Friday, October 31, 2003

Not a BRIMBORION, definitely

World Wide Words is a huge website written and maintained by Michael Quinion, a British writer of books about words (one of his many hats).

The entire site is "about English words and phraseswhat they mean, where they came from, how they have evolved, and the ways in which people sometimes misuse them." I love words; I love this site, which I just discovered today while reading a Webdesign-L posting about line lengths.

I subscribed to his newsletter, which I look forward to receiving as much as I love getting my Word-a-Day newsletter each morning.
posted by lee on 10/31/03 at 09:53 AM

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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

intensely interesting sites

SOHO Hot Shots (from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory).

And all things about atmospheric optics.

No luck seeing the aurora the past couple of days. Rats!
posted by lee on 10/29/03 at 10:04 AM

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Saturday, October 25, 2003

oh i could just spends days and days here learning

I subscribe to three design lists (Evolt, Webdesign-L, and one more that is not very useful but I haven't had a chance to get rid of it (from Graphic Design Network I think).

At any rate, in Webdesign-L there is an ongoing discussion going about the A List Apart site redesign (my take below). In one of today's posts, James Craig provided a link to an example of how to scale blocks in web pages--something I've been mulling for a project I'm starting. Of course, I had to check out his site, cookiecrook2, and from there I found his project Accessibility Internet Rally: 2003 Training, developed for a web accessibility training seminar presented in Austin (read all about it in the Intro--I wish there were events like this one around here).

I've barely begun to look at this presentation and already I know I'll be spending loads of time exploring things. Unlike most "we'll post the slides on the Internet" presentations which, really, mostly suck because there are no notes or context, this is so fully developed it should be used as the pattern for how to post presentations on the web. There are three versions: the presentation, the webpage version, and a plain text version. Superbly done. A LOT of work.

And I have a LOT to learn about making the sites we build completely accessible. So I'm relieved that there is such a great, easy-to-follow resource for this topic.

A LIST APART REDESIGN
The site is finally organized! Hurray! They did that part of it well (it's about time). A lot of useful information finally categorized and organized to make it easy to find stuff. And the discussions are linked to the actual articles even. A definite improvement over ALA v. 2, which was a an example of how NOT to architect an information site. So kudos to Zeldman et al for finally taking the time to organize ALA.

Now for the stuff that is not good. You have to figure out how to link to stuff--the page links are not visible in either the address bar of the browser or in the status bar. Why, I don't get, but it makes it a real pain in the ass to try to link to a page or to email a page link. Maybe there's a point to this, or maybe it's just the way Frankensite (whatever that is) works (the system used to publish ALA). It's damned visitor-unfriendly.

I'm not crazy about the look. It's not ugly, just boring. Nothing special. Nothing inspiring. I much preferred the look of v. 2 as it was at least dramatic and when you arrived at the site you knew exactly where you were. Now it looks like a thousand other blogs. The logotype is also extremely ugly--maybe it was MEANT to look like two eyes and a nose, but the "a"s sure are fugly. Don't know what the font is, don't want to know other than to be able to avoid using it. (There is no colophon unless it's in the stylesheet, which I haven't looked at yet.)

So, the ALA redesign succeeds in that it finally is structured for the actual USERS (which should've been done properly from the start) but is irritating because there are some standard usability features missing and ho-hum in the look department.

Makes me wish I had the time to finish the InfoPulse redesign get it up this week. The design is done--but the meat (content) is not yet finished. I guess I should at least get the new portfolio items up ... [sigh]
posted by lee on 10/25/03 at 12:14 PM

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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

my lucky day

Lately, I've been exceptionally lucky: I keep winning these sweepstakes. Today's winnings are for "$1.5m 000,000 dorlars (sic)." Apparently, I won Tropical Sweepstakes, but due to some mixup, I have to write to some guy to claim my prize. Last week I won some Dutch sweepstakes, and the week before that, some other version. Couple these winnings with the millions I'll make by helping those guys in Nigeria, Liberia, and Lagos get their money out of their respective countries, I should be a gazillionaire by now.

I hate spam. I can't keep up with the spam filters. I use MailWasher, and I like it, but honestly it can be a real pain in the ass to use. MailWasher is good because it bounces the spam back to the sender--not that it really does much good since so many of the bounce addresses are crap. But it's also a pain to have to scan the subjects or senders before processing. First I get my email delivered via MailWasher, which I scan and process, then I have to get it with Outlook Express. Every once in a while I try to capture the IP addresses of the spammers and add them to the spam filter on our webserver, but that is a pretty time-consuming process.

I guess I could use my winnings to buy one of those server-level spam filtering "solutions!"

THE WEATHER
has been pretty strange lately. Sunday, it actually snowed here in Connecticut. Not in Norwalk, but in, I think, New Hartford or someplace else I've never heard of. Yesterday, it got up to 72 degrees, according to my WeatherBug and 69 degrees according to Weather Underground. Today it's only supposed to get up to 50, and tonight it might snow again. Even on the shoreline, which is where we live. Oh, and last night we had a wild thunderstorm--which started just as I was leaving the house, naturally. Pretty spectacular lightening--almost like movie lightening. Our poor dog was petrified, of course.

BARBARA BUSH & THIS WEEK'S NEWSWEEK
Last night, I read the article about Mommy Bush in the current issue of Newsweek. Then I started to read the excerpt from her journal. I'd read a quote attributed to her earlier, something to the effect that the current bunch of Democrats running for president are a sorry lot. Then I wondered why I was reading anything about her or by her, other than the fact that I was reading because I was too tired to sleep. I mean, really, who the hell is this woman and why is she getting so much press? Even she says she's accomplished nothing other than to marry well and "birth well" (as she puts it). So I stopped reading about her because I realized I just don't care what she has to say about anything.

Moved on the the articles about Design. Or rather, design lite. Too many mentions of "taste makers" without examples of their work (and who rated them, anyway?) Some in-depth stuff, such as how Target uses designers to push its brand. An interesting bit on house design (McMansions vs. houses that are actually designed to be lived in)--but it, too, was light on substance. I dunno, Newsweek seems to be getting awfully fluffy: a huge spread on Friends a week or so ago, now this bit on design. It's turning in to a true waiting room publication, as bad as People. It's supposed to be a NEWS magazine, for cryin' out loud--it's pretty bad when I spend the time it takes to read it and then still don't know what's going on.

Okay, enough for now ...
posted by lee on 10/22/03 at 09:41 AM

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Monday, October 13, 2003

Why should I vote to re-elect Alex Knopp?

Right now I can see a bunch of flashing blue and red lights from the police cars and the amber lights of a wrecker, all dealing with the aftermath of an accident just three doors down from our house, at the corner of Strawberry Hill Avenue and Tierney Street. We watched the ambulance take away the latest victim of Norwalk traffic.

The intersection badly needs a traffic light, or at least stop signs. I've mentioned many times in this blog the insane traffic on Strawberry Hill Avenue, a one-lane, residential street with three schools located within one short stretch. Not even the cops or the city buses go 25 miles per hour, the posted speed limit. Most of the traffic goes at a minimum of 40 miles per hour. Including the cops.

The money for a traffic light at this intersection was actually appropriated in 1997, but, according to the Public Works Committee minutes of Sept. 3, 2003, there was opposition to the light and it was dropped. It was studied and approved by the state. (I know of only one neighbor who would not have approved the light--out of the at least 20 households directly affected). Even though this was just six years ago, another study has to be done and the state has to approve it again--though why isn't clear. And the cost of putting in a traffic signal is between $120,000 and $150,000? That sounds pretty damned steep to me. (Though I'm sure the cost is a lot less that the inevitable lawsuit that will get filed when someone is severely injured or killed because of lax traffic enforcement on Strawberry Hill Avenue.)

Norwalk's city hall is on Tierney Street (the corner of Tierney and East Avenue). Which is where our current mayor allegedly works. Our mayor, Alex Knopp, ran on a platform of easing the traffic "problem" and lowering homeowners' taxes. That's it, those two things and some lip service to working with the school board. I don't care about the school board much since we don't have kids.

But I do care a great deal about taxes, and about the traffic. And the election for mayor is next month. What has our current mayor done to earn my vote again this time? As far as I know, he's managed to make things worse as far as taxes go and to do absolutely nothing about the traffic. If he has done anything about anything, I have no way of knowing since he hasn't bothered to send as much as a newsletter or a letter tucked in with the bills we receive from the town. Or even just mailed to each household.

We did get a letter from one of the candidates running against Knopp, from the Republican/Independents. They pointed out that Knopp actually raised property taxes by 14% over two years (the property tax on our house is in the vicinity of $4500 per year now), raised the auto tax by a whopping 25%, slapped on a sewer "tax" of $175 per household the first year and raised it the next year, and raised all the fees you have to pay the city for any kind of permit or license.

I can understand having to raise some of the city fees--Connecticut is in trouble just like almost all of the rest of the states. I can even understand imposing a sewer fee (though making it not deductible from our state taxes was nasty)--but not more in sewer taxes than we pay for our water!

What really pisses me off about property taxes here are all the big boxes that pay nothing or next to nothing in taxes. Huge stores that bring in even more traffic--Walmarts, Home Depot, mega grocery stores--and more wear and tear on our infrastructure and pay next to nothing in property taxes. The huge office buildings--IBM, Priceline, etc. etc.--that draw in thousands of commuters every day, but pay nothing or next to nothing in property taxes. Meanwhile, there are seniors and others on fixed incomes who have to sell out and leave Norwalk because they cannot afford to pay the increases in property taxes. Our property tax is 25% of our annual housing cost!

My father was a councilman in a city about the size of Norwalk. He always stressed that bringing in businesses to a town or city brings revenue to pay for things like the roads and schools and libraries and firemen and cops and garbage collection, so business development is a Good Thing. It helps keep homeowner property taxes lower, helps keep the quality of life decent ...

Here in Norwalk, though, our municipal government somehow never managed to grasp the basics of City Development 101. Our Civic Leaders' idea of a good development deal is to insist that Walmart repave the parking lot. But pay property taxes? Forget it--they said Walmart wouldn't have come to Norwalk if it had to pay taxes commensurate with the size and traffic and wear and tear generated by not one, but TWO Walmarts. So in order for the city to support the mammoth increases in infrastructure burdens, the city taxes homeowners. Are homeowners benefiting from Walmart and Home Depot and Super Duper Stop and Shop? Not a chance. We go to the supermarket in Westport and the Home Depot in Fairfield because it's so much easier to get there.

If Alex Knopp wants my vote again, he's going to have to explain how he's working on getting the big boxes pay for their fair share of the infrastructure costs. He needs to tell me how he's going to alleviate traffic congestion. He's going to have to demonstrate that it's not going to take a kid being killed for him to put in a traffic light at Strawberry Hill Avenue and Tierney Street. He needs to show how he's insisted that the cops enforce existing traffic laws. He needs to tell me how my tax burden is going to be eased, or at the very least, how it absolutely won't go up again during his next term. And he needs to at least respond to letters written to him by citizens--I have yet to receive a response from him to a letter I sent to him in January.

I have a hunch I'll be voting for anybody BUT Alex Knopp. Maybe even a [gasp!] Republican ... a pity, since I had such high hopes for him. But ya gotta wonder: how can a guy with the entire Common Council ready to rubber stamp whatever he wants manage to not only accomplish nothing, but to actually go backward? (It's time to get some people who use at least a couple of brain cells on the Common Council--but I'll save that for another rant.)
posted by lee on 10/13/03 at 04:06 PM

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Friday, October 10, 2003

bandwiz launched (again!)

We've been working like mad to finish up the redesign / remodeling of Bandwiz. We finished!

Last March, we redesigned the site for the first time. It looked great, but it wasn't what we recommended -- not for a corporate site. The client wanted a Flash splash page, which we strongly advised against, and settled for a Flash movie taking up a great deal of the home page. The client wanted things like headings turned in to graphics, vs. html, which we also advised against -- at least on the home page. The client wanted the site editable in Macromedia Contribute, which we set up, but which didn't work well because the staff assigned to doing the maintenance never bought into the job.

The site had okay traffic, but nothing spectacular. It was basically a company-centric site (a vp-stroker site), which was a shame because the company has such a great product (see below).

THERE WAS A REGIME CHANGE
New marketing VP. Who took a look at the site, asked us a bunch of questions such as "How do we get ranked higher in the search engines?" and "How do we make this site more visitor-centric?" And listened, thought things through, planned out her strategy, asked us more questions, had us develop prototypes, got feedback, and let us develop the site the way it should be in order to meet the goals of the site: to provide information about the product Bandwiz sells, which is software that provides an affordable ECDN (enterprise content delivery network).

The basics are done. It's a good site structured so that it will be easy to maintain and to add enhancements such as a demo or interactive content. There are a couple of things we still need to install on the site, such as a registration management system and a content management system for the news / press releases section -- but it's very functional now. It's going to be interesting to watch how the redesign has an impact on traffic and conversions. So check out Bandwiz and let me know what you think.

Now if I just had time to finish the redesign of InfoPulse! A great redesign, very elegant, but we've been so busy with client projects we haven't had time to even update our site. There are additions to the portfolio, for example, that we haven't had time to add in, let alone code the new design. But I'm NOT complaining. Far from it.
posted by lee on 10/10/03 at 03:18 PM

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Wednesday, October 08, 2003

whaddaya mean it’s october?

Insanely busy--working on Fungi Folio stuff (you know, those projects that start out fairly straightforward and just seem to mushroom), but we actually are almost done with the "deadline - was - yesterday" projects and life should get back to what passes as normal for us within a day or two. Sure they will. What's good is all of the projects we have are interesting and we are just about ready to think about beginning on another one (we can at least set up Movable Type and import Blogger entries!) Fortunately, all the work is for clients and projects we like a lot, which somewhat takes the pain out of not getting quite enough sleep. Somewhat.

But I did manage to notice that the morons prevailed in California--yeah, maybe recall the guv, but to choose Arnold Schwarzenegger? That takes a special kind of stupid. For Californians' sake, I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt I am. But then again, it affects us not one whit here in Connecticut. We already have a Republican wrecking our state. The best I can say for him is at least he got through college and can at least say nothing without spouting comic - book - movie clichs.

And I also noticed that the Do Not Call list survived one more round of court rulings. Good--there's hope for it yet.

Today's weirdest story:
(Hartford-AP, Oct. 8, 2003 5:43 AM) _ Enfield police are trying to figure out how the skeletal remains of a human foot ended up on the shore of the Connecticut River.

Volunteers working to clean up the riverbank found the foot inside a work boot Saturday. A faded white sock was still on it.

Volunteer Kate Card tells The Hartford Courant that when workers found the boot, some joked there might be a foot inside. All joking stopped when there actually was.

Deputy Police Chief Raymond Bouchard confirmed that the foot was human. He says it probably belonged to someone who committed suicide somewhere upstream.


I guess I wonder most what "faded white" looks like. Is it somehow less white? Enquiring minds wanna know ...
posted by lee on 10/08/03 at 10:57 AM

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