July 2003 Archives

I’d had my sights set on the WiFi Finder from the first time I read about it. When they finally became available, I picked one up from Circuit City. I immediately attached it to my keychain, and I’ve been trying it out everywhere I go.

It’s not bad, but not great, either. It’s not too big to be a keychain, but it’s close. The device is very simple: press the button, and watch the LEDs. It starts scanning for 802.11b (or 802.11g) networks, flashing a red light every two seconds to let you know it’s still looking. If it finds one, it lights up green, with the number of LEDs lit indicating the strength of the signal.

I first tried it at home. It scanned for two minutes and found nothing. Well, that was disappointing. On a hunch, I turned on my laptop and started the WiFi Finder scanning again. As soon as my laptop connected to the wireless network, the Finder picked it up.

For security purposes, we have SSID broadcasting turned off. Since the wireless AP was not broadcasting, and no one was connected to it, I think there was nothing to pick up. That night, we took a walk around the neighborhood, and I was able to identify a couple of houses with wireless networks.

It’s not instantaneous — even when you try it in a place you know has wireless, it may take several seconds for it to pick up the signal. I think it is scanning all possible channels. It is almost useless in direct sunlight because you cannot tell if the LEDs are lit. Also, you have to be watching it constantly, or you will miss the brief flash when it finds a network. It would also be nice if it had some kind of cover — with the button exposed, I’m sure I’m scanning my pants for a WiFi signal several times a day.

That said, it’s a fun toy, and I don’t regret buying it. It’s made for the amateur wardriver who’s just looking for someplace to get their e-mail fix. Hopefully, future products like this will be smaller and faster, have sound and/or vibrator alert, and a cover.

Also, Firebird 0.6.1 was released this week. While not a major release, it does fix the bookmarklet bug I complained about. If you’re a die-hard IE fan, you really should give Firebird a try. It has the IE look and feel, but with more features and better security.

Smart Goat has signed up to design a new web site for The Bike Stop in Wichita Falls, TX. As of this writing, what is currently there is not our work — ours should be up in a couple of weeks. We have sent the initial concept design for the customer to review. Once the design is settled on, we can build the complete site.

We plan to build it using web standards — XHTML and CSS. Once it’s done, I’ll let you know how it worked out.

Flash Mobs: Peaceable Assembly for Spontaneous Fun — This is so unbelievably random it appeals to me greatly. A bunch of strangers, communicating through the Internet, plan a gathering somewhere to do something strange. Only the handful of organizers know what they are going to do before they get there. For example, fifteen seconds of applause in a New York City hotel, then they disperse. That’s beautiful — equal parts art, statement, and insanity. I’d love to be a part of one of these things. I don’t expect anything like this to happen in Oklahoma anytime soon. But, we’re going to visit New York soon, so maybe I can find out about one happening while we’re there.

Angela made a good point about my last post: How is sharing data good for Amazon, if I’m telling people to use their data, but not buy from them?

Amazon has done some shady things, particularly when it comes to patents. Plus, everytime I think about how everything I do on their site is tracked, cross-referenced, and correlated with a thousand other bits of data, it kind of makes my skin crawl. But, Amazon is an innovator. They often set the standards for e-commerce features and usability. They have made their massive database freely available to anyone who wants to try to do something useful with it. And, while they have the potential to do much evil, they seem to be restraining themselves. So, while I wouldn’t call them a good company, I can’t really call them a bad company, either.

All of that to say I’m not totally opposed to Amazon. I frequent their website, I make use of their features, and I have occassionally bought things from them. When I said not to buy from them, I was specifically talking about independent music. The artist gets a higher percentage of the profits if you buy directly from them. Also, buying from the small sites I mentioned yesterday will show the industry there is a market for independent music.

The RIAA has declared war on its own customers. Is sharing copyrighted works illegal? Sure. Should it be? Debatable. Does it hurt CD sales? Not as much as they would have you believe. File sharing is not evil, it’s a sign that the public is unhappy with the music industry. Rather than adapt, the major labels would prefer to use legislation and litigation to protect their oligopoly.

For those who do not want to support the RIAA’s actions, but who still enjoy music, it can be tricky knowing which labels to buy from. Now help is here: the RIAA Radar, allows you to determine if an album you want to buy was produced by a member of the RIAA. The handy bookmarklet allows you to check albums as you are browsing Amazon.

Ignorance is no longer an excuse. You have the knowledge, what you do with it is up to you. For music lovers who disagree with the RIAA, here are a few more tips for easing your conscience:

  • After you find an album that is “safe,” don’t buy it at Amazon. Buy directly from the artist, if you can. Or, buy from one of the smaller sites that specialize in independent music.
  • Can’t live without an album from a major label? Buy it used. The label has already received its money, but not from you.
  • Support musicians by going to see them live. Music is better that way, anyway.

One more thing: besides being a handy tool, the RIAA Radar is an example of web services being put to good use. It uses the Amazon API to find the label information for the albums. See? Sharing data is good.

For me, Route 66 conjures up images of ‘57 Chevys, full service gas stations, and soda fountains. All things I have no experience with. Our Route 66 trip, however, was very familiar, because it reminded me of all the family vacations I went on to and through Missouri. At the same time, it was very different — it was me & Angela, travelling with every piece of technology we could fit in our SUV. The gadgets were nice, but it was sharing it with my wife that made all the difference.

Here, finally, are a few highlights from our trip, in no particular order…

Continue reading “Trippin’”…

Yesterday’s presentation went very well. Many seemed very interested in how easy it is to publish through blogging, and I think some were intrigued by all the possibilities it allowed. I spoke about blogging, creating web pages, and CSS while Angela demonstrated everything on the large video monitor. Our presentation ended up being about an hour and a half — which, for me, is normally about six months worth of talking. :-)

Both before and after we had some people coming up to ask us questions, which was pretty cool. I hope we were helpful. With such a diverse group, it’s so hard to know how deeply to go into these topics. Based on the questions, I have updated the hand out with some web books I recommend.

Other things I keep forgetting to mention:

  • We met with one of our potential clients again on Tuesday. Looks like everything is a go, we just have to sign the contract. I wish I could give more information, but the client is very secretive. I can tell you that it is a web site 15 years in the making. Think about that for a while. I really think it’s a good idea, and has a lot of growth potential. We’re trying to plan scalability from the very beginning.
  • Other leads are in the works. Our goal is to have more work than we can do.
  • I will finish writing about our trip. Really, I will.
  • Netscape is dead. Not all that surprising, but still sad. I was a Netscape user from the very beginning, and stuck with it until Mozilla reached 1.0. Netscape is synonymous with the history of the Internet, and now it’s gone. Worse still, 50 people lost their jobs, and it’s obvious now that their fate was sealed the moment AOL purchased their company.
  • Blind Kiss — An online audio show about what it’s really like being blind. I haven’t spent much time there yet, but it should be interesting for those of us trying to make our websites more accessible.
  • Also for those interested in accessibility: Joe Clark’s book, Building Accessible Websites, is now available online, for free.
  • Nation Master — Interesting, although 9 out of 10 people agree that statistics don’t prove anything.
  • Isolani points to articles here and there about procrastinating. These insights definitely apply to me, as anyone who reads this site has probably figured out. Writing helps… at least, it does when I don’t put off writing.
  • Most Drivable CitiesThe complete study is also available. Oklahoma City comes in 6th. St. Louis comes in at 50th, and I think that’s about right, based on our recent experience. I also noticed that Honolulu came in at 57th — probably because no one from the continental U.S. can drive there.
  • Science Toys — If a site like this had been around when I was a kid… well, I probably wouldn’t have made it to adulthood. You gotta love things that ‘splode.

Well, that turned out to be a big huge plate of stuff. Thankfully, my bucket is now empty, and I can start filling it again.

News Goat will be featured in our presentation today to the OKCPCUG. We will be talking about easy, low-cost ways to create a personal web site. Naturally, blogging will be discussed at length. If anyone is interested, it will be at 7:00p.m. tonight — visit their website for all the details.

For a sampling of the topics that will be discussed, you can view the hand out we will be distributing at the meeting. The interesting thing about that page is it makes use of a print style sheet. If you print it from a browser that supports such things, you will see that it prints very differently from the way it looks. When printing, I hide the banner and navigation, and make the URL appear next to the text of the links. This allows us to make the same information available online as we are distributing in hard copy, yet we only have to maintain one document.

Domain elitism gets on my nerves.

Logical does not always equal usable. For the average user, www.domainname.tld is the formula they are used to, anything else confuses them. Why do you think has had over 750,000 hits? There are those that say all local Mensa groups should have subdomains under the domain. But, is long, unwieldy, and very forgetable. No, it doesn’t hurt to have the “logical” subdomain redirect to your usable domain, but you should advertise the one that people can remember.

If you do your job correctly, there will be no guessing games. Those familiar with the website will be able to remember the URL. Those who are not will type “Mensa” and the name of their city and/or state into a search engine. You are working to improve your search engine standings, aren’t you?

By and large, Mensans are average web users. Highly intelligent, but just as likely to be unfamiliar with the web as the other 98% of the population. At least, that has been my experience. And don’t forget that many of your visitors will not be Mensans. You cannot guarantee that visitors have the slightest clue what a logical subdomain is.

When providing a service to people with varying skill levels, simple is better. Simple navigation, simple URLs, simple domain names. Keep it simple, webmaster.

Since I began learning accessibility, usability, and semantic web design, one rule I learned early on: regardless of whether it’s appropriate, always use <acronym> instead of <abbr>, because IE does not support <abbr>.

Reading Ian Lloyd’s tutorial on the use of these tags made me realize this is the wrong approach. I always thought that since I was using one of these tags, that was good enough. What I’m really doing is confusing those who do not use visual browsers. I’m telling a screen-reader to pronounce things that may be unpronouncable. This is worse than not completely correct — it’s flat out wrong.

What to do? Ian makes a variety of suggestions, some of which I think over-complicate the whole thing. For example, he suggests using classes to differentiate between abbreviations that should be spoken (but are not technically acronyms) and those that should be spelled-out. If you are that uptight about the whole thing, more power to you. The other person on the planet who feels that way will look at your code and smile. For the rest of us, <abbr> and <acronym> will be sufficient for usability, accessibility, and semantic purposes.

But, there’s still the problem of IE. IE still does not support the <abbr> tag, and it is likely that most people will never own a version that does. Ian suggests extra markup or JavaScript to solve this problem. However, one of the main reasons for adhering to web standards is less markup. And, it’s been my experience, when you try to solve a problem with JavaScript, you end up with more problems than when you started.

I’ve decided to take the MOSe approach that some are advocating. From now on, I will use <abbr> where appropriate. IE users will not receive any visual clues about abbreviations. My apologies, and if I can find a solution that does not involve JavaScript, browser detection, or bloated code, I’ll use it. I have a hunch that this will not adversely affect IE readers, but could save a lot of frustration for blind users. We will see.

As often is the case, we had a bit of trouble deciding what to do for our Fourth of July holiday. We had both arranged for an extra day off, and we knew we wanted to take a trip… but where? After avoiding the decision all week, we finally settled Thursday morning (before leaving Thursday night) that we’d go east on Route 66. No particular destination… just east. We packed our bags, looked up a few Route 66 landmarks that we’d be interested in hitting along the way, grabbed our GPS & laptop with map software (which proved invaluable) and headed out.

Continue reading “Gettin’ Our Kicks”…

I’ve found a software niche that’s not being filled: RSS reader for PalmOS. There’s BlogPluck, but it requires Plucker, which I wasn’t particularly thrilled with when I tried it. Perhaps it has gotten better, but I still think a standalone RSS reader would be worth creating.

I’m playing with the idea of writing this myself. The Palm side of it should be real easy — I’m just displaying entries from a Palm database, and possibly a configuration menu. The conduit will be the most work, but once you have the RSS parser, the rest should be fairly simple.

Just an idea. If I can find time to work on it, I think it will be a worthwhile project.

Via JD: TV executives are startled to learn that people don’t watch ads. Do they? I have to believe these guys occassionally sit down on their couch and watch TV — at least their own networks. Do they sit through every commercial? Yet they expect us to.

Several years ago, I watched a documentary about advertising. One of the points it made was there is no solid evidence that advertising does any good at all, and I believe that is still the case. Advertising will continue, in a variety of forms, even on television. But, as PVRs become more popular, TV advertising will start to look very different. Personally, I prefer when a company sponsors a show, rather than product placement in the show, which is always so obvious and phony.

The point of all this? I love TiVo. :-)