Categories
Technology

Validate Me Please!

*WARNING: This entry is extremely dorky, please be careful.*
Well, after reading “Designing with Web Standards”:http://www.zeldman.com/dwws/ by “Jeffery Zeldman,”:http://www.zeldman.com/ I have finally updated my HTML(Hyper Text Markup Language) and Stylesheet to be fully compliant with the “World Wide Web Consortium.”:http://www.w3.org/ To the untechnical this is the equivalent to assembling an IKEA table, finding out you have one screw left and even though completely sturdy, you disassemble the table, just in case it wasn’t extra.

I first updated my HTML (while listening to an episode of “This American Life”:http://www.thislife.org/ about “Camp”:http://www.thislife.org/ra/109.ram)… After a few tweaks it validated. Much easier than I thought… Although, I thought it was _valid_ when I wrote it, but that’s my problem.

Because of my fantastic ability to follow direction and conform, I got a chunk of code to prove to the world that I am a conformist.

Valid XHTML 1.0!

This equals this…

Valid XHTML 1.0!

So, being the conformist I am, I decided to snap my CSS(Cascading Style Sheets) into being valid as well. This, to the non-technical, is equivalent to removing the wallpaper to see if it is securely fastened and then sticking it back up. Sounds easy right? In the technical world it is.

*Cha-Ching!*

Now that I had tasted the pleasure of _validation,_ I needed to post yet another little image saying so.

Valid CSS!

So, where’s the point of this story, you might be asking yourself, well here it is. This organization that prides itself on *standards* and rating my ability to follow them, well their code that they gave me to post on my site…

Valid CSS!

Is NOT valid under their specifications. It’s kind of like building an IKEA table and a technician from IKEA comes over to your house and takes apart that table and walks out with the screw.

*Well it isn’t really, but who’s counting.*

The correct code would look more like this:

Valid CSS!

See that little

/>

at the end of the Image tag? It makes all the difference in the world. _Wait until Zeldman hears about this._

Categories
Technology

Web Design

On “Ultramicroscopic,”:http://www.ultramicroscopic.com/ one of my new favorite weblogs concerning design, a recent entry has sparked a fuse in my aging brain and I thought I would use the comment I left on this site as a springboard for a more technical entry today.

bq. late last year zeldman did a public redesign of his site. visible changes happened daily. some minor some major, some even seemingly contradictory to changes made the previous week or sometimes day. At SxSW in the spring he talked about the redesign. his main reason for doing it publicly was to share the redesign process and the thoughts in action with his readers (largely made up of web developers). his was not the first to transform before his users eyes, but definitely the first high profile site of some one regarded as a direction setter in the industry.

i am a great fan of zeldman, but this irritated me greatly. it seems like a whimpy way out. as a visual designer, i take a stand right or wrong with my designs. the potential for failure has always been an accepted risk. as a visual designer i am presenting a specific identity or persona to my users. I only want them to see the finished product, i do not want them peeking behind the curtain.

Zeldman, from “Zeldman.com”:http://www.zeldman.com/ is a leader in standards web design, by publicly updating his site he was, in a sense, teaching and inviting critique of his code from other designers and developers. Standards design is still woefully inadequate in ease of use and applicability, so by showing us his readership his process, it opened the door, both for help and discussion.

As a graphic designer, newly thrown into the field of standards based web design, I found the redesign an eye-opener. I also feel that graphic design is a process, and web design doubly so, because of it’s nature it is open to collaboration, review, and update. I agree that a designer should stick to his ideals of design and personal convictions, I also agree that too many chefs ruin the pot _(or whatever the colloquialism is),_ but I believe above all else that collaboration makes for the best design. The more ideas that get tossed around the better.

*I think this holds true for most things.*

When a site redesigns itself, often all that happens is new sidding gets thrown up and an additional bathroom gets added to the back. When the Gugenheim built the addition _(which makes the building look like a toilet),_ They made a huge hoopla about the event, but it really wasn’t all that impressive because it’s still the same building. Often designers will take a site offline to tell you that a new redesign is in store.

Basically all that happens is they loose audience by going offline. Your readers don’t care what you are doing behind the scenes, or if they do they wouldn’t trade a blank _”redesign comming soon”_ page for some stories about your grandpa and his two watches.*

*My grandpa wears two watches.

Categories
Technology

Digital Camera

My Coffee Cup at Dizzy's in Brooklyn

It was a frightening experience. I was unsure of what I was looking for, or what was really important in purchasing digital camera. I flip-flopped between desperately needing a digital camera and settling for the next wave of digital cameras that would have ridiculous features in the future.

*I fantasied about resolution*

Finally, I got an e-mail from Dell Computers that they were having a one day sale on all digital cameras. I went over to their site and everything was 20% off, with free shipping! My brain finally made a decision that this is what I had been waiting for and the time to buy was now. I quickly did a little research online and…

*I bought a digital camera.*

I bought my digital camera two and a half months ago, since than I have been taking pictures constantly. I have taken a whole lot of terrible pictures. I have taken _”nature”_ pictures. I have documented my life with photographs. I have taken naughty pictures. I have taken abstract pictures. I have taken snapshots. I have taken too many pictures of my cat. I have taken wobbly pictures. I have blinded people with my flash. I have gotten in trouble with store security for trying to take a photograph.

Having a digital camera really changed the way I take photographs. It allows you the freedom to experiment and take really shitty images, without the frustration of time and cost. You stand there, I’ll point the camera at you, push this little button, and two seconds later I’m seeing a preview of the photograph on the LCD. No more closed eye photographs from the photo-mat. No more photo-mat! Instant pictures! No rolls of film to take care of, no waiting for prints to scratch, no negatives to loose, no extra costs, no scanning to send them friends.

*Instant Gratification*

If you are thinking about a digital camera I would recommend you get one. It is an extremely liberating experience to look at life as the next photograph. Creativity a constant achievable goal. It sounds like an advertisement, but a good digital camera can really change the way you look at life.

Camera: “Canon PowerShot S30”:http://www.powershot.com/powershot2/s40-30/index.html
Resolution: 3.2 MegaPixels
Paid: $321.01 ($100 a MegaPixel)
From: “DealCam’s”:http://dealcam.com/ price alert from Dell Computer

Categories
Technology

MP3 or Bust

“Apple”:http://www.apple.com/ yesterday announced a brand new music service that attempts to bridge the gap between Mac users and the record industry. We all know about “Napster”:http://www.napster.com/ and the Napster like services that have depleted the record industries profits in the last few years. We all know, because we’ve all tried them out. We all downloaded that Men at Work song we were too embarrassed to buy.

We all tried it out, because getting anything for free is the coolest thing ever, but then record companies got all upset because they said we were “stealing” the “Land Downunder” song and were ripping off the artists who needed the capital.

The Record companies went to their lawyers, the lawyers went to the government, the government said it was illegal, and Napster was eventually shut down. The record companies were, for the time being were happy, but just like a weed – the next week a dozen more “file trading services” sprung up and took Napster’s place. The record companies tried encrypting songs on the CDs to dissuade users from converting them into MP3s which enraged music fans.

Why?

Because music, contrary to popular belief, is owned by the music artist and the fan alike. Without the fan the artist is nothing and without the artist the fan has nothing to listen to. Songs become part of you. That Otis Redding song you and your wife love is yours, you even call it “our song”. No one can tell you what you can or can’t do with it. When you try to download it to your computer to use in a DVD about your wedding and it not only crashes your computer, but refuses to play at all, how are you going to feel? Cheated? Upset? Angry?

Where’s the solution?

The record companies in their ignorance, never asked the fans, the people listening to the music, what they wanted. Instead they pissed them off and tried to turn off their free music. The listeners immediately saw the record companies as the enemy and music sharing exploded. It became hip to use Napster and send the music industry that we were in charge. The fans wanted to bypass the record companies and support “the artists”. Unfortunately, in the world of mega-conglomerate-corporate-labels-America the artists could never promote, or distribute their music without the help of the Record labels. Which was evident when no recording artist, aside from Wilco, bypassed their record company or spoke out against them.

This is where the problem lays.

Where did the Record companies go wrong? Well, a whole lot of places really.

* The biggest error was that the record companies never fully realized that digital distribution of music was the future not a passing fad.
* They lost sight of the needs of their end market and treated them like criminals instead of treating them like frustrated music fans.
* They forgot that what makes people listen to music.
* They attacked fans and accused fans of committing crimes.
* Instead of creating special online only material, they created gimmicky DVD special editions of CDs which soon were criticized by fans for their low quality.
* They came up with no better alternatives and instead played catchup by releasing their own pay-for-music MP3 services and radio stations, which couldn’t compete with free MP3 services.

Where Apple’s service differs

Apple’s music service is touted as a music store, not a service. You buy the music, you download it, you own it. They do put restrictions on how many computers you can transfer files to, but deliberately don’t put encryption on their files which they rationalize as “If you want to thwart copyright you will and no amount of encryption will prevent it.” They have very specially positioned themselves between the record companies and the fans, not as the music company’s representative.

Apple have also moved away form the MP3 file format in favor of the much more robust and industry standard AAC (part of the MPEG 4 file format). This allows apple to offer audio that is “virtually indistinguishable from the original uncompressed audio source.” They have gone beyond competing with MP3 to surpassing it, which is very important for them to do to keep this service alive. No one can compete with free, no mater how illegal you make it, but you offer a better product at a cost people might decide to make the switch.

The new “AAC file format”:http://www.apple.com/mpeg4/ is amazing, at 128kbs it is truly indistinguishable from the original (and trust me, I wasted hours re-encoding “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” to find differences). You don’t get washed out highs as you do with MP3 and there is a depth that AAC has that MP3 doesn’t have at 128kbs or at 160kbs. There is no watery crash symbols in AAC. No chirps or birps like downloaded MP3s. Plus added bonus, it takes less time encoding AAC files than MP3s.

Ultimately Apples new service appeals to Apple’s user base which are control freaks and would re-encode their entire music collection in AAC to get the fidelity enhancement. The service is still lacking some key features that will bridge the gap between music fans and record labels like a larger music selection (it only has 200,000 songs at the moment and is missing alternative music labels like Matador). Apple also needs more dynamic pricing, $.99 a song and $9.99 an album is still a little too high for most fans to allow for a huge migration over to the pay service. However, the Apple service feels right and is placed correctly in the market. Apple has consumer confidence, which would have killed a company like Microsoft doing the same type of service. I think Apple will make bigger waves than anyone in the press is predicting, I think Apple’s Music Store will be profitable and keep fans happy and will satisfy the bastards over at the record companies too.

UPDATE For more Information about Apple’s new Music service check out “This Fortune article”:http://www.fortune.com/fortune/technology/articles/0,15114,447333,00.html and this “New York Times Article.”:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/01/technology/circuits/01stat.html

Now get out into the beautiful weather!

Budding tree in prospect park

Categories
Technology

Spring Redesign

After seeing what “Dooce”:http://www.dooce.com/ has done with her website (which is strangely reminiscent to “Button Monkey’s”:http://www.buttonmonkey.com/mindset/ design) I have decided on a spring cleaning and GUI(Graphic User Interface) overhaul. You know, to freshen things up a bit.

I have been toying with the idea of a photo log for a while now, but am resistant to create a whole new weblog to include my photos. I kind of like the way my entries contain photographs and interact with them to further expand ideas in my text. Take for instance a fantastic weblog “More Than Donuts”:http://www.morethandonuts.blogspot.com/, she has a fantastic “photo log”:http://fotolog.net:8080/kdunk/ that is separate, and in my opinion very much isolated, from her main blog. I would like to create an almost seamless dialog between image and text.

*Fingers crossed.*

I was glad to see “Dooce”:http://www.dooce.com/ brought back her _thinking, feeling, listening to, reading_ sections that disappeared after her last redesign. After I saw it on the new site it finally dawned on my how, in fact, she did it and I realized _hand smacking forehead_ that it wasn’t as hard as I had thought. It would also mean that I could have a photo log as part of my main weblog and, while the two wouldn’t necessarily be linked, could live together in peace and harmony.

Which is when I thought that providing tutorials on web related technology for non technical people would be a cool addition as well. Much like “Moonpost’s A Photolog in Five Easy Steps”:http://www.moonpost.com/jeremy/photolog5steps.html or even “Kottke’s”:http://www.kottke.org/ website.

Basically, since I am going about the business of redesigning the whole blasted site, is there anything I can get you while I’m there?

Stained glass in Prospect Park

Categories
Technology

Digital Lifestyles

People like the sound of it.

Digital Hubs, Web Presences, Web Portals, Online Communities.

Lifestyle keywords that mean absolutely nothing and ultimately will go the same way as the _Information Super-Highway._

The trash.

I have been busily meddling with the software side of this weblog in order to _(hopefully soon)_ have a fotolog of my own crackling in my menubar. The problem is, that I am a designer, not a technologist. I want to pick up my mouse and speak into it…

“Computer? Hello Computer?” Much like _Scotty_ in _*StarTrek V:* the search for Sperm Wales._

Technology, for being _”User Friendly”_ is not just that. I am a user and my computer is not my friend. The two of us struggle, on a day to day basis, for superiority.

I have been winning thus far, because I can still yank out it’s powercord, but for how long?

I want to create a fotolog that is beautiful much like my favorites:

* “Slower.net”:http://fotolog.net:8080/eshepard/
* “Red Screen”:http://www.redscreen.net/photolog/
* “KDunk”:http://fotolog.net:8080/kdunk/
* “Harrumph”:http://www.harrumph.com/

But I can’t just get something elegant up and running without painstakingly futsing with an electronic back-end that I was never destined to futs with. This is not the _Matrix_ and things in this world of computers isn’t cool and green drippy, like it is there. If the _Matrix_ were a real thing, out of the movies, it would have crashed because *Times New Roman* wasn’t installed.

The world as I know it, is not as slick as it may seem on your end. I enter code, get dialog boxes thrust in my face, and little click buttons that reproduce faster than rabbits.

And are not as cute, by the way.

I know I got myself into this little jam of computers, RAM(Random Access Memory), Memory Card, Mega Pixels, and Automatic Can openers, but sometimes all I wasn’t is a frigging PHOTO ALBUM!

Capisce?

030306lights.gif

Categories
Technology

Audible.com doesn’t Say what they mean

Now, I know this entry wont appeal to many, but I had to write it, so I decided to post it as well.

Apple computer, a little while back, created a fantastic application for organizing music and creating MP3s called iTunes. iTunes revolutionized how mac users organized and stored their digital music. MP3s became the audio format de jour for computer users. I, myself, started to encode all my CDs to MP3s like a wild-man, hoping one day to have all my music surgically implanted into my brain, so much like fine lady upon a white horse, I will have music wherever I go.

So, in Apple’s latest revision, iTunes 3, they added support for Audible content. Audible.com is a website that offers audio books, that have traditionally been available on tape and CD, through a very legitimate downloadable MP3 like format.

Audible charges a monthly fee [$14.95 or $19.95] to access their books [1 book and 1 subscription or 2 books and 1 subscription respectively]. This service, if you are familiar with peer to peer file sharing, is completely unlike Napster and the like, because it is licensed by the audio book companies to deliver their content. You are not breeching copyright laws with their downloads.

I signed up to investigate for myself Audible’s service, here is what I found:

  • The sound quality is good, not great. They encode their content at 32kbs which is suitable for voice only and bottomed out when listening to Garison Keiller’s News from Lake Wobegon, when the audience laughed or clapped it sounded like I was listening to the radio through a fish bowl.
  • They have a lot of content. I was delighted to see that they had such a wide variety and selection. I was particularly impressed with their unabridged section.
  • Very easy to use. On Mac OS X (Jaguar) I didn’t have to install a thing, it worked flawlessly — which brings up a very good point.
  • This is no MP3. Don’t think, that just because this looks and feels like an MP3 it is one, it certainly isn’t. Your fist tip off should be the .aa file extension. Your second tip off should be the prompt in iTunes for a username and password. This baby isn’t your old play me whenever, wherever you want and burn me onto whatever you want format, oh no, i’s the download me, play me whenever, but only be able to bun me on to a CD once format. That’s right. Only once and only as an audio CD, no MP3 CDs here, as I said earlier, this is no MP3 and it wont play, unless your MP3 CD player supports the Audible format, which at the time of this article none of them do, for distribution reasons.

If you are an avid iPod user, you will not notice any of these restrictions, you can put them on and take them off your iPod as many times as you like and the iPod remembers where you are in each individual track, so even if you start listening to another story, it can come back to the exact spot you left off. I don’t know, however, what happens if you stick another iPod onto your computer, the audio file may not copy.

This is what disturbs me about the Audible format, the audio files don’t feel like they are mine. If I went out to Barnes & Nobles and bought Catch Me if You Can on audio book CD [$44.95] it would be better quality, I could back it up onto another cd, make MP3s of it, load it onto my iPod, whatever, it’s my audio.

With the Audible format, Catch Me if You Can [$29.95] is approximately a 25 minute downlad on a DSL connection, if you have a modem, don’t even think about it. The 117Mb file is a heafty little bastard, but does contain over 8 hours of audio. The plus is, you get to hear your book almost imediately and it’s not taxed (sorry NJ residents). If you are a Member, you are saving almost $30 off the Barnes and Nobles price, which is nice. Unfortunately, Audible’s advice to “Download this program to your computer and then burn it to a CD or transfer it to your iPod.” doesn’t work, because it’s over 8 hours and won’t fit onto a CD, nor can I cut it up, because iTunes won’t let you. No CD for this track, oh well, there goes that flexibility.

The service does have it’s benifits over the audio book CD, but it also has some major disadvantages. I think the most pronounced flaw is the only allowing you to burn 1 audio cd of the content you legaly purchased from a liscenced merchant. If the audio track is not that big, that is.

Sure, there are ways of getting around this format’s copy protection, that any hard-core computer user can figure out in no time, but we shouldn’t have to. If we buy content online, we expect to retain the flexibility that we are accustomed to. In the long run these proprietary features of the Audible format hurt its acceptance in the marketplace and frightens away would be consumers.

I may stay with Audible.com, I may not, but I thought it important to share my experience and inform yall with the help of my meddling.