I'll be at Seybold all week

· Best Practices

This is just a reminder that I’ll be attending the Seybold 2003 conference in San Francisco all this week. I’m doing an hour on syndication on Tuesday afternoon, a half-hour intro to blogging on Thursday afternoon, and a 3.5-hour comprehensive weblogs tutorial on Friday afternoon.
There’s wi-fi at the conference, so though I might not be posting much, I’ll be checking my email. If you’re in town and you want to hook up, say hello, or grab a cup of coffee any time during the week, just drop me a note.

jjg on user-centered design

· Best Practices, Book News

Good (public) interview getting underway in the Well’s Inkwell conference with Jesse James Garrett, author of The Elements of User Experience (New Riders, 2003), a book I’ve promised to review in this space and will get around to eventually, I promise!
Garrett is a groundbreaker in the less-than-a-decade old discipline of information architecture. Much of his work and his ways of organizing the design process have become hugely influential. The diagram that inspired his book circulated the web for years as a fundamental IA meme.

Weee're back

· Best Practices, Book News, Miscellany, Salon Bloggers, Weblog Concepts

Well, that took longer than expected. I’m still getting things re-configured and re-set up at ol’ Open Publishing / ezone / x-everything industries, but most of the sites are at least now visible, and I may hope that we’ve cured the hacked-so-easily problem we had going there.
In the meantime, off the air, I found solace in posting via Radio and Blogger even when I knew the publishing action would fail, and hanging around the Well more.
Forgive the extensive cross-posting. I’m just trying to push out all the categories with current posts.

Radio silence

· Best Practices, Weblog Concepts

I’m bringing my server down for maintenance. You can only hack my home page so many times (three, to be exact) before I decide to do something about it. My sysadmin/friend/host Jeff Tiedrich will be updating our Linux install from an old Slackware version to a more recent Red Hat version said to have more robust security defenses.
Like any move, this involves some housekeeping and a little transitional downtime. I expect my sites (such as RFB, X-POLLEN, Enterzone, and others) to go dark tomorrow and to start reappearing on Friday as we get the tarballs reungzipped and put in place, and then figure out what has to be wired differently (for instance, mysql will live in a different place, which I’ll have to tell Movable Type about).
The Internet is all about always-on, 24/7 and so on, so it’s weird to say that we’ll be not broadcasting for about a day, but there you have it.

UPDATE: It looks like it actually took more than a week, so far, and we’re still not entirely shipshape. Still reattaching mysql hooks. Here the advantage of a desktop blogging tool is clear.

Visio ate my homework

· Best Practices, Book News

I’ve been drawing wire frames (also called virtual blueprints) depicting schematically how a number of different page views and portlets and popup windows show look and function for a portal project, and I’ve been drawing these pictures in Visio. It’s an old version of Visio (2000) and I’m running it on a fairly old Dell laptop issued me by the consultancy that hired me to do this project, and between these two old geezers of hardware and software my life today has been a bleeding nightmare.
First, the Dell freaks out if I move it around, and I’ve had the blue screen of death four times today. Worse, this old version of Visio has a special file-corrupting problem that renders the doc I was just working on (and sometimes even earlier versions that should not even be open anymore) unreadable by Visio.
In hunting around with some help from a very smart systems guy, I learned that this is a known bug, there is a Microsoft patch (but it’s for SR-1 versions and later only – the Visio I have is actually pre-Microsoft acquisition), but all it does is minimize the error in the future. It does nothing to help recovered the munged files.
A discussion on an info-arch website convinced me that this is a common problem and that it’s exacerbated by keeping a large number of drawings in a single file (I have over 50 drawings in the file in question). A google search on “recover corrupt visio” however helped me find a shareware product called RecoverMyFiles.
Man is that thing good. They claim they can find things you never saved, things you’ve already emptied from your recycle bin, and even files from a disk you’ve reformatted. I set the little bugger to work checking cluster by cluster and it found 47 lost Visio files on my machine! (Many of them are iterations of my work in the last few days, especially since I started obsessively saving backups and moving on to copies to try to put interim files beyond the clutches of the diseased application, but some go back years.)
The recover tool is very smart: Once it finds your files for you, it requires you to buy it ($59.95) and enter a registration key to actually save the recovered files. I had my credit card out in no time flat.
You also need a separate disk to save to. I’ve actually had to upload over 10 files of nearly four megs each through a VPN connection over DSL to a network-mounted drive, but they’re almost all saved now, so I’ll be able to drag ’em back soon and get on with my work.
Yep, looks like it’s done now. A small test file opened just fine. Now it’s time to go for one of the meatier ones. … Shazam!
Best $60 I ever spent.

I must be losing it

· Best Practices, Book News

After a long pleasant period of using my Mac for pretty much all my work and play tasks, I’ve been involved in an IA project recently that required me to work in the Microsphere, in Windows 2000, with Office/Win software, using Visio to make diagrams instead of OmniGraffle or Illustrator.
It hasn’t been that bad, really. But the thing that was starting to disturb me as I geek-zone alpha-state flowed into the evening while working on my project yesterday (which was Sunday – not really necessary for me to keep puttering over the weekend but we’re coming to the end of this phase and I’m getting a little obsessive about my charts and diagrams, lists and spreadsheets, outstanding issues and other tracking devices; I keep tweaking them, consolidating them, cross-checking information between them, while all the time fiddling with the look of various sitemap and wireframe boxes and labels), the thing that was starting to disturb me I say is that I suddenly found the face of the stupid paperclip help avatar to be charming and expressive.
[the paperclip guy in repose]Hey, that middle fold is like a nose, I thought. (Duh.) Maybe it was the way his (it’s a he, right?) eyes went wide and he crossed his eyebrows as I saved my work for the hundredth time (since Visio’s been crashing on me I’ve become like a labmonkey pressing the pellet button, saving after every incremental sneeze in every open application window).
Ordinarily I hide or kill these bastard children of Microsoft Bob but lately I’ve been so focused on the work that I haven’t gone through all this software they set up for me and spent the time to set any preferences. Either the clip has gotten less distracting (better art direction?) or I’ve just had tunnelvision.

Bonus tangent No. 1: So when I was going back through this piece and sticking in some much needed paragraph breaks, I decided my thoughts in the second paragraph should be in italics, since it’s a typographical convention and one I like. I started entering an em tag, for emphasis, but then I thought. No, I’m not emphasizing this phrase. I’m italicizing it, to indicate thoughts instead of direct or indirection quotation. And I thought that the Zeldmanio-Holzschlagian ideal would be to mark the thought with a span tag and apply a “thought” class which would be set to display italics in a style sheet definition. Did I do this? No. But if a little paperclippy-descended thing said to me, “Hey, it looks like you’re italicizing that phrase. Are you using italics for emphasis, to indicate a thought, or for some other reason? (Please click one.)” – after which it would offer to update my style sheet and replace the i tag with a span class= kind of thing. But maybe I’d say back to it, “Hey, when you said ‘click’ did you realize I might be interfacing with my computer through something other than a mouse?”

It occurred to me that there will be full-fledged interactive AI help personas in our computer-enabled systems some day, maybe even in my lifetime, and won’t it be weird for them – the most sophisticated humane ones especially – to call an animated paperclip one of their ancestors, nearly the Abrahamic father of their line.

Bonus tangent No. 2: When Lakhtar Brahimi went to Afghanistan for the U.N., I found myself wondering if his name was at all cognate with the Indian word brahman, and then I suddenly had a strange thought (via “a brahman”) wherein I wondered if the name Abraham (or Ibrihim, as Muslims like to say and spell it) is in anyway etymologically related to brahmin. Maybe Ur (supposedly a northern-ish city in Mesopotamia near present-day Turkey and Syria and not the sourthern-ish city site still present in Iraq) was just a stopping point for father Abraham. Perhaps he and some of his devotions and hereditary wisdoms came from further east?