Monday, April 28, 2008

Fireworks, have at thee!

Adobe Fireworks logoSo! Fireworks CS3 is decidedly the suck. Actually, I should rephrase that. The entire CS3 Web Suite is the suck, in my humble opinion. Those might be bold words so let me clarify:

I'm admittedly a Macromedia fan boi. There. Now that is out of the way, I can go on in an absolutely biased way to completely and utterly trash Adobe.

When Adobe bought Macromedia, they did so for reasons that were so deep into Flash's market penetration that it wasn't even funny. Sadly, the remainder of Macro's apps were mostly dismissed. Dreamweaver was essentially the Web design standard in the HTML editing space so GoLive was out, and Contribute was a slick little tool for managing small to mid-size business' web authors so that's still in. Director ended up being the big-brother whipping boy for Flash, and Freehand was completely cut loose due to the elephant in the room known as Illustrator. That all plays out well, with the exception of Fireworks. It doesn't compete directly with Photoshop so what to do, what to do?

Fireworks is my Web UI development application of choice. It's got decent vector-based editing tools, and acceptable bitmap editing capability. It's nothing like Illustrator or Photoshop for their dedicated tasks, but with it's live effects and excellent file export options, Fireworks turns out to be a awesome tool for a web designers arsenal. It's only natural that this would move to replace Adobe Image Ready. Image Ready and Fireworks could do a ton of the same things, but Fireworks really could do them all better - and Adobe agreed with me.

As for the new MacromediAdobe products, the CS3 Suite has been an utter and complete disaster as far as our in-house design shop is concerned. Disclaimer:: We're all running Macs around here and we're all too aware of Adobe's current Windows-bias. Our print designers have run into a variety of issues regarding product updates and migrating files to the newest versions of the Adobe tools, and our entire Web team has downgraded to Macromedia Studio 8 on our Intel-based MacBookPros. We manage a handful of Contribute users and the rendering of our table-less, CSS layout just falls apart when users go to edit pages. Font management is abysmal to non-existent for the newest version of Fireworks, and last night I experienced a complete and utter disaster.

I decided to move files to a different directory while they were still open - okay, that's admittedly my bad. Of course, I kept on working on the open files and when I hit "Save" the system happily looked like it was saving all of my changes. Apparently that wasn't the case and when I opened the file back up - I was back at version 1.0 of the project. Why wasn't there some kind of error? Why did Fireworks act like everything was fine and the little, tell-tale red button at the top of the window signal everything was a go? It's because the CS3 products are the suck that's why.

In Adobe's defense, I can't leave them solely on the table without leveling some hate at the media's current darling Apple and Mac OS X. Something was asleep at the wheel in my system last night when I was working. I'd expect either Fireworks or OS X to calmly and politely let me know, "Hey moron, you're dicking up your design because you moved the original files and I can't actually save your progress - stop now!" Just give me some kind of sign! I'd love to blame user error and just bend over, but if I click CTRL/CMD+S and warning bells don't go off, I assume everything is fine and keep on trucking. The Mac OS could be just as much, if not more so, at fault as opposed to my graphics app so to be fair, it's either completely to blame, or an unwitting accomplice.

Either way someone should be slapped then shot over my lack of sleep. </rant>

The problem is that the Fireworks development team doesn't have the resources given to it that say Photoshop or Flash does. And that's just sad. There really aren't many options, if any, for graphics tools that cater specifically to UI-authoring for web design. Web design images and CSS are built and tweaked to be trim and fast-loading, and in this designer's opinion, so should my web design application(s).

Photoshop has become extremely bloated over the years and it's subsequent releases. Jason Santa Maria wrote about this exact issue in January and I think he's spot on. Currently, the amount of Photoshop that I would use for my UI-development would total up to around 10% of what that software can do. I don't need the ability to import via TWAIN drivers for 800 different scanners, and I don't need the ability to read/edit RAW image formats. I know some people do, but for them, Photoshop can still be there in all its bloated glory. I don't need a heavy-photo-lifting application that can do all that and cook a steak, I need a tool that can help me design for the low-res Internet. Fireworks fills that void to an acceptable degree, but the amount of new functionality that application has seen since version 3 of the app is atrocious.

Give me the ability to create document defined grid layouts. Give me the ability to specify type based on pixels, or ems, or any number of other sizes that are web-ready. Group my fonts in sub-sets that are Web approved according to browser/OS penetration. Give me CSS export of my background colors and baseline fonts. Or better yet, allow me the ability of a CSS-editing/rendering engine just like Dreamweaver within my graphics application.

Photoshop is a great tool for what it was originally designed for. It's just that somewhere along the way, the internet was born, and with that the needs for a different designer's toolbox. Just hoping that someone can step up and fill the void and I'd be happy and pie if that someone were Adobe. It just seems like Fireworks could be that tool...if only...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Migrations

I'm currently working on an upgrade to my personal site and moving over to using Word Press. I use the word "upgrade" because "redesign" doesn't really do it justice.

It's a total overhaul actually: new design, new brand, new company, new software....new domain! Crazy amount of detail to keep up with because I have to make sure nothing goes awry with the domain changeover from Columbia cLAN. That was a great experience and experiment with the local gaming community and many times I miss those gaming sessions with the peeps.

I'm also still trying to get my work integrated into my Basecamp site and working on a redesign for the Legit Reviews site. Redesign and potential rebranding there, not even counting that he's moving the entire site over to Drupal so that's going to be fun to work with. Busy, busy, busy, busy, BUSY!!...but it's still a good time. If you haven't checked out the great work that 37signals is doing for online project management, get thee over there and have a look. ;)

One of the great things about working in web development is that I may not particularly enjoy the organization that I work for (mostly office politics and what-not), but I still absolutely love the work that I do. I find it awesome and very fulfilling to work with such new technology and in an industry that's constantly changing. So many new tools are introduced all the time and it's still a great field to be involved in.

Just wanted to post a heads-up that the blog will be moving over to the new domain soon. I still have the project on-deck in Basecamp. Sadly, my timefram has moved to May rather than April. The flu really knocked our entire family around and pushed my deadlines around a bit and the LegitReviews projects got my freelance attention for the time being.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

7 Useful Tools

This site came my way via a co-worker. Not sure where he stumbled across it, either via Digg or TechRepublic, one of those two.

Six Revisions gives a rundown of 7 Incredibly Useful Tools for Evaluating a Web Design. Several tools are listed, from the open source Click Heat link mapping, which we've just started evaluating at MDC for some of our more popular destinations, to the popular Google Analytics; these tools can help to see where users are going and assist in usability and navigation concerns.

Great resource!

Lunch?

This made me LOL...enjoy! ;)

Me to co-worker: so we're hitting the chili's for lunchings...the wife and i - checking with chris...you in?
Co-worker: I wish I could, I'm on a bit of a financial lockdown till payday
I appreciate the invitation

Me: gah!!...omg - being snubbed over good lunch makes bebe Jesus cry
Co-worker: baby Jesus can send some cash money my way then

Monday, April 21, 2008

Presenting Social Media

Kirk Keller and I will be giving a presentation at the PowerUp 2008 conference on accessibility at the Tan-Tara resort in Osage Beach, MO, on Tuesday, April 22nd. Kirk runs the "Common Nature" blog and I've had the pleasure of working alongside Kirk for almost eight year. I've never worked with anyone possessing as much insight into emerging technologies and how they're applicable to government as Kirk has - take a quick stroll around his blog if you have a chance.

Our presentation, entitled "Social Media - Open Source Software for Connecting with Consumers," basically pitches the idea of expanding your social network online, and details a handful of tools from the Open Source community ranging from simple blogging software up to several fully-featured content management solutions. I wanted to make a post not only to let people know what our presentation is about (and that we'd be out of the office for the day :P), but also to give a list of pertinent links and resources we're using in the presentation. The following list is a meager starting point that can be used to get involved in Social Media, from hosted solutions to installable software that you can run from your personal or business site:

Hosted solutions ::
Content Management Systems ::
Blogging solutions ::
There are literally a BOAT-LOAD (that's a technical term), of other applications out there that excel for social media and networking. Everything from tracking your travel, to mobile blogging, to comprehensive solutions to tie up all the social networking loose ends. The list above represents CMS and blogging solutions that have put their best accessibility feet forward, as well as more popular social media sites that still need to work on improving their accessibility (I'm looking at you Facebook!).

CMS and blogging accessibility resources::
Social media presentation ::

The genius of Twitter

Read an absolutely brilliant blog post about Twitter this weekend: apparently Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch lost his Comcast internet service, so couldn't blog, email, surf...anything. So what's a guy to do? Call customer service - only they were feeding him empty promises. So he hops over to Twitter about his woes. And several bloggers picked those messages up and re-broadcast. "Within 20 minutes of my first Twitter message I got a call from a Comcast executive in Philadelphia...[who] said he monitors Twitter and blogs to get an understanding of what people are saying about Comcast."

The power of a distributed network...powered by Twitter, in this case at least.

I remember reading a ton about how useless Twitter was back when it first launched. How it was a service for the narcissistic and it just wasn't useful at all. This story is a first-hand recount of how valuable Twitter can be. I also know that my supervisor recently signed up for Twitter just to track his day-to-day dealings. We have both discovered that a To-Do list tracks what you want/should be doing, but Twitter enables you to track what you are doing. Sadly, those two things end up being mutually exclusive more often than not. Twitter can help to keep tabs on all that daily minutiae that chews up more time that we'd all care to admit.

This story should really serve two purposes:
  1. Serve as a wake up call to organizations that they should be keeping tabs on what people are saying about them via social media, including Twitter.
  2. Hopefully it can shake some sense into existing administration about the usage of these kinds of tools on the job.
Twitter can be exceptionally useful in the enterprise space, especially if you have employees who are in a telework environment and you're curious just what might be going on during their day. I try not to think of it so much as micro-management, but rather a digital way of looking into the office while on the way to the water-cooler.

Either way, Twitter is still gaining traction as a valuable tool and can play a positive role in your online space.

The true power of the internet

So today I witnessed what I find to be absolutely and completely staggering display of the true power of the internet. TED talks is a site that features relatively short video broadcasts of discussions by big movers and shakers in the science and technology fields. Many times people can't make it to large conferences, but the information is still very valid and the folks over at TED.com work to bridge that divide.

Amazingly, the most recent TED talk that I received notification of was by a researcher named Johnny Lee. I found out about Mr. Lee about 2 months or so ago via YouTube. A co-worker had come across a link via Digg about a story of this guy who'd taken a Nintendo Wii Remote and rigged it to do some pretty cool demonstrations via the InfraRed camera inside a small, $40 handheld device. Very slick stuff and relatively inexpensive.

What completely stunned me about Mr. Lee today was that he was sharing a venue with the likes of Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, or award-winning theoretical physicist Stephven Hawking. Heck, he gave his presentation preceding former Vice President Al Gore giving an update on the climate crisis. This seemingly no-name researcher stumbled across a great little discovery and, harnessing the power of the internet for distributing his message, now has a platform to tell the world about it. And he's being recognized alongside worldwide political and scientific personalities. It's simply amazing and that is when it hit me. The internet's true power isn't anonymity for users, it isn't free speech, or 24-7 access to information. Those are all great things.

The true power of the world wide web is in distribution.

Distribution of a message, an idea, products or even workforce. The reason that the RIAA and MPAA are so vehemently opposed to digital downloads is not really that they're losing a CD-sale. They're losing the distribution method that they've had tied up from the radio stations all the way down to the retailer for decades.

The iTunes Music Store and Amazon.com both cut out the sales channel, while solutions such as digital radio and Muxtape.com cuts out the frontman. The marketing VPs and music execs that used to be able to spoon-feed Brittney Spears to a bazillion hungry teens have just lost their ace in the hole and they're scared pant-less.

I guess the thing is, as a web developer, it's easy to get caught up in the minutiae of new HTML specs, or CSS, or browser versions, or new developments, techniques, and designs. But we should all stay mindful of the real reasons people are online and work toward making those better. Easier distribution, easier access, faster experiences... Simple. Elegant. Brilliant.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

4-hour workweeks and the Fight Club

So I've been reading the 4-hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.

I first have to be up-front and admit to not having finished the read. Second, I have to admit that even though I'm not that far into the book, I'm already inspired. Not due to ground-breaking revelations per se. But the guy has charisma. I also have to give him props for portraying said charisma via the written word. That's good juju in my book and something I've always been amazed by. How simple text can evoke a vibe with other people so they think you're a "cool" person...or "you suck" and you're not someone they would want to hang with.

I first ran into this while playing video games with people online; forging deep friendships with those I'd never even met. Since then, I've also experienced this same situation via Instant Messaging and Twitter. If you haven't experienced it, it is a truly mesmerizing phenomenon. One I'd think could make an amazing research topic, but I digress.

Anyhoo...back to Mr. Ferriss. The real hook to his sage wisdom (if we can even call it that), is his uncanny knack of sounding a lot like Tyler Durden. And I do mean a LOT like him and I mention this as a compliment. Tyler certainly had charisma and was able to sway people to follow his lead. Pay no mind to the fact that Tyler Durden doesn't actually exist outside of the silver screen. My impression of what he was getting at in Fight Club: once you've beaten your fear, you're free to live your life. Ferriss eludes to the same concepts and it makes me wonder two things.
  1. What in my life is really so important as to be unrecoverable in the event of catastrophe...or worse, failure?
  2. Am I just as messed up as those poor saps blindly following a crazy-man in Fight Club?
In answer to the latter, I sincerely hope not. :P But to the former, the only things that really fall into that category are my wife and my fatherhood. The rest is just gravy. In the end I do feel that the whole exercise I think is healthy.

Imagine the worst possible outcome if you try something completely over-the-top and you fail.

Once you've faced that possibility and rationalized a way out of that dark place, it's really not that dark at all. Excellent and thought-provoking in all the right ways.