Monthly Archives: January 2002

Link Sections Added

There are new link sections for Astronomy (currently listing only Celestia) and Art Projects. As always, hit the resources section for loads of great links with full descriptions and books that I recommend.

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Usability Articles From IBM

Here is a whole series of articles that IBM has done on the subject of usability. Usability of software is something that not a lot of people talk about. If HotSheet were much more than just a testing platform for me I’d probably spend the time to paper prototype the interface. In fact I may do it anyway because I know just how helpful paper prototypes are at smoking out serious problems in an interface with minimal work and I’ve already gotten a couple of complaints about the UI on HotSheet. BTW, some of these might sound like they are slanted only towards web usability but at least 90% of the stuff is generic to any kind of application, it isn’t just for web based ones.

Celestia/Stellarium

Celestia has a new release out and one of the big changes in this release is that it is now usable from within other applications. So you could build a complete educational program about the solar system and put Celestia right into the program. That’s pretty cool. I also spotted a new astronomy project I had not seen before called Stellarium. It attempts to depect what you might see if you actually go outside. That is, it displays stars but it also shows the horizon line, haze nearer the ground, etc. to make a kind of “realistic” planetarium.

Collaborative Art

Recently I’ve mentioned several collaborative art projects here in my weblog and Rockelle just found another one that looks really neat. It’s called 20 things. 20 people. 20 days. It looks really cool but I worry that the skill level may be a little over my head.
The Exquisite Corpse project has assigned partners and positions for their next round of corpses and I’m in the second position on one of them so I might get my piece to add onto fairly soon. Since the only skill need for that one is a little creativity and some Photoshop skills I’m not as concerned about participating there. Hopefully I won’t embarrass myself.

XPipe

Programming is becoming more like building than it ever used to be. We still haven’t reached the kind of “Software IC” nirvanna laid out in the old book Object-Oriented Programming : An Evolutionary Approach but it’s getting there very slowly. Now you can start to pick up all these different pieces when you look around and you start to see how they might be combined together. Some are tools and some are like different colored and shaped Lego bricks. There are still horrible hurdles to be surmounted because different languages don’t necessarily mesh well, there aren’t a lot of ways to call from machine to machine and from program to program but these are gradually getting easier. XML-RPC, SOAP, XML, and languages that work with a virtual machine like Java and Python are making programs more portable and making them work together better.
This is one of those pieces I pick up periodically and it just looks like it belongs in that toolbox that I’m building mentally. It’s designed to make it easy for you to build programs that pipe XML data back and forth between them for processing. No one program might be able to do everything but given enough translators and workhorse programs to sort, chop, dice, translate, etc. it becomes possible to use something like this for tons of day to day work on everything from image processing to stock portfolio maintenance and website creation. And it would all work because XML can be treated as either a very specific thing relating only to a certain problem domain or it can be treated as a simple hierarchy of elements and attributes. But a good framework to work with it is always a start: XPipe

HotSheet Project Page Upgrade

The project page for HotSheet has undergone an upgrade. This is the new format I’ll be using for all my project pages in the future so I can include the exact same ReadMe.html file in the project itself and use it on the website. That will make sure that all the data is kept together and organized together (which it hasn’t been until now) and that it is easier to get to everything, including the developer documentation, without having to download all the source.

More Art Projects

I recently did a log entry where I talked about art projects on the web that I thought were cool and which I would like to participate. Here are a few others that are worth your time:

The Photoshop competitions over at Worth 1000 are probably not in the same league as any of the other links I’ve posted so far. They aren’t attempting to be “art” but they are fun nevertheless and you can definitely pick out the users with more skill than others. I’ve participated in a few so far and I’ll probably do some more in the future. I also signed up on the list for Exquisite Corpse so I could try and participate in one of their projects this year.

Lumbermill Trial/Bouvard and Pecuchet

As promised I got around to testing the Log4j tool Lumbermill. Although it shows a lot of promise, at the moment it has only very basic functionality. Basically it just receives logging messages from a program using Log4j to do its logging and it builds a tree of log categories on the fly from the entries which can be used to set filtering levels (i.e. the standard levels for Log4j which are DEBUG, INFO, WARN, ERROR, and FATAL). Lumbermill recieves the log messages via TCP/IP so it can run on the same machine as the logging application or any other machine with a network connection.
Pros: Easy setup, simple interface.
Cons: Few features, out of memory errors when attached to a program that can generate 40MB of log data in a single run.
Also tested was the new version 1.1 release of Bouvard and Pecuchet. I have to confess that the last version looked neat to me but I never could get it to run properly. This version was pretty easy though. One thing to look out for though is that Pecuchet expects to be hooked to a good XML parser and it appears to be a bit fussy. I tried two different ones before I found that Xerces 1.4.4 worked well. For those who don’t remember my previous mention of B&P, it is a tool that provides a more interactive view of all the data that can be gleaned from Javadocs.

VCD/SVCD/X(S)VCD And You

Let’s talk video. If you own a DVD player then odds are you don’t know everything it can do. For example, you probably know that your DVD player can play DVDs and maybe you know it can play audio CDs as well. But did you know that you can burn regular CDs in a computer that will play video on most DVD players? That you can take your home movies or TV shows that you download from the Internet and burn them onto a disc and watch them. That’s because over in Asia the VCD became popular years ago. A VCD is a regular CD with MPEG-1 video stored on it. Because the data rate for MPEG-1 is exactly the same as for CD audio (i.e. 150K per second) you can fit exactly the same amount of video on a disc that you can fit audio. That’s about 80 minutes on the large blank discs they typically sell now. That’s plenty for an episode of a TV show or for home movies or a slideshow of family pictures complete with narration and music.
In order to burn VCDs you need software capable of doing it. The Roxio Easy CD Creator 5 that comes bundled with most new CD writers will do a VCD but it’s not exactly the most stable software and its not capable of burning an SVCD (which has higher resolution video and which mostly just newer DVD players can play). So instead I prefer VCDEasy. It is, as the name suggests, easy to use and it seems to handle MPEG from a variety of sources with fewer problems. More information about VCD/SVCD and even better quality formats like XVCD and XSVCD can be obtained from VCDHelp.com. They also have long lists of DVD players with information about which ones can play a VCD or other formats (and you can use them as a quick check to see what your current DVD player can play).
Many Usenet news groups like alt.binaries.multimedia carry VCDs and most of it isn’t pathetic garbage like somebody sitting in a dark theater with a video camera pointed at Harry Potter to make a bad copy. Instead it’s last nights episode of The X-Files that you missed or it’s a couple of old Simpson’s Halloween specials a week before the new one comes on. I use it all the time when I miss a show that I had intended to watch but missed somehow.