Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Problem with Your Electronic Documents

The other week I told you the problem with your tri-fold brochures. That’s just symptomatic of a larger issue with electronic documents posted to the web.

With the advent of desktop publishing we could make documents look the way we wanted. Now, with the web, we share the electronic documents. However, we’re still stuck with considering only how they look.

That’s the issue.

People continue to create documents with the idea that they're going to be printed and don't consider the formatting that goes into them and how this could impact the many other ways that people might interact with them electronically.  For example, people now might be as likely to read your document on devices such as through their phone, tablet or using assistive technologies such as screen readers.

I'm frequently called on to consult on the accessibility of documents for different agencies.   Accessibility is the ability for a document to be accessed or read by someone using assistive technology such as software which will read a document to a person with a disability.   Often times the problems with documents are fairly simple matters, but there are so many of them that it can seem overwhelming. 

Starting out with the correct formatting  and thinking about the various ways that your document will be used is important.  Today, we should never think of a document we create on a computer as only a printed document.   So often these documents will be shared electronically either as handouts, download, accommodations and frequently on the web.   For that reason, attending to formatting and the look of a document is imperative.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a series of articles on different considerations when creating documents.  These will focus on visual elements as well as formatting, background, alternative formats and how we share documents.   Where available and appropriate, I'll be drawing on references from the webdesign community, advocacy groups and other resources.  For example World Wide Web Consortium is a group of individuals and organizations who work together to develop web standards.  Many of these same standards have applicability to other documentation and how it is shared electronically. 

I'd welcome questions in the comments or leave me a voice mail with your question at 207.619.2342 and I'll try to answer it.

I hope it will give you some tips and tricks to make your work more efficient and accessible. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cassette Tape table from Skierka designs Now Available

I'd previously written about this amazing cassette tape table from Jeff Skierka.It's a 30' x 47 1/4 maple, Baltic birch plywood and walnut table with a glass top.  

It's now available for purchase form Jeff's website, Jeff Skierka Designs for $4950.   From the video they've released to accompany the sale of the table, they've modified the design to use ply wood and CNC machines to do the detial work.

The video below provides some idea of the steps and labor involved in creating this table. Even if the parts are cut using a machine, the work involved in this table is immense.

wooden table which looks like a cassette tape. Image taken from right corner just above table level

Close up of right bottom corner showing glass top and layers of plywood for body

"If it doesn't flip, it's not a true tape. It has to flip. It's a tape."
- Jeff Skierka 

Two men holding table top as they flip it over

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Facebook is Broken: Government Edition

I woke Monday morning to find my car missing from the street in front of my house.  I called the police and the dispatcher informed me that it had been towed due to a parking ban because of snow.  They couldn’t locate an announcement on their site.  They did however find it posted on their Facebook page.  

Social Media has been the rallying cry for much of 2012. Because of this, many businesses and public agencies are staking a presence on Facebook and other social media sites.   Meet the people where they are, right? 


Public agencies have a different remit and responsibility than private business. Using a private website such as Facebook as an adjunct to their primary site can be a great way to promote a city or an agency and the good things that are happening there.  It can be a way to build a community and converse with the constituents.  However, Facebook and other social media outlets should not replace posting information and announcements on a government site (or a business's site for that matter).  

Last month the blog Dangerous Minds announced “Facebook: I want my Friends Back”.  He’d noticed that despite increasing number of “likes” on his page from fans, the traffic to his website from Facebook was decreasing.  The short version is that Facebook does not post every announcement by you to all of the people who follow or “like” your page.   “Each post was now being seen only by a fraction of their total “fans” who would previously have seen them”   According to the New York Observer
“Facebook acknowledged it as recently as last week: messages now reach, on average, just 15 percent of an account’s fans....if you want to speak to the other 80 to 85 percent of people who signed up to hear from you, “sponsoring posts is important.”

Sponsoring posts means paying.  It offers publishers the option to promote a post, which extends a post’s reach to additional users.   For bloggers and website owners, this can mean a lot of money to reach the people that have liked their page. . 

For government agencies this means that emergency or time sensitive announcements are not getting to a large number of people who, may or may not, believe they’re getting them.  Announcements government makes can be legally obligated such as public hearings or legal proceedings or have legal implications like parking bans.   In the case of my town, of the 3,754 people who “like” the local PD, approximately 563 (15%) of them had the parking ban announcement posted to their page.

What to do about it?

For Government:
  • Post every official announcement to the government page
  • If you want announcements to go to social media, use a services that posts your RSS feed to  your social media accounts.
  • Notify constituents that they should check the official agency site for announcements.
  • Encourage social media users to sign up for e-mail alerts directly from your webpage.  It’s the only page you truly control.

For the public
Social media can be a great tool, but it should not replace either a government or business keeping their own home site current.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Problem with Your Tri-Fold Brochures (and the Solution)

Tri-Fold brochures are a great marketing tool. They sit on the counter, serve as a small, portable and inexpensive way to market your services.  More than a business card, they give you ample space to talk about the features and benefits of your products and services.

Many people go to a website to get information about your services and having a downloadable version of your brochure can be a way for people to take information away, much like they would the hard copy from the counter.   The problem is, when tri-fold brochures are provided electronically, they're great for printing, but pose significant accessibility problems.  Even when they're created in a manner that can be read and navigated by someone using assistive technology, the reading order is wrong.

Think about holding a brochure.  You're holding it looking at the cover, open it right to left to reveal the inside.   To the left is the back of the cover and there's a flap on the right.   As you open that flap on the right to see the three panel spread, the core of the brochure, the cover and the right flap are now the back of the document.

Now, look at the picture below.  For a typical brochure folded like it's described above, when it's printed, the "back" of the document would be page 1 and the inside of the document, page 2.   I've marked the order in which you'd read the panels.

However, if you're an assistive technology user who is not seeing this document, but hearing it.  You're being presented information in an order that doesn't make sense.  Instead of starting on the cover, you're hearing the second page, then the back of the brochure, then the cover.  After that you get pages three, four and 5.
Even folding the document differently doesn't improve the readability or accessibility of the information. Using a z fold, you're presented with two back panels first, then the cover.  After which you get the heart of the information on pages two, three and four.
So, question is, what to do.   It's truly quite simple.  You offer alternate versions of your brochures on your website.  Allow people to download a portrait version of your information that's formatted like a regular document to be read from top to bottom or a tri-fold brochure version.  Both versions can use the same information, graphics and style, but the portrait version ensures that information is presented in a logical manner whether the user is looking at it printed, on a computer screen or hearing it read to them by assistive technology.  (Be sure to follow other accessibility standards when creating your documents).

The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification offers two versions of their brochure which explains what a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor is and does.   In the screen capture below, you'll see that they offer links to the tri-fold CRC brochure and the full page CRC brochure, and have a single description for them.
To see the page where these are displayed, go to the CRC Resources page.

It's a simple and effective way to ensure that everyone can get your information in a clear, understandable, and accessible manner. 

Brochure images adapted from blog

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nick Cave and Anita Lane

Nick Cave looking off camera right while laying down leaning against Anita Lane who is sitting with knees up and partially covering her nose and mouth and looking directly at the camera
Alt: Nick Cave looking off camera right while laying down leaning against Anita Lane who is sitting with knees up and partially covering her nose and mouth and looking directly at the camera

For Brian via Perfection of Perpexion

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Sound of Text

In Part I Styling the Sound of Text,  I covered how website developers can currently style the look of text whether it’s the font, appearance, size, color and other features.  There are currently unapproved specifications from the W3C now to provide the ability to be able to style the sound of text on a page. 

Here in Part II, I'll cover some of the main benefits and assets of using aural style sheets with a focus on usability, accessibility and engagement.


One of the reasons why I get excited about this idea is that in order to take advantage of it, developers will have to write their code in a way that the browser can read and translate the words rather than purely displaying them on the page.  So rather than displaying an image of a menu or site content in an image, they'd need to code it in a way that the browser can read the text.   When text is formatted this way, it means that it will have a greater probability of being accessible to those with disabilities who rely on technology to read the page to them such as an individual who is blind or visually impaired or has a learning disability.   

Text would also have to be formatted in a logical reading order so that the browser read information in order rather than relying on the conventions currently which assume the reader is scanning visually.   

However, this isn’t to say that the rest of the page will be coded in a way that will allow individuals with disabilities to navigate the page or access other content. For example, be able to navigate without a mouse as individuals who are blind do, or making controls for rich media such as video accessible.


As for use of the aural properties in a web page, there are a number of ways a developer might use the opportunity to add richness and texture to their content.   They could alternate two voices on the page to simulate a conversation, whether it’s male / female or two of the same sex.  The specification mentions the ability to specify different versions of the same voice, such as adult male.   There is also the possibility to have the voice be of a child.  

Additionally, they could have each voice solely or primarily emulate out of either right or left channel, so that for someone using headphones, it would enhance the effect. This is what the specification refers to as “voice balance”.  Anyone who has listened to Whole Lotta Love from Led Zeppelin can testify to the impact of switching channels or changing ears can have.  

A developer could also use a voice that matches its target audience such as having a woman speaking to women, or inversely, woman selling products to men (such as is currently done using models to sell men’s hygiene products or jewelry.)

An alternative would be to modify the speed or volume of a voice or add a dramatic pause as the message becomes more poignant.  The specification notes the ability to increase volume by using numbers 1-100, and the ability to control the speed or where a sentence might pause and for how long. The could subtly increase the speed and volume as the message increases in intensity, much like the background music does in a movie. 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

As the web evolves,  search engines continue to find ways to gather meaning from the signals and content out there.   In addition to down ranking "black hat" SEO techniques, Google looks for additional signals form pages to determine what your content may be so as to bring better, more relevant, results.  To this end, they've been using image file names as a signal of image content.  So rather than a default file name assigned by the camera which is usually a combination of letters and numbers such as 3242r3.jpg developers are encouraged to use meaningful file names representative of the content of the image.  cat.jpg, ford_mustang.jpg etc. 

With being able to style text by sound, Google and other search engines will be able to derive greater understanding of content based on the tone and feel of the text.  Using the voices chosen, speed, pauses and other information, they'll be able to identify not only content, but perhaps emotion.

The web remains a young animal and is changing and adapting. We continue to add tools which allow us to add texture and relevancy to our content. It's how we visually and viscerally engage readers.

See also

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Styling the Sound of Text using CSS

 It’s not often that an idea comes to you that feels revolutionary and with such clarity that you to sit and write it down in detail.  The other day, I had just such an idea, but after spending an hour and a half writing it out, I decided to Google it.  With mixed emotions, I discovered that much of what I’d thought of has already been worked through in detail .

speaker icons formatted like html code and words "your text here" between them

The idea is that a website developer could style the sound of text much like they style the font, color and size of text now.  When a user visits a site with technology that can interpret this code, that it would translate the content of the site into the voice, sex, accent, pitch, volume and speed that they desire.  I’m excited by the idea that there are others out there thinking and working on these issues and that ideas such as this could become a reality.

Speech to Text

Speech to text (STT) is has gained greater popularity with the general public in recent years.  Users can speak a phrase or paragraph and the computer will convert it to written text that can then be edited.  Products and services such as Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Dragon Dictate and and a host STT enabled applications have taken STT from exclusively software for individuals with disabilities and made it a productivity tool.  Nuance, the makers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking have released versions of their software explicitly for the medical and legal professions as well as professional and home editions. 

Text to Speech 

Text to Speech (TTS), on the other hand, is the process of having software read text text to the user.   It could be a website, document or other electronic format.  TTS is most frequently used by individuals who are blind and visually impaired or who have learning disorders such as dyslexia or other print disabilities.  It allows a website or document to be read to the user so long as the information is in a format that is understandable by the software, accessible.  Users can control the speed at which information is read, the tone and pitch of it, and in some software, even the gender and accent of the speech. 

TTS is gaining popularity by people other than those with disabilities. Various applications will read out your text messages, Kindle book or other information from your computer, smartphone or tablet.  
“There are also circumstances in which listening to content (as opposed to reading) is preferred, or sometimes even required, irrespective of a person's physical ability to access information. For instance: playing an e-book whilst driving a vehicle, learning how to manipulate industrial and medical devices, interacting with home entertainment systems, teaching young children how to read. “ (CCS Speech Module specification )

Styling the Look of Text

Web site developers are currently able to take a piece of text or block of text and specify various attributes about that text.   This includes (but is not limited to) the font, size of the font, colors, and emphasis such as bold and italics.    Developers can also specify and importance to a piece of text by specifying what information is a headline (header), sub header or body text
When building the page, a developer will  often use something called CSS or cascading style sheet to specify the characteristics of each level.  So a Header 1 will always be 18 point, bold, in a particular font.  The Header 2 will be 16 point, red italics in a particular font.   This way, throughout their website, they can mark text as Header 1 and it will pull in the styling from the style sheet (and the developer doesn’t have to remember to tag every one individually).  

Two benefits of this approach is if the developer changes their mind and wants to make all Header 1’s blue, it can be done in the style sheet and every page of the site would change rather than having to make the change individually to occurrence of the Header 1.  It also informs search engines what information is most important on the page.  The headline (Header 1) will be considered more important than the body or paragraph text.  It will interpret it as being what the body is about.  

When a user goes to a website, the site is loaded into their browser and it converts the look of the text based on the information it receives from the site.   Users can override this by changing settings in their browser to change how the text appears based on their personal preferences.   This includes eliminating background images, changing font styles as well as colors.  

Styling the Sound of Content

The CSS Speech module specs out how developers willl be able to specify not only how text looks, but how it will sound when a user is using text to speech software.  Text would be identified to be synthesized in a particular way, which could include the gender, age, speed, pitch and duration.    The current specification, though not part of approved code, also includes the ability to
  • identify how flat or variable, how much range, the voice has
  • emphasis particular words or sentences (vocal-stress)
  • volume of a selection
  • left / right balance of a selection
  • identify audio clip or file to be played at a particular point in the page
  • pauses or gaps between words or sentences

Combining the auditory with the visual text of a site offers an opportunity to create new depths of richness and texture to a site that we previously developed exclusively in the visual realm. 

See also

CSS Speech Module
Appendix A Aural Style Sheets (part of Cascading Style Sheets Level 2 Revision 1 (CSS 2.1) Specification June 2011)

Cleanwweb UK

I love this image from Cleanweb UK.It nicely combines technology of the circuit board as the trunk and roots of the tree with easily recognizable representations of different aspects of sustainable culture.

Cleanweb UK Manifesto

We know that as a species, we are hitting the limits, in resources, pollution, and our impact on the natural world. We know that exponential growth in a closed system is dangerous. We know that we must reduce the impact of our society immediately or face widespread systemic failure.
As makers and entrepreneurs, our task is to make these constraints work for us, and use our creativity to deliver progress without the costs we previously accepted as a side effect of our work.
We have very little time, but we have an incredibly powerful tool at our disposal. We have to apply the power of the web to make change happen at all levels of society, transforming businesses, governments, and citizens on a massive scale.
Beginning today, we will dedicate ourselves to this mission. We will work on projects with true meaning, that make the future a better place to be, rather than creating illusory short-term value.
We hope you will join us. We have a lot of work to do.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Gallagher's Flaming Mallet

What's better than Gallagher smashing things?  Smashing things with a flaming mallet.  Better than that? Slow motion.  It's a test of the Phantom Miro M3205 camera
See the video below (warning: topless Gallagher) jump to 1:48 for the flaming fun.  After the break, classic Gallagher.

Gallagher in Slow Motion from FCTN on Vimeo.

Swim by Mike Kus

poster of swimmer from above with green skeleton and the word swim
"Swim" by Mike Kus available at Society6 (starting at $25)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


"Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most."

via Fuck the Fear

Friday, September 14, 2012

Maple Keyboard from Oree

I love wooden products so this keyboard was a no brainer.

It's from Oree and available in maple and walnut.  For only £125GBP ($200 USD) it an be yours.

It's gorgeous, but I can't see how it works.  It appears the keys are fixed as part of the middle plank, so there's not springing mechanism to make them type.

According to Design Boom  its "bluetooth equipped portable wireless keyboard made from a single piece of premium maple and walnut. each unit is cut into three sheets to preserve the wood grain across the shell.."

close up of maple wooden keyboard on wooden table

keyboard in three pieces and workman using chisel on one piece

close up of keyboard and partially exploded view

Monday, August 27, 2012

What is Repeatable?

Jon Acuff is a writer and speaker and the author of Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job & Your Dream Job. He was recently interviewed by Chris LoCurto.

When we moved to Nashville, we had the chance to move into this one neighborhood that we really liked and our kids could walk to school and we thought it was amazing. And some of the houses weren't as big, as new or as nice as some of the other ones that were available, but we realized when our kids are in their 30's they're not going to tell as story like "When we were growing up we had the most ample closet space." they're going to say "When we were growing up we got to walk to school." And so one of our principles is "What's the story decision?" We're writing the lore of our kids’ childhoods right now. What are the stories we want to help them write? And walking to school is one of them. And so, for us, that becomes a filter. You go “What is this story going to tell?” And so, for me, realizing things like that, and also realizing what can you repeat and what can’t you repeat? There’s opportunities I say no to right now because I am a dad and a husband and I want to be present. And I know in 12 years from now and the kids are maybe in college and have left the house, I can say yes to more things. But hopefully if those opportunities are still available, I know which one I can repeat. I’ll always hopefully be able to say yes to speaking engagements. I’ll never be able to repeat my kids’ childhood.

What is the story decision?

What decisions are repeatable?

These are two simple ideas which can quickly change your perspective on a decision.  When a decision impacts your family, taking a moment to ask these two questions could shift that answer. 

For me this week it was whether to take a few hours off from work to walk my son to his first day of school.   I'd already come to the decision before hearing this interview, but it gave focus to the feeling I knew was right.  I would never see his first day of kindergarten again, this is not a repeatable moment. 

Hear the full interview at Chirs LoCurto's blog

Jon Acuff's blog

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Large Wooden Ball and Slab Sculptures from Holamon Studios

three irregular pieces of black  wood with concentric circles which cross them all
Excellent large wooden sculptures by Keith Holamon from Holamon Studios. These sculptures are made from the root balls and other pieces of large scrap wood.
The balls are approximately 2ft in diameter or 6 ft 3inches around (good old Pi).   While the slabs vary in size. See the videos after the jump for more examples and how the balls are made on one serious lathe.

three irregular pieces of black  wood with concentric circles which cross them all, and man standing near top to show scale.  14 feet by 10 feet
14ft x 10f Poplar circles
maple wooden ball with concentric rings top to bottom, 2 feet in diameter
Maple Ripple 2 ft in diameter
2 foot in diameter wooden ball with hollow space and dark and light wood
wooden ball 2 feet in diameter with gaps in it
oak slab with two two centers with concentric circles radiating out, overlapping in middle of slab
Oak Slab

Big Wooden Ball Project from Mike Leuis on Vimeo. Vimeo Via Found Shit

Friday, August 3, 2012

"Bicycle" - Stunning Illustration by Ugo Gattoni

Stylized word Bicycle with impressionist versions of bikes

It's a gorgeously detailed 5 meter long illustration of a bike race in London by Ugo Gattoni  Notable places in London are captured as the bicycle race passes through.  Sites include St. Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben and Smithfield meat market.

 I love that the pig's head is coming out of the market because I used to walk by it on my way to work and my lasting memory of the market was of a barrel of pigs heads and getting asked to leave because I was taking pictures.
"Bicycle is a giant leporello book by Ugo Gattoni and published by Nobrow Press
The original is a 5 meters long drawing about bicycles through the streets of London
Released in time for the London 2012 Olympics"
On his site he has other beautiful illustrations and examples of his work.

Bicycle is Available at Nabrow Press

BICYCLE from Éditions Copains on Vimeo.

Sample of illustration with loops and Big Ben and St. Paul's cathedral in London

magnifying glass examining illustration

Pig's head coming out of building, Smithfield meat market

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Art and Issues

In honor of the opening game of the Olympics today, I thought I'd share some of my favorite Olympic art, video and issues of the last couple of weeks. In addition to the great art, and articles, be sure to watch the Boris Johnson video from Cassette boy

Starting today, hopefully we can enjoy the sport as well.

street art of javelin thrower using missile

Bill board stating with a number of words banned from use because of the games

Oddbins Ani-Olympics campaign: Lodnon 2102;

Street art of Ronald McDonald with various commercial endoresements on torch and outfit with cash flowing from his pockets

McDonald's Olympics French Fry Monopoly: Sponsorship Deal Bans Other Vendors From Selling Fries

Street Art of two police officers guarding McDonalds Symbol over the Olympic rings and the words "I'm lovin' it"

 Boris Johnson Olympic Welcome

Olympic Vermin from Leo Bridle on Vimeo.

Two images, one of tattoo spelling Olympic wrong and picture of woman holding Olympic torch
Olympic torchbearer gets tattoo spelt incorrectly

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Amazing Macro Photos from Nicky Bay

The blog is called Macro Photography in Singapore, so you shouldn't expect less than some amazing close up photography. Nicky Bay is the photographer and his blog is full of excellent photographs of a range of unique insects, spiders and other critters.

I'd come across it on another blog that was featuring a shot of his, the ladybug mimic spider.   It didn't take long for me to get sucked into the blog and going through months of pictures.   

trilobite larvae largely black with orange tips on the bumps on its body.
Trilobite larvae
Multicolored millipede  blue and black body with pink and yellow legs
Multicolored millipede  blue and black body with pink and yellow legs
close up of Damselfly
close up of head and eyes of a damselfly

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jellyfish lake in Palau

Amazing video of a lake called Jellyfish lake on Eil Malk part of Palau where snorkelers can swim with hundreds of jellyfish which inhabit the lake. According to United Air, I could get there from Boston via Houston, Hawaii, and Guam for roughly $2300.
For now I'll have to be satisfied with this amazing video from Sarosh Jacob. (The music is Radiohead "Nude".)
JELLYFISH LAKE from Sarosh Jacob on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cassette Tape table from Skierka designs

I love this table from Jeff Skierka designs.   Its a beautiful piece made from maple and walnut.   Even though the inside is somewhat hollow, at 5 inches thick, this table has to weigh a fair bit.

Description from his site:
This coffee table is a 12:1 scaled replica of a cassette tape. It is made of reclaimed maple, walnut and lucite. Dimensions are 47.25" x 30" x 5" with a 3/8" plexi top. This is a first prototype and one of a kind table. Future versions will be CNC machined out of high grade plywood with a variety of ply combinations and a glass top. This table has been an obsession of mine for 5 years! It is amazing to finally have it come to fruition. The table is completely reversible (sides A and B).  We are working to get this into production soon. Both plywood and handmade hardwood versions will be available.

Visit his site to see more designs and get put on his mailing list.

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