Archive for April, 2005

How do your customers add/update content to the sites you build for them? Is it easy and robust? Is the site still standards compliant and accessible three months after launch? Is the content fresh?

I’ve been struggling with these questions in my work and recently embarked on an enterprise wide content management solution (cms) at the University of Texas. Finding a CMS that fits higher education has been tricky. We searched and found a CMS vendor that is willing to partner with us and enhance their product to better fit the eccentricities of a research institution. And while I’m thrilled with the partnership with Stellent, I’m wishing with all my heart that Stellent had bought Macromedia instead of Adobe.

I’ve had a long love affair with Macromedia. It started in the 90’s when I was hand coding all of my html in bbedit. I’d stuck my toe in a few of the early wysiwyg tools, but found them to be a waste of my time. I was faster and preferred the control and responsibility of my bare bones editor.

Then, I met Dreamweaver. I was hesitant at first, untrusting. Then I saw the light. Back in those days, pages were laid out in tables and handcoding tables was tedious and oh so very boring. The GUI that Dreamweaver provided was indeed dreamy. And most importantly, she respected my code (never overwriting me) and wrote quality code herself. I was hooked.

Now, years later, Dreamweaver is still my editor of choice. I love her template features (for creating websites with vast numbers of contributors) and I’m even beginning to warm to their Contribute product.

Warm to Contribute? Okay…I’ll admit I’m quite smitten. I had the honour of meeting the brains behind Contribute this week. I saw her current capabilities and the dreams for her future. Indeed, I was drooling. I wanted the next version of Contribute NOW! No, I wanted it yesterday! Okay, okay, so patience has never been one of my virtues.

Best of all, as this week draws to a close, I breathe a sigh of relief. Macromedia is alive and well. I met a part of her heart and soul and they are visionary, brilliant and passionate about making the web easy, accessible and standards compliant. So, no matter what the company name is…I know that the software I love, Dreamweaver & Flash, is built by people. And the whole reason that Adobe and Macromedia have joined forces is because they recognize the incredible value of these special people.

So, if I had three wishes, one of them would still be that I could have the best of all worlds…a combination of Stellent, Contribute, Dreamweaver and Flash. A girl can dream, right?

Where are you? That is the question o’ the day. With all of our mobile devices and wireless access…we can now find each other easily (when we want to be found), but interestingly enough, we rarely know where the other person is. And how often are you not quite sure where you are? Wouldn’t it be cool to have your very own Marauder’s Map? (Just in case you aren’t up on your Harry Potter..the Marauder’s Map is a magic map that shows the location of everyone in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry in real time).

Reality check, Goodwitch…there isn’t a real marauder’s map!
Why, I beg to differ. I’ve experienced it myself!
Do tell…

I’ve been researching location sensing with handheld computers and discovered some delicious off-the-shelf solutions. My first round of testing was with the Ekahau Position Engine which uses WiFi signal strength to sniff out your location and map you to the map. So, I’ve literally watched the motions of my teammates on my very own Ekahau/Marauders Map! Our early results have given us accuracy to within 6 inches (at best) and 22 feet (at worst). I’m looking forward to the next round of fine tuning which I hope yields accuracy of 3 feet or better. Why in the world would I want to accurately know where someone is? So, I could provide information to you (if you want it) based on your current location.

Museums Examples:

  • You are in a gallery in the museum and I can give you information on the works of art that are near you.
  • You’ve wandered off from the rest of your group and wonder where they are & vice versa.

College Campus Examples:

  • It is the first day of classes and you don’t know where your next class is.
  • You agreed to meet a friend on the west mall, but there is quite a crowd and you can’t locate them.

So, what would you like to know from your location sensitive PDA or Laptop? Would you want location based information? Do you like the idea of being able to see where someone is or allowing others to see where you are…or is it all a little too “big brother” for you?

Have you ever seen a baby owl? They are soooo precious! Take a peek at the live stream of photos of four baby eastern screech owls and their mama. Each year, Chris Johnson chronicles the nesting, laying, hatching and early days of the owls that live in his yard.

What I most love about this project is seeing Chris’ love of owls and his techno-brilliance transform into this online treasure.

Thanks Chris, for creating a place where we can get a glimpse into the intimate world of these owls.

So when is reality better than virtual? Always! Always?
Can virtual ever be better than reality? Indeed, I think it can be.

Here are some things I enjoy better au virtual:

  • The Gutenberg Bible – yes, I’ve stood in front of one of the Gutenberg Bibles. It was under glass and I could see just two pages. And while the original artifact is amazing…the digital version is soooo very much more accessible. I can turn the pages. I can see curatorial comments and even see areas enlarged.

    Nothing is more precious than the actual relic. But for my purposes, the virtual is more useful.

  • The Virtual Microscope – imagine, medical students being able to study virtual slides online. No more microscopes to maintain. No more delicate slides with fragile material that is impossible to maintain. The ability for professor to create interactive tutorials and mark specific points of interest. Universities sharing slides across campus, state lines and countries. No need to imagine…it exists…thanks to Bacus Labs. See an example from UT Medical Branch – Gastrointestinal Nutrition Slides. Requires PC and IE and a download of an active x control.

    I never knew healthy liver cells looked so purrrrty.

  • Christmas Toy Shopping – Seriously! Why in the world should I ever fight the crowds again and race around town…when I can sit in the comfort of my home and find every toy my kids will ever need. Better yet, I get to read what other consumers, just like me, really think about these toys. Only challenge…is remembering to buy more toys for the kids than for myself!

So, what do you think? Is there ever a time when virtual is better than reality?

Question o’ the day: Should universities provide a free blogspace for their students, faculty and staff?

I’ve been asked to ponder this question and write a recommendation for the University of Texas at Austin. My response is, “Of course! Blogs are part of the new web culture…the interactive web…where individual voices can be heard. Blogs are part of a new social network, an online community that shares ideas freely.” To which my boss replies, “You’re just currently infatuated with blogs. ” “Am not!” “Are too!”

And he asks:

  1. How do blogs benefit students and faculty in pursuit of higher education and research?
  2. Why don’t we just advise faculty/students where they can set up a blog on a non-university server?
  3. Why is a blog better than email or a regular web page?
  4. Will blogs still be around in 5 years?
  5. If we do provide blogs for students, what happens when they graduate? Do we force them to move their blog?

And while I’ve only been active in the blogosphere for a very short time…I’ve already learned the value of thinking out loud…or should I say, thinking out blog…so that I can hear what others are thinking all around this wonderfully diverse planet.

Have you ever seen a display of technology that took your breath away? In October 2002 at Educause, John Gage of Sun, amazed us all with a live demo of EarthViewer (aka Keyhole). Using satellite imagery, we took a virtual magic carpet ride from the Atlanta Convention Center to Harvard then to Tokyo then Paris. I was speechless.

When Google recently acquired Keyhole and gave us all the Satellite link from Google Maps, I thought to myself…cool, but the Keyhole app is soooo much cooler! I wanna take the magic carpet ride again and this time, I want to drive! So I headed to Keyhole and downloaded the 7 day trial version…which gives me “the ultimate interface to the planet”! And while Keyhole only runs on PCs, I swear it is worth the look.

So, if you’ve got some places on the planet that you want to see, or a need to feel like an astronaut flying over the big blue marble, run, don’t walk to Keyhole.

Disclaimer: While Keyhole does cover the entire globe with satellite imagery, they do not have high resolution imagery for the entire globe. They have focused on larger, US metropolitan areas initially, and will be adding much broader coverage in high-resolution detail over the coming months. List of high resolution cities.

I didn’t believe an ebook could be fun to read. Sitting in front of computers all day…I can attest to the fact that reading large amounts of text from a monitor is not ideal. But, I felt like I should really read an entire novel before making my final decision.

Hmmmm…what to read? I browsed the University of Virginia’s Free eBook Library and Amazon and selected “The Secret Garden” (a classic I had somehow managed to miss reading). I curled up on the couch with my iPAQ and began reading. It was awkward at first; I was using the stylus to turn the page. Then I realized I could just press the round navigator button to page forward…nice.

Before I knew it, I was deep into the book. I realized that the amount of text on the screen was actually just right for my reading speed. I mean really…how many words do you take into your head in 30 seconds? I never had to adjust the ebook in front of my face..and turning ePages was easier than paper.

After about an hour of reading…I thought…hmmmm…not bad. It sure is great having a good book to read with me all the time. I don’t mind getting stuck in traffic, and if my lunch date is late, I take advantage of the situation and read.

The next night I delighted in the fact that I could read in the middle of the night without even turning on a light. The backlit screen was all the light I needed. And then I discovered the ability to look up a word in the dictionary, highlight and bookmark. Sweet…my kids could no longer pull my bookmarks out!

As I turned the last page, I asked myself, “what didn’t you like?” Well, I didn’t like the time displayed in the top corner…made me stop reading sooner since I knew how late it really was! And I missed the feel of knowing when I was approaching the end of the book. I slow down towards the end…when I’m in a really good book…not wanting to leave. (but with a little more investigation, I learned how to display the number of pages left).

So, I’ll admit it. I’m now totally into eBooks. I still have my library of books. I still love going into a bookstore and browsing. But, mark my words, eBooks are wonderful and until you’ve read a good book on a PDA encased in leather…you won’t know what you are missing!

I’m a booklover. One of my favorite places to be is in a bookstore, surrounded by the smell of books and ideas waiting to be discovered and explored. My passion for books goes back to my childhood, to my mother, who read to me every night and filled my room with books. As I grew, she carefully stored my books away to be rediscovered. I now read to my children from the very books my mother read to me.

I remember the moment when I first discovered the web. I opened my first page in Mosaic and the magic of having the biggest book in the world at my fingertips was electrifying. I wondered if the web could ever compete with my books and magazines and newspapers. I decided that curling up with a good hardback book, or reading the newspaper in my favorite chair was an irreplaceable experience. That was the 90s.

In the summer of 2001 I was handed an iPAQ 3670, my very first PDA, courtesy of Dan Updegrove & David Cook. And I felt like I was holding the world in my hands. I constantly challenged myself to use the PDA to its limits…to explore the edges of what it could do…to suspend my opinions and old habits and see what revolutionary treasures awaited.

More to come on my opinion of the book as we know it and the ebook.