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Ken's blog

Windows: Still Pathetic

I’ve been mocking Windows since I first saw it in the early 1990s. Watching Microsoft attempt to imitate Apple’s elegant GUI was endlessly amusing. When they finally got things like overlapping windows and drag-and-drop working (in version 3.1), the PC world celebrated and the rest of us convulsed with laughter.

"When the world itself helps tell you what to do"

How often have you laughed at at somebody pulling on a door with a big sign saying "PUSH"? Or done so yourself? But it isn't always your fault. Sometimes it's the door's fault. For very basic anatomical reasons, a horizontal bar on a door says "push" to us, while a vertical bar says "pull." If you put a vertical handle on the right side of a door, and label it "push," most people will pull it. That's because the handle spoke to us directly, and we did not bother to read the label.

This is a failure in what interaction designers call "affordance."

Practice Safe Text, Part II: Yes, You Need To Know This Technical Stuff

(This is a continuation of yesterday's Text is Never ÅPlainÅ)

Why should you, the product manager, or editor, or designer, care about things like text encoding? For the simple fact that it can ruin your life. I can almost guarantee that your web site and CMS are full of frightening assumptions about text files. You know when you'll find them? When you decide it's time to present your site in another language, or you start getting content in other languages, or even English content from people using computers in other countries.

Text is Never ÅPlainÅ (Practice Safe Text, Part I)

I started a version of this post about a year and a half ago, when users of a CMS tool I'd written noticed strange characters in their documents. Quotation marks were showing up as foreign letters. The legal section symbol (§) was showing up as the degree sign (°).

You've probably seen this problem yourself in email or when copying and pasting web content. The text looked fine to the person who gave it to you, but to you, it looks like garbage. Why? As one of the clients using my application asked, "It's just plain text! What's the problem?"

The Producers

Aside from "architect," I think the most overused word in web development is "producer." Perhaps part of the problem is that the title means such different things in different industries. In film, a "producer" is someone who was able to raise money to make the film, whether or not they have any actual film-making skills or even any involvement in the work (the two names listed as "producers" on every episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" financed the original movie, but had nothing to do with the series).

Magazines, art books and the product development process

The product development process is, among other things, the method by which the creative tensions between designers, developers, and business people are resolved into a coherent product. It's similar to a political process, which is a way to resolve the tensions in society into a coherent form of government. Well-functioning organizations funnel those tensions into a commonly accepted process, and make decisions using an established process that everyone supports.

Harmonicas and Arrows

It's not often that my years of messing about with text encoding comes in useful in my life as a harmonica player, but once in a while it happens. The harmonica is one of the many instruments for which traditional music notation doesn't always give you enough information about what to play. Any note on the staff can be played on one and only one key of a piano, for instance, but can be played in any of a dozen or so places on a guitar. So guitarists often use tablature that places numbers on lines representing each string, telling them which string to play and exactly where to fret it.

First Principles, or How You Can Avoid Needing To Hire Me In the Future

A little while ago I wrote a recommendation for a client about some content-reuse issues, and ended up writing a section entitled "First Principles." These might seem obvious, but a surprisingly large amount of time and money are being spent on systems and designs that don't take these principles into account. If you want to avoid paying someone like me a lot of money in a few years, think about these things before you invest in a CMS.

Scorecard One for Mashups

The American Lawyer published their Corporate Scorecard package today, including more than 50 charts of complex data about how law firms ranked in the many areas of the industry (IPOs, bankruptcy, etc). The charts look good and are easy to read, and can be resorted, scrolled or paged as necessary. The editors have a fully-functional data CMS that allows them to edit, format, filter and combine data, share it with each other and with outsiders, and then publish it quickly.

The Games People Play

Some projects are more fun than others. Our latest is one of those -- the web site for author Leigh Anderson's new collection of "low-tech games for highly social people," The Games Bible. It's a collection of games to play with your friends, ranging from simple games you can play with pen and paper while waiting for a movie to start, to card games, to intensely complicated strategy games.