Archive for March, 2006

What are you doing May 11-12? I hope you are attending Access U in Austin, Texas! What is Access U? A two-day accessibility conference for webmasters to teach you both the how and the why of creating web sites that meet federal, state, and industry mandates for accessibility.

Attend AccessU for:

  • Introductory and advanced sessions on accessible web design.
  • Hands-on sessions on accessibility issues for PDF, Flash, JavaScript and more.
  • In-depth discussion of the new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.
  • Techniques to meet Section 508 and Texas HB 2819 web accessibility mandates.
  • Live demonstrations on how to create and maintain accessible web sites.
  • Networking with peers and with world-renowned accessibility experts.

And if that isn’t enough to get you up off your seat, check this out, Adaptive Path is offering a day long session on Designing and Building with AJAX on May 10th with a discount if you sign up for both AccessU and the AJAX seminar. Whatever are you waiting for????

So, do you like playing tag? I certainly hope you do. Tagging is a wonderful way for you to label the objects and ideas of the world the way you see them. You may already be tagging your photos in Flickr, or your bookmarks in delicious…but I dare you to start tagging art!

Yes….a grand experiment is a foot…to demonstrate the potential of socially tagging objects in art museums. Wanna play? Head on over to the steve.museum prototype and tag away…and then tell all your friends. Because art is what you think it is!

What is it about SXSW Interactive? It is just a conference after all. But honestly, it is unlike any other conference I attend. It is simultaneously visionary and insane, brilliant and ridiculous, inspiring and intoxicating. And it dawned on me that whoever named this conference nailed it. The whole point is to interact with each other. To share your wildest dreams, ask preposterous questions, make and renew scintillating friendships.

Highlights of my experience this year include: realizing that the person that just climbed into my van was Veerle (and that she is as nice as her web site is beautiful), reconnecting with my out-o-town friends Andrea, Featherstone, Hicks, Rob, finally meeting Faruk and Anton in person and making so many new friends…like Alun, Geert and Ms. Jen, just to name a few.

But I think the single most important aspect of my experience started when David Nunez handed me a sheet of orange smiley face stickers on SxSW eve. David started tagging people with these stickers at SXSWi 2005. His intent? To encourage people to be open and friendly and interact with people you don’t know. So, I spent the rest of this year tagging everyone I could find with orange smiley faces. And I was thrilled with the response. From the uber famous to the quietly brilliant…my sticker offer was met with enthusiasm.

David’s created a delightful guide to tell if you have not had the full SxSWi experience:

* You find yourself back in your hotel room for the rest of the night right after the last panel of the day.
* You haven’t shaken hands with people who look and act nothing like you
* You haven’t had dinner with complete strangers.
* You’ve stuck only to your clique of people that you see daily back at your hometown.
* You haven’t attended the EFF / EFF-Austin / Creative Commons Party on Monday night (free drinks! free food! live music! delicious food! (I should know, I’m responsible for getting it))
* You left Austin without fifty business cards of new contacts you expect to email at some point soon.
* You left Austin without the intention of calling 3 new contacts to meet up within 2 weeks of getting home
* You haven’t crashed every clique you see
* You aren’t smiling and smiling BIG
* You are talking more than listening,
* You haven’t had a conversation or at least said “hi” to me, David Nunez.
* You don’t have an orange, happy face sticker on your badge.

Hmmmm, I happen to have a few smiley face stickers left. Wonder how they will go over at my next conference stop in Albuquerque, at Museums and the Web?!?!

I love to share my passion for accessibility. There is something incredibly satisifying about kicking down barriers to information. I’m inspired by the goals of the W3C, “Web for everyone. Web on everything.”

With this in mind, I wanted to share my own practical accessibility practice. When asked to test a site for accessibility, these are the steps that Glenda the Goodwitch takes:

  1. Validate – make sure the site validates by using the html validator and css validator.
  2. Test with my browser – turn off images, don’t use the mouse, turn off speakers, increase font size, change window size.
  3. Test with toolbars – (Web Developer Extension & Web Accessibility Toolbar) turn off CSS, turn off Javascript, set to Greyscale, display structure (headings, lists…)
  4. Run online accessibility tests on representative pages
    use more than one tool, example: WebXact & Wave
  5. Listen to a few pages JAWS or HomePage Reader
  6. Run a sitewide accessibility reportLIFT or WebXM
  7. Hands on accessibility testing with Users who have disabilities

Now I’d like to hear from you. How do you test your pages?

Some of the most creative minds in the world will be in Austin for SXSW Interactive. I jokingly refer to this event as spring break for geeks. Time to open our minds wide to new ideas and connect in person rather than just virtually. This event is really about the people and the ideas sketched out on cocktail napkins. Sure, the sessions are fantastic…but this isn’t the time to just sit back and absorb the wisdom of the greats. Last year, some of my richest conversations were after midnight in a bar, over a quiet late night coffee and sitting in the hallway between sessions.

To help get you in that playful, creative mind space…I’d like to suggest some authentically austin adventures to take with your fellow geeks.

  • Toy Joy – the craziest toy store in Austin…it is a sensory overload just walking in the door.
  • Tower Tour – take a view from high a top the UT Tower
  • Zilker Botanical Gardens – a paradise within stones throw of downtown, I especially love the Oriental Garden area. So peaceful.
  • Bats – what can I say, here in Austin we are a bit batty about our bats. We have a large colony of Mexican Freetail Bats that hang out under the Congress Street Bridge. Bat Hot Line: 512-416-5700 (Category 3636) for the latest flight times.
  • Hula Hut – A deck over looking the lake, margaritas and salmon tacos…need I say more? or…head next door to Mozart’s for coffee and dessert. Yum!
  • Texas State History Museum – wander the exhibits, catch an iMax movie or just pose under the giant texas star. Your sure to find the perfect Texas gift to take home to the kids in the amazing store.

So my advice to you is to play hard at SXSW and remember that sleep is optional.

When it comes to usability and information architecture, there is just no replacement for a good search engine on your site. Try as you might to design an intuitive navigation scheme, let’s face it…one size never fits all. But no need to fear…your search engine can add an alternative way for folks to find what they so desparately seek.

In my world (UT Austin), I’ve got two obvious choices for search engines, Google Free University Search and htdig. While Google is sweet, I can’t customize the results page, so google doesn’t meet my needs. So, I turn to my good ole friend, htdig. But unlike other sites where I’ve implemented htdig, the site I’m working with now stretches across two different servers and is virtually hosted as well. Creating the results page header and footer proved to be a challenge because (horrors), htdig wouldn’t let me use server side includes (ssi) . Ouch!

I toyed with the idea of writing the results page in PHP but was convinced that if I thought creatively enough, I could trick htdig into letting me use ssi. And after a few bumps and bruises I won the battle. So, in case you’ve got a yearnin’ for ssi in your htdig results page, here is what I learned yesterday.

Ingredients:

  • plain ole html search form using get with the action set to a dynamic results page
  • dynamic results page with a suffix of .html
  • .htacess file instructing your server to parse .html for ssi
  • and your usual header.html and footer.html

1) Set your search form vars as follows:

<form method="get" action="results.html">
<input type="hidden" name="config" value="nameofyourconf" />
<input type="hidden" name="restrict" value="" />
<input type="hidden" name="exclude" value="" />
<label for="words" class="headline">Search XYZ site:
<input type="text" size="30" name="words" id="words" value="" />
<input type="submit" value="Search" />
</form>

Note: the method is get and the action is pointing to your dynamic html results page.

2) dynamic results page – use

<!--#include virtual="foo.html"-->
to dynamically bring in elements

3) create an .htaccess file that includes:
AddType text/html .html
AddHandler server-parsed .html

4) Create your htdig custom header.html and footer.html and set your conf (htdig config) to use these files. Just remember that you can not use ssi in these two files because htdig won’t process it…and htdig currently requires that these files be html files. No shtml or php versions of the header or footer allowed!

And for your coding pleasure, a working sample.