no doubt it will be — I’ll post a URL. This is exactly the kind of publicity we are looking for. As we both write more articles like this, it will help establish our reputation.

I’m working, slowly but surely, on Crafty Goat. The poorly placed one-item list you see is a database-driven category menu. A function in my CraftyGoat package generates this menu based on the information you pass to it. Each category item has an id number. Sub categories also have a parent id associated with them. If you do not pass the function any parameters, it creates a list of all the main categories (categories that do not have a parent id assigned to them). If you pass a category id to the function, then it generates a sub list of categories associated with that category id, and places that sub list within the list item for said category. Now we need some formatting and some positioning.

A primarily service-based business like ours doesn’t need too much in the way of funding… but there are times we need to buy this or that for the business. Sure, we’ve got a bank account and checks, but who buys anything in physical stores anymore? So we decided to apply for a credit card. Our main requirements were that it have no annual fee and that it have the ability to generate single-use credit card numbers for online purchases. We did some research. We applied (and applied… and applied some more…) And now we get to wait.

The one credit card company that offered an immediate response kept rejecting our application. I couldn’t understand why it could immediately reject our application… but it couldn’t tell us why for 7-10 days, and then only through the U.S. Mail. Some kind of privacy issues? One credit card’s site was rendered useless because they do their weekly maintenance tonight. Another major site was designed such that if they offer business cards, I sure couldn’t tell. So we ended up at the same company that’s been sending us 0% APR ads for weeks now. Not by choice, mind you. It looks like a nice account, though, and we’ll find out in 3-4 weeks if we were approved. Can’t these folks add a little more automation into their system?

I also followed up on a few more things from SXSW. We’ve been discussing some possible business opportunities related to Wi-Fi, so I reserved several library books related to that. While I was at the library’s site, I went ahead and reserved a couple of books about selling on eBay. I think that would be a good topic for one of the classes we plan on teaching. I also checked to see if the library had Maximum Accessibility. They didn’t, but I decided it would be worth ordering. John Slatin was a panelist in one of my SXSW sessions, and based on that session, I think his book should really be worth it.

Finally, I’m thinking about making my word mixer design from yesterday into a cryptogram-style puzzle. I had to research the genre of course, and found two sites that I thought had very good user interfaces. Is there a downside to game designing? Sure, the coding phase is about the same as for any other application… but you just can’t beat the research and testing phases!

Just a couple of minor updates on Crafty Goat — one visible, one not.

I removed the drop shadow and added a bevel to the logo. Better, but I’m still not happy with the jaggedness of it. I’ve tried the various anti-aliasing options in Photoshop, but so far I have not seen a significant difference between them. I’ll work on that some more.

Behind the scenes, I created my own Perl module to hold the functions that will be used throughout the site. That’s something I’ve never done in Perl before. I basically followed this tutorial, and everything worked.

I’m a little stuck on the design. Primarily, I’m having trouble deciding where to put the navigation. We don’t want to cover up the background anymore than necessary, but that limits my options. I just need to get something on the page, I guess, and see how it looks. But, that’s for tomorrow — it’s late, and I’m tired.

Perhaps the hardest lesson to learn when one is starting a business is when to go to bed.

I volunteered at Pets and People today. Billy and I had hoped to do some work on their website, but the lady I spoke with said they didn’t need any help with that right now. She did say they could use some help taking digital photos of the cats. Sounds challenging! But I could use some practice taking good digital photos, so it sounds good.

Today I just spent time with the dogs though. They started me walking dogs in the puppy room. Cute little things! Some of them weren’t quite sure what to do with a leash. Most of them thought it would be a fun thing to chew on. My favorites were a little dachschund mix, a little Bernie look-alike who liked chewing sticks, and a little hyper dog (Jack Russell mix maybe?) that loved running and even did one of those characteristic jumps. I had just gotten to one puppy that refused to be walked — you know, the type that lays down and just looks at you with puppy-dog eyes when you try to drag it along — when one of the workers asked me to wash a dog that had just gotten adopted. That went remarkably well; they’ve got a pretty good setup and a spot to tie the leash so they little guy can’t escape. Would you believe they’ve even got a dog dryer!? You open the door, put the dog in, set the timer for 15 minutes, and viola — a dry dog! I kept thinking of the cartoons, thinking this little beagle was going to come out as a big fluffball. Billy asked when I got home whether I remembered to put in a dryer sheet… oops! That poor thing will be staticy all day…

Overall, an enjoyable experience. I’m tempted to spend all my volunteer hours there… but I do want to spread my time around some.

Today’s activities mostly consisted of following up on things. We emailed a couple of folks from the OKCPCUG — one about doing software reviews, and one about writing for their newsletter, the eMonitor. The newsletter editor wrote back to say she would welcome our submissions. I plan to write an article for the next issue about FotoAlbum, a freeware photo organizing application that I think is far superior to the $30-150 FlipAlbum software they discussed at last night’s general meeting. We’ve got other ideas for future articles as well.

I also did some summarizing of the SXSW topics I wanted to follow up on. One thing I wanted to try was some Flash design, using stock photos to create some different looks. I don’t intend to do anything with these just yet — it’s more of an exercise in design. Here’s my first design. I may eventually make it into another puzzle (I even included a sample title), but right now, I’m trying not to concentrate on what it’s going to be…

As part of our continuing efforts to find networking opportunities in our area, tonight we became members of the OKCPCUG. We also attended our first general meeting. What did we learn? There are many opportunities here for us to market ourselves. The group needs people to review software, write for their newsletter, and host SIGs. There is much potetenial here.

Angela submitted her “Keep the Change” game to Flash Kit. It benefits us, because it gets our names out there. It benefits Angela, because she can get feedback about her work. And, it benefits the Flash Kit community, because it adds to their library of available code.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of having a good portfolio. In many cases, that is all potential clients will use to judge you. Today, we worked on our portfolio — expanding it and making it better.

Tipped off by an anonymous informant from the Mensa Webheads SIG (ok, I forwarded her an e-mail), Angela followed up on a request that went out for help from a Flash developer for the Mensa Annual Gathering. No word yet, but we’ll keep you posted.

Speaking of Angela and Flash, she has posted the final version of the game she mentioned yesterday. Also, she corrected a small display bug on her other Flash game.

Also, Mystical Meatballs is back. Very soon, it will be added to our portfolio.

So that all this work is not wasted, we updated our portfolio page. It sports a new look and has more information and more items. The design was accidental — I was having some issues with the layout, so I put a border around the item divs — just to see where they were — and it didn’t look half bad. Using the magic of CSS, we tweaked it a bit, and came up with something we very happy with. This showcases our work much better than the previous design.

I finished a beta version of a little Flash game for the Mensa site today. The functionality is pretty simple — it picks three coin types (pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters, half dollars) and a random number between 1 and 21. It tells you the total amount, and you have to figure out how many coins were used to get that total.

There’s still at least three things I need to do with this. First (and most significant) is the formatting of the total. There doesn’t appear to be a built-in function in ActionScript for formatting currency, and the one freebie I found on the internet didn’t work. I’ll play with this some more and hopefully get it working tomorrow. Number two on my list of things to fix is the fact that you have to press the ‘Submit’ button — no pressing enter from the text box. And finally, I’d like to add a nice little ‘Loading’ animation at the beginning. Speaking of animation, it wouldn’t hurt for it to do a little something for a correct answer.

I took the background from IStockPhoto — I didn’t know til last week they gave away a free weekly royalty-free photo. I’ve decided, in the interest of expanding my designing portfolio, to use as many of their free photos as possible. I think that’ll keep me from doing the same sort of “safe” designs all the time.

You’ve got the catchy name and clever logo. Now you’re thinking you need to protect your precious brand by registering it with the U.S. Patent Office. Maybe, maybe not.

As business owners, we considered the possibility that we may need to register our trade/service marks. It seems particularly necessary with ICANN’s tendency to ignore prior use in favor of trademark status when deciding domain name disputes. After visiting the patent office’s site, however, we decided formal registration was not necessary for us at this time. Instead, we will simply add the ™ or SM where appropriate.

Formal registration is expensive, and really only necessary if you are marketing nationwide. And, the longer we use the names, the better claim we have to them, regardless of the trademark status.

That’s all for tonight. Angela is busy at work on something fun for tomorrow, so you shouldn’t let today’s boring entry keep you from coming back.

I thought I’d create a few Crafty Goat items for today’s “90 Days to Self Employment” task. Having just seen Carol Duvall’s episode on using polymer clay combined with fabric, I was eager to try a few variations. I bought some decorative paper and a nice quilted-look fabric in preparation a few days ago, so I was set.

Continue reading “A Learning Process”…

Well, it will return soon. We’ve had the domain name, but we’ve not had a host for it since the Cyberwings debacle. Today, we purchased a new home for it. It will be a showcase for our work and a home for our recipes.

Also, with this new hosting account, we will be able to offer our clients web hosting. We will be a reseller for those clients who need web space. This can be important, especially when trying to attract small businesses. They want an all-in-one service, and they want it cheap. We can now provide that, assuming this web host does not go belly up six months from now, as our web hosts so often do.

Also, I did a little work on Crafty Goat. I’m afraid my drop shadow will have to go. I’m a big fan of the drop shadow, but it hardly ever works on a web page. This page is now generated by a perl script using HTML::Template. The cryptic line of text is the Showcase product. An entry in the showcase table links to a product, and specifies the length of time during which that product should be in the showcase. The Showcase product will then appear on the main page during that period. A tad more formatting needs to be done to the Showcase, me thinks. In the hope of eventually ridding ourselves of PHP-Nuke, I have setup an this beta area to try out some alternatives. Right now there is Movable Type and not much else. Watch that space.

Angela continued her quest to become an eBay Trading Assistant by listing three more items. Two of yesterday’s items have already sold, so that seems like a good sign.

Finally, a bit of networking for a potential side business: We have considered adding pet sitting to our list of provided services. It’s connected to web design the same way crafts are: It’s something we’re interested in, so perhaps we can get income from it. Angela took Bernie to the dog park today, and met a couple who is new in town and travels alot. Seizing the opportunity, she mentioned how we are interested in being pet sitters. We plan to follow-up with these people to see if we can get started as sitters.

A slow day, perhaps, but it’s all cumulative.

Okay, not really. But we did see John Freyer speak at SXSW, and it seemed like an interesting experience. We won’t take it quite so far.

Today’s task was posting three different items up for sale on eBay. While that may seem more like a spring cleaning task than one related to our business, there is actually a purpose. We’d like to become an eBay Trading Assistant… and to do that, we need a minimum feedback of at least 50. Since we’ve still got a few to go, we may just skip the annual garage sale and sell some of those goodies online.

The Trading Assistant program seems promising because it targets the same demographic as our customers — people who want to sell stuff online. It also adds another layer to what we can offer. If somebody just has an item or two they want to sell online, we can work with them as Trading Assistants. Or, if they decide they want to really get involved with online sales, we can look into building them a website. Either way, we’re happy and they’re happy.

Tonight’s three items were just a start. So if you’re looking for good deals in the next few weeks, don’t worry about scouring the newspaper ads, dusting off the street maps, and getting lost looking for garage sales. Just watch eBay!

Billy and I gave blood today. It’s not much, but since that’s the main thing that spurred me to action, it seemed like a fitting place to start. You see, Oklahoma Blood Institute (they give out nice T-shirts) has taken to harrassing us by phone. Since we’ve managed to get off of most of the telemarketing lists, our phone seldom rings. We tend to like it that way. But OBI is a not-for-profit group, so they don’t have to abide by the same rules as telemarketers. After they left this week’s phone message, I contemplated once again whether to call and ask them to stop calling… but I really do mean to give blood, so maybe their reminders aren’t such a bad idea. Then I started wondering why I don’t give blood. There’s just not a good time… but that’s only because I don’t make time. Long story short, I decided to give myself an incentive to make time… and now, I have a bright shiny frog-themed T-shirt to show for it!

Time waits for no website. We continue our updates of our various websites. Crafty Goat has been long overdue for a redesign. The backend uses text files, the look is dated, and it lacks lots of features. All that is about to change.

Introducing Development of the new site will occur here, in front of the world. The backend will be MySQL, with the ability to easily add & edit products & categories. The site will sport a new style that is valid and accessible. All this, and the products are beautiful, too. What more could a customer ask for?

Today, you can see the style as it is currently envisioned. Watch for reports as the site develops.

I entered a business card design contest for the Oklahoma City PC Users Group. They’ll announce the winner ($50 gift certificate) at the next meeting, which is on March 20. Billy and I have discussed getting involved with them — the membership fees aren’t bad, and it should give us a chance to meet people with similar interests, and hopefully a chance to learn a thing or two along the way. So wish me luck with my designs!

I also signed up for the Web Design email list. It seems like Billy has learned a lot from this group.

And on a slightly-less-business-related note, I’ve decided I need to do more volunteer work. One hour per week seems a good place to start. And since things tend to creep in and crowd out the best intentions, I’ve decided to give myself an incentive. For every week I miss the hour of work, I’ll donate cash to a charity. I’ve decided our hourly rate for clients is a good amount to donate. Either way benefits the community… but knowing how cheap I am, I’m sure I’ll be motivated to do the actual work. Though this is primarily a personal choice, it can’t hurt the business to meet more people in the community.

Here are a few places you can go to read more about SXSW:

I’ll update this as I come across more.

Notice anything different? This blog, much like almost every other blog in the know universe, is now powered by Movable Type. Yes, I know what I said, but I decided that I’ve got too many things going on to ever have time to add the features I want to my old system. And, besides, as J.D. Lasica said at SXSW, Movable Type is the Cadillac of blog software. All old entries should be available from their old URLs, and in the new system. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be turning on some of the new features. It should be fun.

In other news, I spoke with someone from the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce because of my request for more information. The cost to join, $335, is a little steep, but it could be worth it. We still need to look at the benefits to decide if it is something we should do.

Finally, SXSW was awesome. We came away with a ton of plans and ideas. I had the opportunity to learn from, and learn with, the people I read everyday. I can’t wait to start work on some of the things we came up with at the conference. Be watching for some exciting stuff.

Rich Interactive Experience

Speaker Josh Ulm (The Remedi Project)

What are the benefits of a Flash development platform, and how do you talk to a client about it? Flash MX plug-in has 70% adoption after 1 year; Flash 5 has 95%. People really can see these animations.

Advantages of Flash MX

  • Streaming video built-in; no separate QuickTime plug-in needed. Not as robust as QT or RealPlayer, but works well for short video clips.
  • Video ability opens door for what doors we can open Flash up to. CD-ROMs typically had been done with Director, but now can be done with Flash.
  • Reusablity of code much better with MX. Able to link to external files.
  • Could now use ActionScript almost to the exclusion of the TimeLine. Good development platform.
  • Have ability to control movies and EnterFrame objects. Easier with Flash MX to turn things on and off. Code below allows to stop an action.

onClipEvent(load) { this.onEnterFrame = function() { this.x += 10; if (this.x >= 300) { delete this.onEnterFrame; } } }

Player/Piece structure model. Player component is manager. Sits and controls everything else that goes on. May be movie shell that does nothing; may contain code used by various pieces. Pieces are the content. Drop various pieces into the player. Nice to be able to separate pieces and allow other pieces to be edited separately. Also nice from a bandwidth standpoint — user can download just the part the use. Don’t spend time breaking down structure more than you need to, though.

Code below controlled scrolling playback of 2 objects. Control motion using ActionScript to give better control.

{obj:this.lbig, property:"x", rate:-4.5, offset:-300} {obj:this.lsmall, property:"x", rate:.5, offset:280}

How to start: What are the common/re-usable aspects of my movie? Start by coding those aspects. Then drop in other aspects. Prototype of movie can have text boxes indicating user could click here for such-and-such action.

The Seven Arms of Creativity

Carole Guevin (

Tension is the enemy of creativity. When getting an assignment, absorb, don’t start thinking about how yet. Make a list of 5 points.

Creativity is not a job, it’s a mindset. It doesn’t require a perfect time and place.

After absorbing, research, until you find the tread. Carole keeps calling audience members up to look at pictures for 5 seconds, then tell the audience what they saw.

Elimination process: Do mock ups, then start tweaking. Next is delivery. Constraints are a tool for delivering creativity. They set boundaries. Put aside your own tastes.

I have a handout with all her points. Whatever I miss right now, I’ll go back and fill in later.

Q: How do you apply this to collaborative work?

The first idea is the best idea. If you don’t have anything better to suggest, than shut up. Team leader has veto power.

Q: How do you get the whole group into this “7 Arms of Creativity” mindset?

Get everybody on the same page.

Accessibility: Building Virtual Curbcuts

Randolph Bias (University of Texas), Andrew Kirkpatrick (National Center for Accessible Media), Bob Regan (Macromedia), Sharron Rush, moderator (Knowbility)

Bias: The need for usability testing. Different people perceive things in different ways. Performance during testing may not be the same as normal performance. Developers are not awarded for usability.

Kirkpatrick: Captioning. Adding captions are good for deaf people, but it does not help them if they can’t read, or the text is too small. Adding sign language can help.

Self-voicing: Applications that talk. It is necessary to offer both self-voicing and captions to support both deaf and blind.

MAGpie — Media Access Generator. Free tool for creating captions, alternate text, etc.

Regan: Text equivalents for graphics & animations. How you caption the graphic depends on how it is used. He demonstrates the accessibility panel in Flash MX. Because screen readers do not support the description field, just use the name. “Don’t look inside animation” will keep the screen reader from constantly refreshing the screen reader. You can script the accessibility options. Descriptions can be used to imply structure. Put site information in a separate button so the user doesn’t have to hear the structure on each page. Provide context for the state of each control.

Keyboard short-cuts — All embedded media will trap the tab key, so you can’t tab out. Using Flash + JavaScript, you can do it. Tab order is crucial. Keep reading space small. Use script to set tab order.

HTML-Kit is a wonderful free text editor. It’s also a dangerous weapon in the hands of the not-so-bright. I was making use of my script, going through it, commenting out things I didn’t need for what I wanted to use it for. Then, after working on a separate file, I hit the “Save All” button, and HTML-Kit did just what I asked — it saved the script back to the server. Whoops.

Traffic Jam: Making Web Sites Popular and Profitable

Speaker June Cohen (, wrote “The Unusually Useful Web Book”

Keep visitors around longer

  • Study your traffic logs to learn what works
  • Make choices intuitive. Try user testing with friends, family. “Don’t Make Me Think” book.
  • Label things clearly. People don’t want to click on something they don’t understand.
  • Improve site search. and others provide good site searches. Customize results for common searches. (Need search for Crafty Goat.)

Bring them back more often

  • One word: email. Accounts for up to 75% of traffic to sites! Start collecting addresses now. Put “enter email” form on front door. Experiement with format, frequency. Mail early in the week and overnight. (Include more info on new website features when sending out monthly Mensokie email.)
  • Fill a need. Provide something your users want.
  • Update more often… maybe! If you’re just updating, but not letting anyone know, it’s won’t do any good. Can kill yourself making updates, but only matters if people actually care.
  • Run promotions
  • Become the homepage (hard to do)

Attracting new visitors

  • Get referrals from search engine. Important to reach people when they’re thinking about you. Focus on specific pages — not whole site. Copy what high-ranked sites do. Important to list key words as title of page and heading of page (marked as heading), as well as in content. Get other subject-related sites to link to yours. If all else fails,
  • Get referrals from (hand-edited) directories. Email sites, perhaps even paying expedite fee. They look to see if site has what it claims to have, and whether it works in major browsers. These referrals give credibility and sometimes help ranking in search engines.
  • Get links from other sites. Best way to do so is to ask for them.
  • Advertise — online and offline. Buy keyword-related links like Google’s. Best way to advertise is online, because people don’t remember it long enough otherwise. Email lists are good.
  • Inspire word of mouth. Get users to tell a friend. Emailing friends works. (For OKMensa quizzes, have ‘Send a score’ email.)
  • Lure existing offline customers. Put URL in SIG file.

Improve site speed

  • What causes pages to be slow? The page is generated slowly (sites that create dynamic content per user); the page is transferred slowly (too many images, too much content); the page is drawn slowly (coding errors).
  • Reduce page size. Don’t make text be an image. Determine what features really make an impact.
  • Increase bandwidth and server capacity.
  • Clean up the HTML. Nested tables bad. Image tag height and width help, since browser can reserve a space for image while loading other things.
  • Overhaul backend code

Increasing Traffic

  • It’s not just a marketing problem! You don’t have to have money.
  • It’s a cross-disciplinary task: Collaborate!
  • Put someone in charge
  • Set a goal, so you know when you’ve achieved something.

Advergaming: Engaging Essence of the Brand

Panelists Jane Chen (yayacom), Dave Madden (Wild Tangent), Glenn Thomas (Smashing Ideas).

Game play lasts 5-10 minutes, so the advertiser is rewarded by more than the average 30-second spot, and the customer is rewarded by enjoyment of the game. People spend a lot of times playing games. If you can integrate immersive experiences into the game, allowing product to be contextually featured, your advertising is successful. 60% of people do play games, and online gaming growing constantly.

Games can add a level of education and customer loyalty to already-existing customers (already at your website). And customer are often willing to give up more personal info to play a game. Can be used for customer acquisition too. Fruit Stripes gum gained 10-15% sales in 1 year, only marketing online.

Games are targeted towards customer experience. The advertiser is the one benefitted by a straight ad; the customer can benefit from fun gaming. As opposed to TV ads where the advertiser is breaking into what the customer actually wants to see, with gaming, the advertisers are the ones offering what the customer wants. Reach someone in their mindset and in what they do best.

Targeting groups: 51% of gamers online are women. So it’s not just teenage boys. For guys, competition is big, emailing friends to try & beat them. For women, collaboration is good — how can we get better? Personality tests & ways to improve are also big… especially emailing friends to compare, contrast results. The market selects the game — xtreme sports for genx, etc. For children, boys like action/adventure. Girls like printing out & sharing. Gender competition (boys vs girls) is also big for children.

Biggest expense of gaming is art. Lots of testing involved with online distribution.

Sweepstakes & giveaways: ( Cheating & security is a big issue. Make sure it works properly before you put it out; otherwise, you could end up in a situation where you’re legally obligated to give away prizes. Games are important for sweepstakes, because it makes sure they get the right message. If you see a Coke giveaway at the grocery store, with a prize of a Jeep, you’re not sure whether the Coke or Jeep is being advertised. People are more willing to give correct personal info for a sweepstakes. People are willing to tell friends about game/sweepstakes if it gives them more chances to win. Also beneficial in sweepstakes is the co-sposorship aspect — prizes may be donated if it’s advantageous for the donator, and they may also help advertise the sweepstakes.

Create integrated advertising campaign: the look and feel of the online and offline content should be similar.

Video games making more than movie industry now. Approx 10% of American leisure time spent on games. Possibility of selling co-sponsorship, i.e., Jack Daniels logo on pool game.

Screentime app (Flash) allows creating updateable desktops. Message box notification saying a new game is available.

In Print: From Passion to Publish

Speaker: Kevin Smokler. Topic: How to get into the professional publishing industry.

An agent isn’t necessary until almost the very last step. No agent will agree to represent a first-time author on a fiction book until the book is finished. If you want to write a non-fiction book, you need a track record in the area. You need to write elsewhere (national magazines, local magazines, newspapers, web) for a couple of years on that non-fiction topic in order to really be considered.

Start small. Write longer blogs and essays. Consider sending one of these essays to a related publication.

To get published in a magazine, don’t send ideas for articles and follow the normal freelance process. Read the magazine. If you find something you like, write the author and tell them you like it and that it’s encouraged you to be a subscriber. If you can establish a relationship with that author, then you can eventually write them and mention you’re working on a piece about such-and-such. They might be interested and want to see it. Then you’ve got an author at the magazine reading your material.

Another option is to find out where else authors that you like are being published. They probably have some smaller credentials listed, in which case you can try to submit something to the smaller magazine, which is probably more likely to publish you.

Develop a thick skin. It’s like dating — don’t get your hopes up too high in the beginning. Don’t get too discouraged when it doesn’t work. Keep an editor’s name when they reject you. Write back and tell them you’ll send them something else soon. Then write an encouraging note when they do a good job editing a different story. They’ll have a favorable impression and remember your name the next time you send them something.

Be generous with your time. Volunteer to be a technical editor or do something else free for a zine or another publication. They’ll be happy to publish you and will help you out as they move up.

If you’ve got a blog, and want to use it as a portfolio-builder, try to blog about whatever you want to write about. If it’s food, write your blog about food. Writing a daily blog helps you develop your voice and helps your discipline. Might also want to have samples of your work that are available, in case someone’s looking for an article to use tomorrow.

Let people know you are a writer. Represent yourself as a writer. Do readings and open-mike nights. Take a note-pad and sign up people for your mailing list. Maybe you only get one person to sign up, but that’s the person who will buy your book. (Something to remember for Crafty Goat craft show or other offline sales - need to have a mailing list sign-up sheet.)

Self-promotion! Sell yourself and be confident. Make and use connections and take whatever opportunities are provided.

Online journal to look up: InkBlots

Between the (Style) Sheets: CSS, Browsers, and You

Tantek Çelik (Tasman Development), Eric Meyer (, Jeffrey Zeldman (

Tantek is giving tips on cleaning up markup.

Eric is demonstrating how one simple document can be changed multiple ways with stylesheets. He asked how many people know the difference between block-level and inline elements. The majority of people raised their hands. Surprising. He says you don’t have to completely separate style and content. Basically, you can have content without style, but you can’t have style without content. The style must be related to the content.

Zeldman is showing how he redesigned his site using CSS. Apparently, I still don’t understand absolute positioning. He positioned something at 0, 0, yet it is under another element. I’ll have to play with that.

Q: On CSS rollovers, there can be a lag as the image loads.

Zeldman: Make the hover image the background, and the non-hover state the image. Good idea.

Freelance Forum: Going Solo

Pableaux Johnson (, Jennifer Niederst-Robbins (Littlechair Design), Paul Pugh (

More PCs in this one than Macs. And one tablet PC. Interesting.

Paul: Has been freelancing for about a year. He has a partner with overlapping skills, but he does more design while his partner does more technical work.

Jennifer: Decided she was draining her life for someone else’s company. She wanted freedom and flexibility. In the past, she didn’t have to market herself.

Q: Practical ways to market yourself.

Paul: Align yourself with other firms to handle marketing and sales. Ad agencies, ISPs, etc.

Jennifer: Pick something you do well and market to a specific niche.

Paul: Create a usefulness on the web. Create a reputation from that.

Jennifer: Passive marketing: Do things for yourself that proves what you can do.

Pableaux: Being a freelancer allows you to do many different types of jobs.

Q: If you market yourself as a generalist, how can you convince clients you can do it all?

Paul: If you can’t do something, farm out the work to other freelancers.

Q: How do you keep yourself motivated?

From the audience: Be flexible, redirect yourself.

Another audience member: Make connections with people online so you have people to sympathize with.

Pableaux: Freelancing and working for a company have the same amount of problems, they’re just different.

Q: How do you make sure you get paid in a timely manner?

Paul: Get money up front. Have some leverage (source files). Usually 30% up front.

From the audience: Business Forms and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers

From the audience: Make contact with people in accounting.

Pableaux: Ask from the beginning what the payment terms are.

Q: How should you present yourself: As a company, or an individual?

Short answer: It depends

Paul: Indicating that you are a firm can get you a slightly better rate, but so can having a reputation.

Pableaux: Business strategies?

Paul: They’re not trying to build a big company, they just found what they like to do, and want to keep doing it.

Jennifer: Tries to choose things that are interesting. Be professional, get things done on time.

Q: How do you run your life?

Jennifer: Decides from day to day, based on what she needs to do. She does miss working with a team.

Pableaux: How comfortable are you with or without structure? He maintains a separate space for his work.

Paul: Also maintains a separate space, and keeps a regular schedule, so that work doesn’t cut into time with his family.

From the audience: Portfolio is key.

Pableaux: Because of the economy, continue to moonlight, rather than quitting your day job. Keep adding to your reserves. Also, keep a line between what you do for money and what you do for art.

From the audience: Keep the work coming in. If you don’t have the time for something, farm it out. Keep up a good network.

Q: Company loyalty is not what it used to be. Why work for a company that is not loyal to you?

Pableaux: Make informed decisions, because the infrastructure can be expensive and complex.

Adding Humor To Your Website

Dave Linabury (

Techniques for humor:

  • Use paragraphs for timing.
  • If you’re trying to write about something, look up about 10 things about that subject.
  • Trivial things are funnier than important things.
  • Top 10 lists are usually funnier than “A/B” lists.
  • Elevate the mundane.
  • Wrong uses for products or safety warnings.
  • Making fun of yourself.

Dave talked about being sued by the company that owns Godzilla. There is precedent that, when you buy a trademark, it does not give you rights to similar trademarks. Also, when parodying, you can use the name of something, or the image, but not both at the same time.

He mentions that he will soon switch to a Creative Commons license. Also, RSS greatly increases his hits.

The majority of the rest of his panel was showing humor sites and talking about the techniques they use.

How to Fund a Small Internet Business.

Panelists: Judy Bitterli (Direct Impact), Rudy Rouhana (, Tim Ziegler ( Moderator Attourney Henry W. (Hank) Jones, III of Intersect Technology Consulting & Law Office (

Notes from handout:

Secrets of start-up funding: You can really start with less money than you think. You can really start on a smaller scale than you think. You need a work product. You can moonlight and do it as a side-line. This is a great time to start a new business, because everything is cheap these days.

Smartest moves in start-up funding: Include someone on the team with financial background & credibility. Be able to articulate persuasively each of the problems you solve; why these problems are massive/critical, not annoyances; the size of the market; how you are going to make money; how your solution is different and gives competitive advantage; and strengths of the founding team. Make and use a detailed plan for funding sources. Have great contacts in your team’s networks.

Common mistakes in start-up funding: Focusing on the idea instead of how it will make money. Not clearly understanding the concept of “pay as you go.” Being blind to team’s and team members’ weaknesses. Unwillingness to take & process constructive criticism.

Questions a venture capitalist/investor will ask:

  1. What is the business problem you’re solving?
  2. How are you solving it?
  3. How do you expect to make money?

If you can, it’s a good idea to base the business on cash flow. Dream big, start small. Do what you have to do to make it work. You may not need as much money as you think. Take a low-cash approach, using free software where available.

Marketing takes money.

Find possible investors through networking. Angel investors. Learn from past investees, people who’ve dealt with the investor before, to determine the dynamics of the angel group, etc.

Business types:

  1. Service-oriented: linear cach flow. Your income potential is directly influenced by your number of employees/number of hours. Don’t really need investors for this… mostly just some advertising money.
  2. Software model: exponential cash flow. You spend time/expense developing software, then have the potential to sell it (without much further expense) to an unlimited number of users. Could consider investors for this model. Can be difficult because you often need customers in order to get funded, but you need software to get customers… and you may need money to hire people to develop the software.
  3. Capital-intensive: hardware/software requiring huge up-front investment to develop. Stay away from these!

Remember investors may take over your company, take it in different direction, fire you, etc.

If product is directed to a specific company/market, try to get a job consulting for the company ahead of time. Consult for the company while developing the idea. Helps get foot in the door, get credibility, learn what users really need, and get leads for customers.

Other ways to get credibility? Work for non-profits. Be confident with your answers — here’s what I’m doing and here’s what I have personally invested in it ($, sweat equity, etc)

Make connections, do your homework, and know someone who knows someone. Send email to all your contacts, asking if they know anyone at xxx. Research investors through the SEC Edgar site (shows info on prospects, history, etc).

Learn your own strengths, weaknesses, and fears. Learn how to work with a team of people who have strengths in areas you don’t. Try Briggs/Meyers or another personality indicator.

Need decision-making skills. Know when to pull the trigger yourself and when to get outside advice on a decision.

Understand people’s intentions. Everybody else is just out to make a buck too, so keep that in mind in your dealings with them.

Consider other options. Make a software product, make it open source to get features added, then work as a service business, customizing it for customers who need it.

Websites to look at: (?)

Can Stevie Wonder Read Your Website?

Panelists: Rashmi Bhat (Prodigy/SBC), Giorgio Brajnik (UsableNet), Dr. John Slatin (UT - blind)

Slatin: Wrote book “Maximum Accessibility”. I’d definitely like to read this one.

  • A web resource is accessible when disabled users can use it as effectively as others.
  • Good design is accessible design. Accessibility is not something you add on at the end; it’s something you plan for from the beginning.
  • Accessibility is good business. 54 million people with disabiblities, and incidence of disability goes up as age goes up, and there’s an increasingly significant proportion of people over 50. Huge potential commercial market & potential audience for educational materials.
  • Accessibility all the way down. Has to happen throughout design & development process. Takes committment & planning.
  • It’s about people. It’s not about the technical features; it’s about the users’ experience. Include group of people with disabilities in your test process to identify non-obvious problems.

(All TX state agencies are required to adopt, publish & link to accessibility guidelines. Key public entry points have to have ‘Accessibility’ link. Must have & maintain accessible sites. What are the laws in Oklahoma?)

Bhat: From corporate standpoint, make sure accessibility is a corporate priority. The embarrassment factor can be a good way to get corporate support.

Brajnik: It’s good business to be accessible. Big potential for reaching, acquiring & further involving (newsletters, etc.) users with disabilities. A non-accessible site rejects poetential customers & members. Determine policies for making accessibility, priorites for pages to make accessible first, and processes for finding & fixing problems in accessibility. Brajnik says automated tools are useful in finding problems initially & in regression testing. UsableNet has wizard that works with Dreamweaver.

Important for the site to be not just accessible but usable. Though blind users can’t have the visual experience, they want a similarly pleasurable experience.

Note: Mensokie should be a priority for accessibility, as there’s no other way for blind members to read the newsletter.

Considerations: link tags (click here isn’t sufficient); form tags (forms need to be usable); PDFs — accessible?

Tips for designing with accessibiliy in mind:

  • To test, try turning off monitor and using Jaws, WindowEyes, etc.
  • Help menu listing keyboard shortcuts & explaining other accessibility features of site.

Links:; - National Center for Accessible Media;;; tries to point out good design;; Bobby checks for accessibility. “Bobby approved”.

Flash Enabled: Flash Design & Development for Devices

Panelists Fred Sharples (Orange Design), Glenn Thomas (Smashing Ideas), Steve Leone (Unplug). Wrote “Flash Enabled”.

Right now there are lots of mostly-HTML pages with Flash add-ons.

Flash-capable Devices: Sony Clie (initially download, then will ship installed), Pocket PC (installed), Nokia (installed on European), iMode (currently only sold in Japan; installed.) Playstation?

Issues for designing for devices:

  • Know your screen size & think through layout (ex. 200×200 pixels)
  • Performance - don’t expect much from these slower devices. Complex ActionScript can be slow, as can full-screen animation
  • Connected/disconnected: can’t assume the device is connected… may never be!
  • File saving - Possible to save as workaround using IE’s javascript cookie.
  • Interface/button isues. Inputs such as button/keys

Possible Money-Makers:

  • “Animated Today” desktops (Handango, PocketPCGear)
  • In Japan & Finland, theyre already paying to download ringtones, games, images, etc.
  • Entertainment (games) will be the first to make money.
  • Assasin game in Scandanavia

Current Applications: Amazon, wharehouse, restaurants are using Flash apps on Pocket PCs. Also Flash training manuals.

Flash examples & Sites to look at:;;;;;; one-page hotel reservation page; changed Quotes add-in from java to Flash, save $.25 million in bandwidth in 1st 6 months.

Inclusive Web Design For the Future

Steve Champeon and Nick Haskell

Steve is introducing the topic. They will be presenting a broad overview of strategies for cross-browser development. This is for sites that are delivering information to lots of people, not “eye candy” sites.

The decision for ID comes down to one of economics. He asked how many people are using table-based vs. CSS-based design. Most were using CSS.

“Ice, Jello, Liquid” designs. Pixel-perfect designs are a myth. Users with cell phone browsers, WebTV, etc. will not see the same site the same way. Keep style separated from content.

Typography is the most conservative science. They want people to not notice the book is readable. The other extreme is edgy design, “eye candy.”

Some things you can’t do with this approach: Flash, DHTML.

Once you start using tables, images as information, it’s hard to go back. It can be very expensive to generate a separate site that works for alternate browsers.

An alternative to graceful degradation is progressive enhancement. Start with something simple that works everywhere, then add to it to make it look better for better browsers.

On a side note, I have one of only 2 or 3 PC notebooks in a sea of Macs. Interesting.

In summary: Start with a baseline and use semantic markup. Use CSS classes to differentiate between different types of the same tag. When you add features, make sure they are accessible. Add baseline CSS presentation — fonts, colors, etc. Divide that CSS into sections based on what browser will support the CSS. Use CSS hacks to hide CSS from browsers that cannot handle it. Start testing in browsers. Then add interaction: javascript, DHTML, etc.

Someone from the audience questions using parsing hacks to hide CSS. Steve justifies it by saying we’re writing according to the browsers capabilities.

Journalism: Old vs. New

Joshua Benton (Dallas Morning News), Dan Gillmor (San Jose Mercury News), Matthew Haughey (, JD Lasica (Online Journalism Review), Evan Smith, moderator (Texas Monthly)

Josh Benton: Thinks he is the least optimistic about what blogging can do. It’s not all that different from old journalism.

Dan Gillmor: There’s a lot in common between blogs and talk radio. The ability to spread the ideas from the edges out to a broader base. Transformation from lecturing people to something between a seminar and a discussion.

J.D. Lasica: Just took a picture of someone in the audience. The barrier between panalists and audience is artificial. Dan just asked how many people are bloggers, most of the audience raised their hands. Then he asked how many were live blogging, there were a hand full. J.D. calls it a random act of journalism. Not all blogs are journalism, not everything in the newspaper is journalism either.

Matth Haughey: Blogging turns readers into writers, while old journalism tends to be broadcasting.

Evan Smith: Is old journalism getting more like new journalism, or vice versa?

J.D. says both. Newsrooms are becoming more of a discussion. And bloggers are taking on more of the values of old journalism: research, integrity, etc. Matt says he’s seen bloggers start picking up the phone and doing outside research about their stories.

JB: The Internet has revolutionized journalism by making it easier to do research.

ES: Asked about the conflict between their day job as a journalist and what they post on their blogs.

JB: He is always careful not to post things that could get him in trouble with his employer.

DG: Journalism does a lousy job of writing about journalism. He has a lot more freedom because he’s a columnist. There are things he won’t write about his company if he knows other people will write about it or if he doesn’t feel like it is appropriate.

JDL: The real issue is credibility. Bloggers are establishing brands that are recognized for their integrity.

JB: People tend towards sites that agree with their own point of view. This limits the discussion. I agree. I’ve found myself not reading certain sites because I realize that I agree with them, so hearing things I already agree with don’t help me any.

Questions from the audience:

Q: What should bloggers without journalistic training to do be more journalistic?

JB: He’d rather not see blogs trying to be newspapers.

Building a Layer of Sanity Into the World of IP

Lawrence Lessig

I really admire Lessig and the work he does. I hope I have enough battery power for this.

Larry just put a “Free the Mouse” bumper sticker on the podium. :-)

Larry is talking about how much copyrighted work should have gone into the public domain in 1998. Interesting numbers: Only 2% of works since 1923 were being commercially exploited in 1998. If all those works had gone in the public domain, others could use them for derivative works. This is what Disney has done over the years — building on what has come before. These works didn’t go into the public domain because of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension act. The promise is broken — the public agreed to give copyright holders a temporary monopoly on the promise that work would eventually fall into the public domain.

The copyright extensions do not help the authors, but the publishers. The majority of media comes from a small group of distributors.

People are not free to build on, parody, or make political statements based on commercial works.

Lessig is an amazing speaker. There’s lots I should be writing, but it’s just too good to miss. Besides, I can’t do him justice.

Larry is talking about the Creative Commons — for people who only want partial and limited control of their works. Creative Commons is about to release some new versions of their license:

  • sampling — Allows people to use parts of musical works to incorporate into their own works.
  • education — Allows for use in education.
  • developing nations — Allows works to be used freely in developing nations.

There was much, much more. Once Lessig has posted this speech on his own site, I’ll link to it here.

Web Publishing For the Hell of It

Todd Dominey (, Adam Greenfield (V-2), Jeffrey Zeldman (

Reasons for publishing non-commercial sites. Todd: He does it as a creative expression. Todd does both HTML & Flash. Adam: Has been in publishing since he was 12. He just wanted a place to write.

Todd: He created it solely for himself. He’s amazed by the level of intelligent comments people put on his site.

Adam: Got together with some friends and told them the type of site he wanted: Flash + XML. When it was done, it was all wrong, because it was appropriate for his audience.

Discussion about the responses they get from readers. They get very nit-picky comments, which causes them to reconsider what they link to, for fear of having a bad URL on their site that people will complain about.

Z: What have you gotten out of independent publishing?

Todd: Clearing of mental cobwebs. It has also attracted clients. They find out there is an expressive person behind the design company. Because of this, he has censored his own writing. He justified it by saying he wasn’t adding anything new to the conversation, so he linked to other writers rather than publish his own rant.

Adam: Everything good in his life has come about from his website, including his fiancee.

Zeldman: Would somebody be hurt. Also, if he were going to do work for a company, he would be more diplomatic when criticizing that company’s products.

They talk about how to prioritize when you have an independent site. Zeldman says he trys to cut back, rather than stop writing at all, when work ties up his time. Todd makes the point that family always takes first priority.

Adam: Having an audience makes him a better writer: he does more research and fact-checking.

Q: How do you balance your work between users (usability) and readers (content)?

Zeldman: He always thinks in terms of readers.

This panel is an interesting contrast to the one on journalism. The members of that panel were doing basically the same thing, but they had a definite purpose: reporting. These people just want to express themselves.

Women Who Kill Tigers

I attended “Women Who Kill Tigers: A panel about following your passion to do the work you love.” The speakers were Lynda Miller (, Ana Boa-Ventura (, and Anita Pantin ( For reference, the title of the session comes from a Latin-American expression. “Killing tigers” means taking on freelance gigs to support artistic work.

I was especially interested in Ana Boa-Ventura. The illustrations she used in her presentation — even the layout of the presentation itself — inspired multiple ideas I’d like to try. One thing I’m curious about — she teaches a Intro to Digital Media class at UT, and she showed us the web page for that class. I’d like to find out if that page is publicly available … Some of the design ideas I’d like to try out are using black & white close-up pics (iStockPhoto) as a background for the navigation; using lines/shapes from sketches like da Vinci’s with colors added; and using a quilt background for a crafts page. I was really disappointed Boa-Ventura didn’t get to speak longer, both because the designs she showed were inspiring and because her work in exploring memory through bar codes sounded intriguing.

Anita Pantin probably spoke most directly to the topic. She emphasized the importance of “protecting your passion” — that is, making time daily for the thing that you love to do. If you spend time on your passion, you’ll be happier and do better with the part of your life you are forced to do to pay the rent. Pantin stressed the importance of discipline within the passion. “If something is important to you, discipline yourself to do it.” She mentioned an example from her own life where she spent a month creating a painting every day — no pressure for it to be good, no chance to go back and rework it tomorrow — just 30 chances to create 30 different pieces of self-expression without any expectations or consequences tied to the finished works. She said it was a life-changing experience that really helped her grow as an artist. I’d like to try something similar to this, for Smart Goat and/or Crafty Goat. For Smart Goat, it would probably take the form of creating various web designs/templates, perhaps taking inspiration from other sites or from pics on iStockPhoto. If any of them end up being designs we like, they could be reshaped & improved upon later to be on the website as examples of our work. Otherwise, it’ll just be an exercise in improving our artistry and expanding our creativity.

Pantin wasn’t handling her own screen presentation; the moderator was displaying her works as she spoke. So Pantin didn’t really expand on the things that were showing. But one of the things that displayed was what looked like song lyrics or poetry scrolling across the screen against a background. Digitally-enhanced poetry? I’m not sure if that’s what she was doing or not, but it’s an idea I’d like to experiment with, probably using Flash. Somebody must be doing this already — I probably just need to look in the right place.

Boa-Ventura mentioned she met some of her contacts while looking into the problem of accessibility. There are quite a few sessions this week on accessibility, and I definitely want to make at least one. Smart Goat really needs to get to work on this, perhaps even specialize in it. We can add a page to our site informing our potential clients about accessibility and why it’s important — we could even offer a free consultation with folks that have existing websites, demonstrating how their current site performs, and offering to help make it more accessible. We’ve been looking into niche areas where we could write articles for local web groups or teach free classes at the local community center, and this might just be it. One of the session descriptions says users with disabilities make up a 1 trillion dollar market — it’s ridiculous for companies to keep ignoring that market.

I’d like to try some collages (iStockPhoto again?) on a Flash background. Perhaps even design some Flash templates to sell? If possible, it would be nice to make them such that the end user would only have to change a text file to change the content, buttons, etc. More things to learn about Flash!

Finally, a comment on networking. During the Q&A segment, a woman from the audience asked how to best conquer fear of pursuing a passion. One of the answers, I believe from Pantin, was that we often feel as freelancers that we need to handle everything ourselves. Her advice was that you should have a network of people that are good at various things, and when a project comes along that’s too big for you… well you know a few people that can help out. I hadn’t really looked at networking like this before. It’d be worth knowing some folks in OKC that are good in the areas we’re not, and letting them know we’d be happy to work alongside them, each of us complementing the strengths of the other.

Overall, a very inspiring session (part brainstorming session for me). The only things I was disappointed in were that Boa-Ventura didn’t really get a chance to finish her speech — and it seemed so interested — and that all of the women seemed to address their “passion” and their “tiger-killing” (rent-paying duties) as separate. It didn’t really seem like any of them were to the point of making their “passion” pay the rent. I know that there are some people in that situation, and it’d be interesting to hear how they got to that point.

User Centered Design

Speaking: Garrett, Rettig, Steenson

Rettig is talking about designing for how your users live.

Garrett: Find out how users use your products. Design is typically on features, not use.

Garrett: Incresing complexity of products is one reason for the sudden rise of user centered design.

Rettig: UCD is already having an effect on business. Ease of use a competitive advantage.

(I missed some things. I just found a network.)

Steenson: Usability & info. arch. are starting to get acceptance.

G: Clients better understand what usability is and where the problems are. They want UCD, they just don’t know how it happens. More so in the U.S. than other countries.

S: Is UCD more expensive?

G: Up front costs may be more, but you don’t have to go back and fix things than could have been taken care of ahead of time.

R: Business schools are teaching UCD, programmers are getting involved.

G: The products we use are getting more complex. Lots of interfaces to deal with every day. We need to techniques to make technology work for people.

R: UCD goes beyond websites. Ecological impact of design.

R: Sony doesn’t do market research because, they claim, they’re inventing the future. Some established business processes don’t see the value in UCD.

G: Some say UCD takes away the designer’s creativity. No new innovation occurs.

R: If you’re just asking what people like and use, that’s not UCD. What people say they do is not the same as what they really do. You have to go out and watch the users. UCD is not about rules, it’s about discovering real patterns of life.

The floor is open to questions.

Q: Techniques for convincing companies of the need for UCD.

R: Get more people capable of doing UCD. Carnegie Mellon has been hired by USPS to make USPS processes more understandable. Tapping into your sense of empathy.

G: How do you get companies to care more about people than profit? Videotape users getting frustrated with the product — helps managers make the emotional connection.

Q: Iteration as part of the process & bibliography of works that have shaped the panels thinking on UCD.

G: Move away from milestone releases to smaler, more frequent releases. Figure out which users and processes are most important.

R: Stories, sketches, etc. can be prototypes. You have to get things out there to see if they fit.

S: Young designers tend to hold on to their ideas and resist changes.

Q: Emerging trends for the future of UCD.

R: Spreading the word about good techniques. Drawing more from social sciences. Things we create now are less stand-alone — they do not have the full attention of users. Towards conversations, away from rules.

G: Untapped resource: network apps telling us how users use them.

I, Cyborg — Kevin Warwick

Professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading, U.K.

Cyborg — human given greater abilities via technology. What are the possibilities, if humans can tap into the sensory abilities of machines (x-rays, ultraviolet, etc).

In 1998, Kevin had a silicon chip transponder implanted in his upper left arm. A coil of wire in the transponder would get a charge induced into it by coils of wire in doorways. The building knew where he was at all times, opening doors, turning on lights, etc. Not because he needed it, but to find out. Signals did not change based on his body.

In 2002, he had a new device implanted. It connected an array of electrodes to nerves in his left arm. Cables ran from the electrodes, out of arm, and into a connector pad that could be connected to a computer. They were able to listen in to the signals sent from the brain to various parts of the body. Kevin has video of his neural signals controlling a robot hand. Also, Kevin using the same technology to control a wheelchair. The same thing could be done with a car. He couldn’t bathe that arm for 3 months for fear of shorting out his nervous system. He connected his nervous system to the Internet and was able to control the robot arm in the U.K. from New York. Next, he connected ultrasonic detectors to his nervous system that gave him signals when objects were close. It allowed him to walk around his lab blindfolded. His brain adapted to this new sense immediately. His wife had electrodes implanted in her arm. They were able to send her neural signals to his nervous system, allowing him to feel when she moved her hand.

When the implant was removed, tissues had grown around the implant to make the connection tighter.

Next step, the brain. Sending signals from one brain to another, possibly in the next 10 years.

Kevin is answering questions now. Fascinating stuff. Interesting to think what kinds of interfaces could be possible in the future.

So, you’re a twenty-something web designer, just getting started in the business. You’re looking to get your foot in the door, you’re looking for inspiration, you’re looking to learn from the masters. Where do you go?

SXSW. Oh, yeah…

As I type this, we are driving down I-35 towards Austin and our first web conference. SXSW is the big conference for folks like us — folks who live on the Internet. People whose books sit half-read on my shelf will be hosting discussions on all things related to web development and design. It’s a chance to network, learn, and get inspired. And, it’s a chance to spend a few days partying in Austin. And, isn’t that what owning your own business is really all about?

I plan to blog as much of the conference as I can. If all goes well, updates will be frequent. If all does not go well… take care, ok?

Earlier today, Angela put another of our ducks in the appropriate row. She notified the Open Directory Project about the incorrect link they have for Crafty Goat. The Open Directory is used by a lot of web portals, and if we want to drive traffic to our sites, we need to have the information in those directories correct. We’ll be doing more like this in the coming weeks.

With Angela fixing the last of the problems in the various themes, and me adding a page to subscribe to OKMensa mailing lists, the first phase of updating the COM web site is complete. What’s next for OKMensa? Glad you asked…

We want to rip the guts out of it. That means removing PHP-Nuke and replacing it with something easier to customize. Right now, I’m leaning toward a combination of Movable Type for Mensa related news, and some kind of bulletin board system for discussions. I really like the current look, so that probably won’t change much. We will, however, modify the underlying code to make it validate and to make it more accessible. It’s long overdue, and I feel guilty for letting the site sit like it has for so long. But, we have it on the right track now, and we will keep making it better as long as we are in charge of it.

Angela continues to improve the OKMensa site. This time, she has created a new logo that corresponds better with the new look. She has also been tweaking her Flash game, adding, almost literally, all the bells and whistles.

Meanwhile, I was signing up for an online course at Learn2 about Java programming. I don’t know if their courses are any good, but I managed to get the Java bundle for free, so at least the price was right. Angela uses Java in her work, and I’m sure at some point in my career I will be asked to as well. It certainly won’t hurt us to see if we can learn anything from this course. Every skill we pick up is one more reason for a client to hire us.

In her efforts to keep our web sites fresh and lemon-scented, Angela has been adding features to OKMensa — on the “From Our Members” page, you will find a Flash trivia game and a lovely Key of Acronyms. It’s good for COM — anything extra we put on the website makes membership more valuable, and it helps promote the group. It’s good for us — the more we create, the more we can create. And, it’s good for our business — for the same reasons I just mentioned. Weren’t you paying attention?

We also increased our advertising presence on the Web. If you’ll notice, the same Google search that shows our Google ad also lists as one of the top listings. We have had a free listing there for a few months, and it has brought some hits to our website. So, we ponied up the cash for a featured listing (may or may not be up yet). We also signed up to be an Editor’s Pick — we’ll have to pay a commission if we take on any of the projects they refer to us, but, right now, we are more interested in the work than in the money.

The client sent over the contract this afternoon. Angela & I looked it over, decided on some changes we wanted, discussed it further, then called the client and told him we wouldn’t do it.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s this: Kenny Rogers is always right. You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. And, if your name is Ruby, you gotta know not to take your love to town.

All weekend long, our uneasiness about this project grew. At best it was a bad business that would probably go under in a couple of months. At worst, there were aspects of it that could be illegal. It’s best not to get into that kind of situation. I might could even look past the felony aspects, if the client were not so difficult to work with. He did not live up to the same level of timeliness that he was expecting from us. I already have a job like that, thank you, I don’t need another.

While it’s disappointing that it did not work out, we have no regrets. This, like everything else, is a learning experience. In one way or another, it will be helpful to our business. That’s what it’s all about. Oh, and islands in the stream, that is what we are.

The client we met with on Wednesday sent us the NDA. Seems fair enough — once you get past the legalese, it basically says that we won’t share the code we work on with anyone. It appears I can write about the project — and I will, as soon as we receive a contract that covers payment for the work we do. That should come tomorrow.

We started work on our first task for this client, but we will not be finishing it until we receive a contract. It is important to know where to draw the line — you want the client to know how eager you are to help them, and what an asset you can be to their company. The tendency, of which I’ve been guilty, is to jump right in and start writing code even before you have a contract. This leaves you holding the HTML, so to speak, if said client changes their mind. We have no reason to believe this client will, but it is best to err on the side of caution.

Your Good Side: An article at about starting a business part-time while working a full-time job. They’re right, it’s a lot of hard work and late nights. But, it’s always nice to read some success stories.

If something is going to be in your portfolio, it better be worth showing. The Central Oklahoma Mensa web site, while more than adequate for our group’s needs, has been crying out for a face lift for quite some time. Navigation was confusing and inconsistent, and there were many small errors throughout the site that we simply had not had the time to fix. We are now taking that time. Beginning early this morning (And I do mean early — as in, right after midnight.), we started updating the site. It has a new, cleaner look, more consistent navigation, and a lot of the little nagging problems have been fixed.

More is to come. Right now, Angela is tweaking the design, while I’m going through my broken link report, making fixes. We have a list of items we want to complete for OKMensa in the next couple of days. Potential clients visiting our website and checking our portfolio need to see that our sites are kept updated and maintained.

These are short term changes. Eventually, we will get rid of that monstrosity, PHP-Nuke, in favor of a more manageable, better written system. We will make the site standard, accessible, and nacho cheese flavored — nothing’s too good for one of our web sites.

Not coincidentally, the Mensa PRP award judging begins soon. OKMensa did well last year, wining best overall for small groups. Another award would be one more thing to brag about on Smart Goat.