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leonard's fa410 blog

Welcome to my weblog for the fa410 class I took in the fall 1999 semester.
Other sections:

[ archive | assignments | class notes | matrix redesign | recommended reading ]

Friday, September 03, 1999

9/3/99 9:01:16 PM
preach on @ /.

I'm a developer at M$, and I've watched the Linux community for a couple of years now too. It seems that the corporate and open-source development models have at least one flaw in common: insufficient documentation. All too often one finds a section of code that is not commented in-line worth a damn, and there is no thorough "architectural overview" of the project to even help clue you in. So to address the question, "What if so-and-so gets hit by a stampeding buffalo?", let's first address a larger issue: how can we get people up-to-speed on development projects more easily? The answer is to simply shift our philosophical viewpoint. We should place correctness, thoroughness, and efficiency of documentation on the same priority level as correctness, thoroughness, and efficiency of code. Then you don't have to worry about a project dying just because a few key people left and took all the knowledge with them! This means commenting (in the code) the purpose and inner functioning of every function so that a newcomer can immediately see what the function does, why it gets called (and from where), and how it works inside. This means modifying your original design specs as you go along to reflect what is actually happening in the project as it takes shape, so that at the end of the project you have a complete architectural overview that one could read to easily see how the project fits together.

Thursday, September 02, 1999

9/2/99 2:54:02 AM
I wish xanadu really worked. i could definitely use it. it's way past my bedtime.

9/2/99 1:58:20 AM
i think writing on blogger brings out my acerbic side. my acerbicity? how to make acerbic a noun... must be the tiny text box encouraging typing long and in quick spurts.

9/2/99 12:16:49 AM
very funny

Wednesday, September 01, 1999

9/1/99 11:48:02 PM
super useful tool i suggest everyone w/ a pc get: html reference library. The url changes every single time i want to get a new version though... :-|

9/1/99 9:56:26 PM
Authoring software that will be useful...

9/1/99 9:52:45 PM
There's nothing more frustrating than not speaking the same language. That's basically the situation that's happening in class now methinks.

Large Group projects = sucks. Class != production environment.

Until I create a folder for all the Matrix lab design stuff...

Matrix site Scope and Philosophy

The redesign of the site should be limited primarily to: organizing the content, creating a unifying design. <diatribe>This, of course is a project that should be done primarily by a small web team. Mythical man-month rules apply as you add more people, even under optimal management. That is why group web projects never work. The hollywood management/role system doesn't work for web dev because web development has more in common w/ software than movies. Looking at the success rates in both the film and software industries paint a grim picture either way.</diatribe>


  1. analyze customer requirements
  2. structure site (ia)
  3. visual identity
  4. user interface
  5. produce and test
  6. refine

Past step 2 the content should all be organized, and it should just be a matter of applying formatting. While I think that wowing people is something that's desirable designwise, but far from the #1 goal. I think that we haven't quite gone through what our target audience is and why they would want to go to this site. If we have already, than I think that there is a huge amount of ego or ignorance going on about the g-whiz design factor. design needs to support your goals. your goal is to please your target audience. Excerpt from Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing:

Start by putting yourself in your users' shoes. Why are they coming to your site? If you look at some Web sites, you'd presume that the answer is "User is extremely bored and wishes to stare at a blank screen for several minutes while a flashing icon loads, then stare at the flashing icon for a few more minutes." Academic computer scientists refer to this process of fitting software systems to people as "user modeling."

Slightly more content-rich sites are based on the user model of "User wants to look at product brochures" or "User wants to look at fancy graphics." After pulling the server logs for the sites that reflect these user models, though, it is tough to have much faith in them.

Think about it for a minute: If a user wanted a flashing computer screen and confusing user interface, he could stuff a CD-ROM into the drive. He could get an even more enticing show without the crummy user interface by picking up his television remote control and flipping channels. If a user wanted product brochures, he could get them by calling manufacturers or visiting shops. If a user wanted fancy graphics, he could flip through dozens of pages' worth in a print magazine in the amount of time it would take to load a single corporate Web page.

Users come to magazine-like Web sites because they have questions. They are not bored losers. We are not doing them a favor by putting product brochures online or showing them huge logo GIFs. Users are doing us a favor by visiting our Web sites. They are paying to visit our servers, if not exactly with money then at least with their time. We have to give them something of value or they will never come back.


9/1/99 9:20:35 PM
I should probably separate my page into separate sections for assignments, class notes, and general stuff... Two more blogs perhaps?

9/1/99 8:15:41 PM
Did a fixed width 600x300 comp in class for the Matrix lab front page. If I were doing the page for real: no-fault js flash for logo, css link hovers, try to keep it mostly to text, use tables (probably fixed width w/ this design, but possibly expanding some elements). In fact, the class should be forced to do it for real. I don't think that most of the people realize anything about designing for the web (vs. screen, vs. print). The web is a totally different way of thinking because it's not possible to control a user's experience or the layout, and a good design isn't judged on how whizbangy it looks-- well to clarify, it isn't judged on the page looking exactly like it looks like on your screen-- because it never will, and trying to force it usually takes your attention away from more important things, like accessibility and usability among other things.

9/1/99 7:08:17 PM
found it again. classic example of awesome table constructed liquid design: soulflare

9/1/99 6:26:14 PM
in class

  • Create a graphic/layout for opening home page
  • Think about what should be included on the site and create a site map
  • Think about authoring mentality that should be used
  • conceptually, steps to creation: matrix, unity.
    information architecture, user interface, visual identity, content

9/1/99 1:04:27 PM
Awesome. (courtesy of the shredder)

9/1/99 1:01:20 PM
More webdev fun @ SiteExperts.com

9/1/99 12:00:25 AM
amazing how many stupid people there are who think that the web is all about eye candy. the future is in rich media that conveniently can't be searched or indexed, but who needs that because in this "ideal" world, the web isn't useful and entertainment is the ultimate goal of everything. one giant leap for mankind. ayep.

Tuesday, August 31, 1999

8/31/99 11:41:52 PM
I've found a new site, eatonweb 'blog via the jargon scout via peterme. The eatonweb site has a very well done CSS-P layout. I wish I were as brave w/ absolute positioning, but it's just not something I'm comfortable with. Ideally, I would like to be able to suggest an em width for a text column, let it wrap like a table cell would allow (if it's shrunk). Am I asking for too much? If you know how to do this with divs, feel free to email me.

8/31/99 11:34:32 PM
After quite a bit of (on and off) tweaking, I've officially given up on nn4 CSS compatibility. fuck navigator.

8/31/99 10:28:09 AM
Was reading evhead, which had a link to uploading, which reminded me of some really cool sites, praystation and kaliber10000 among them.

8/31/99 12:53:46 AM
Oh, some resources. This is the "so you wanna be web-savvy" resource kit. lots of (free) reading, but worth the time i think. offered as a free public service. no warranties implied or offered, ymmv:

photo.net - Philip Greenspun's web section. essential and useful
Guide to Web Publishing - condensed into book form
useit.com - usability from a usability guru. you might not agree with him all the time, but it's a must read.
Ask Dr. Web - good place to pick up the basics
quickie links - from a ([n] admittedly not that super) paper I wrote. lots of basic info about the web as a medium itself
peterme.com - good articles on interface / info design
Camworld - more weblog lovin'. check out this rant

Tomolak's Realm - one stop newslog for everything web.
web review - big site with some useful info
webreference - more substantive
wdvl - no fluff

A List Apart - Weekly really interesting and intelligent web articles
Scripting.com - daily food for thought
evolt - if you still can't get enough

now go to and surf! be sure to check out web standards, and check out the W3 for the source. Oh, and deja has relatively easy access to newsgroups when you just need to find something in comp.infosystems.www.authoring.*.

Monday, August 30, 1999

8/30/99 10:12:18 PM
Hmm, the previous diatribe is probably more harsh than I really intended to be. Please read w/ requisite spoonfuls of sugar / salt rock . Just thought that some of these points should be brought up (at least so I don't forget it.

Anyway, assignements:

5 "art-related" sites:
Matrix web site critique

[ link to the site ]

You know, Chris, I don't know why you kept apologizing for this site's plain appearance and Jim's lack of time. Personally, I don't think that's the largest problem with the current site at all. Sure it's a bit plain, but that's not fatal

How much do we care about random eyeballs? Not much, methinks. Presumably there is interest in the Matrix Lab site primarily by: current students, prospective students, and then: faculty, staff, funding, general interest.

Therefore, in this case, content, clarity, navigability is king. the current page is not lacking because it is "boring," but because it is not quite useful enough. IE: there is not enough content, the navigation gets misplaced on the bottom (only) where are pages of long text (add some CSS for lineheight). where's the search? why the splash screen? link colors nonstandard for no reason?

Usability should be the first issue. If I am a current student, I want to find out all about what's going on with the Matrix Lab, what it is by what it's done and what it's doing, not advertising spiel, or we wanna-be-cool trendy poseur rave design memes (translate: shite). Not unless we're gonna have a big PLUR intro.

Up to date content is a must to be useful. Updated content is a plus if you want to draw repeat viewings. Mention of searching archives: there seems to be a great depth of content that is never revealed. Guess what? Cutting edge, value, stickiness isn't about annoying repeating songs, slavishly created flash, or anything like that. Want to impress? Install frontier on that tired old Mac server and manage that content!

but, please lets be realistic. 6 week schedule here. How many specialists do we have? InfoArch? Management? Usability? WebDev? DBAs? SysAdmins?. Before anyone goes blasting anything, please think about what you can realistically contribute to a deliverable. Does your contribution realistically match your expectation?

I think we can do a lot to make the site more useful. I also think we should carefully target our goals and concentrate on what's most important. Otherwise, we should just leave the thing alone.

list your strengths:
  • have done some web production, enough to know what not to do
  • expert at HTML, CSS, DHTML
  • experience in DB backed web sites (ASP, PHP, Perl, SQL, blah, blah)
  • also know a lot about web infrastructure, and other stuff: done lots of reading on web as medium, usability, information architecture, current trends, memes, randomness
  • suggest we use pyra

8/30/99 9:37:21 PM
I've seemed to get something workable going. Not optimal, but I'll work on formatting a bit later.

The first class wasn't bad, despite the usual artistic pretension. Our first assignments are fairly straightforward, and I'm looking forward to getting a lot done in this class. I know that I'll be trying my best to have fun and be productive, but I do have quite a few reservations with the group web project -- I'm not sure if the students that chose to do it knew what they are getting into. I'm hoping that the professor recognizes that most likely no one knows anything about production schedules / project management, nor the technical issues involved with launching a site. Heck, most professional production teams don't launch on time. Compound that with irregular schedules and dependencies (meeting 2 times a week w/ over a dozen ppl?), lack of team dynamics (no one knows each other or their skills), lack of expertise, and the protracted 6 wk schedule. Time to really get cracking on that Rapid Dev book.

Other things that don't sit too well:

  • the advertising bent - i'm not exactly comfortable with the emphasis the professor placed on advertising today. Despite the merging of "new media" and advertising agencies (USWeb/CKS, Razorfish, Interactive Bureau), web as brochureware, no matter how whiz bang, is a dead end. The big thing seems to be building communities and services. Sfx, design is all pointless w/o content. It seems so basic that it's strange that this should be an issue at all. From Jakob Neilsen, Philip Greenspun, to Lance Arthur. E-businesses have latched onto this especially. Just look at all the large sites on the net, from Yahoo to Amazon. This emphasis on needing to impress with stuff like flash/shockwave animation seems especially strange in light of this advertising bent. Not only is this not conducive to changing and editing information, but also limits the audience.
  • apple - I don't think that because the room we're in is filled with old Macs or that lots of "artists" (read: technically unlearned, education environment-- ie, a great (scary) number of web design ppl use Microsoft's ASP/IE, lots of discriminating digerati have moved on to Be). Anyway, the point is that advertising has nothing to do with worth of a product. The most relevant tangent of this discussion is probably how the opensource movement, as a development model is (perhaps) ideally suited to the internet environment. Just MO
  • last rant. we were shown a cd-rom made almost 10 yrs ago implying that rich interface should translate to the web. this is most definitely NOT a good thing. The web does not correlate to cd! Entry tunnels don't work. Opaque interfaces pisses people off. Relating to this, forcing people to change their resolution or increasing system requirements is very very bad, especially if your are concerned about losing eyeballs. If a use makes his/her decision in 3 seconds, it better load before then. That gives you 10KB to draw them in before they leave. Doesn't matter if they don't have the plug-in. And plz don't make anyone scroll horizontally.

    Anyways, if you can't find the data, it's no good, is my basic thing. Straightforward != always bad, and obsfucated != always deep and meaningful. Art, and the web should all be about communication, and furthering/improving communication. Otherwise it's just high-tech elitist dick-waving.

8/30/99 8:11:31 PM
This is my first "journal" entry for my fa410 class. I'm trying this out using blogger. Not sure if this is easier, but it's worth trying out.

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