Sunday, October 30, 2005

Wireless: you aren't as safe as you think

Anyone that has a wireless network needs to listen to this podcast or read this transcript. It's from the people that brought us the port sniffer, Shields Up. It discusses the weaknesses of first generation encryption (WEP), MAC address filtering, and not broadcasting your network's SSID. The conclusion? It's all pretty useless to the average hacker with a sniffer program.

If you are an open (non-encrypted) hotspot like a Starbucks, then you should only browse as if someone was looking over your shoulder the whole time. Never buy something while at an open hotspot. The lock (SSL) in the address bar won't mean much over insecure wireless. Also, if you share your wireless network with everyone (oh, you are so nice!) and a user (a complete stranger) uses it to break the law, you might be accountable.

If you do need security at a hotspot, subscribe to something like a VPN from HotSptVPN ($10-$15) or Anonymizer ($30) for less than a dollar a day.

--Stephen M. James

Saturday, October 29, 2005

InterBrand Papers

I have yet to read any of them, but I found some free more literature on branding. The company Interbrand has some posts on the topic. They sound manifesto-like.

--Stephen M. James

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Paint Selection: Behr's Explore Color

One of the best interactive programs I've ever seen on the net is Behr's Explore Color. I was browsing Home Depot and their site linked to it. It's a paint selection program that will coordinate swatches for you! I might even be able to adapt it to websites and Pantones for print.

Be sure to look at the Inspiration section, too.

--Stephen M. James

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Household Budget Spreadsheet

This post doesn’t have anything to do with “issues surrounding media creation and marketing,” but I wanted to post this for anyone that might be interested in making a household budget. There are four columns on the budget worksheet: Weekly, Bi-Weekly, Monthly, and Six Months. The items in black are all the numbers derived from the numbers in red; so only change numbers in red. Behind the “Budget” worksheet is the “Salary” worksheet that computes taxes and net pay. The Net Bi-Weekly salary is then put into the Budget worksheet to compute income.

Download budgetAndSalary.xls (Excel 2000)

--Stephen M. James

Saving large Photoshop documents (PSD)

Most other applications and older versions of Photoshop cannot support documents with file sizes larger than 2 GB. There is new Large Document Format (PSB) that is supported in Photoshop CS and CS2. All Photoshop features, such as layers, effects, and filters, are supported by the PSB format. Other applications and older versions of Photoshop cannot open documents saved in PSB format.

There are three steps that Photoshop takes in saving a file: Generating Full Resolution Composite, Preparing to Save, and Writing Photoshop Format. When dealing with files approaching the 2GB limit, you can quicken the “Generating Full Resolution Composite” and the “Preparing to Save” step by hiding all the layers (Alt+click one layer’s visibility icon will hide all other layers on the PC). The documents will still take a few minutes to save, but some time will be shaved off the beginning of the save.

If there is one layer or more (adjustment, bitmap, vector, or text) and the "Maximize Compatibility" feature is turned on, Photoshop saves two copies of the same image. One is flattened (Full Resolution Composite) and the other is in layers. If you deselect the “Maximize Compatibility” feature, this might even reduce your file size by half, and eliminates the reason to hide all the layers for “Full Resolution Composite.”

--Stephen M. James

Sunday, October 23, 2005

4 petabytes just for FREE storage?

I just read this great article at I, Cringley that hypothesized the collateral problems that come with the network being the computer.


"My point here is that we're entering another period of Internet exuberance. Yes, a lot has changed since 1999, but it's amazing how many of the ideas being pushed are the SAME ideas, just empowered now by dark fiber, cheap broadband, and six years of Moore's Law. And this time I think it will actually work and the Internet will change even more than it has the ways we live and work. But it isn't going to come easy and it isn't going to come cheap."

"NOW we know why Google bought those 30 acres on the Columbia River in Oregon right next to a generating station from the Bonneville Power Administration."

--Stephen M. James

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Design Audit

Does your company need a Design Audit?

--Stephen M. James

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Technorati: Keep track of you on everyone's blog

Scouring blogs for "your brand" is like watching people giving feedback without them knowing. Explicitly sent email or reply cards are much more like focus groups. The people want you to know directly and who it was from.

Technorati is a blog search engine with a few more benefits. It can keep track of certain words for you, for instance your name or your company, by adding these to your watchlist. When someone mentions a well-known person on his or her blog, that person can find out what he or she had to say about the famous person (or organization).

--Stephen M. James

Friday, October 14, 2005

Book Review: The Brand Gap

Brand Gap, The: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design
by Marty Neumeier (AIGA Press)

I recommend this book. I wouldn't buy it though due to how short it is, especially with the PDF that you can get that covers the major themes. It's more like caffeine than vitamins.

The fact that the first page spread is of the Nike Swoosh with the caption “This is not a brand” in Latin, should illuminate what type of book this is. It’s more bullets than in-depth reading, but the author explicitly states that this book was purposely written as an hour or less read.

Neumeier defines a brand as "A brand is a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or company." Thus a brand is not something that a company can actually create. It can influence it, but it can’t hand it to the consumer on a platter intact. He states that customers don’t want a logical, rational feature-based sales pitch and that they want a brand that they trust. He discusses the ills of focus groups and the pros of quick prototyping. This leans into the area of thin slicing that Malcolm Gladwell discusses in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. After all that this what this whole book is thin-slicing.

Minor discretions
Neumeier says that “Most people like clicking--they just hate waiting.” I would say that people don’t mind clicking if they believe that you are giving them what they want. Nobody wants to get off the interstate at the wrong exit and have to try to get back on the main road.

The author states that Amazon (page 140) lost 31% of its brand value in try to extend its online book niche into an online “bookmusiccameracomputerappliancebabyfurnituretoy” niche. Maybe it’s because the book was written in 2003, but I haven’t thought of Amazon as a book-only company for many years. I see it as an everything-store--like,,, or This means that he is right in stating the brand is rather meaningless in connection with the product. What’s the brand value of all those companies? These brands easily come to my mind when I consider buying something on the Internet. Amazon has become a storefront for small businesses everywhere to do business under their umbrella. I bought some really great shirts the other day from some guy in Pennsylvania--of course these are commodities, but I personally feel safer buying through than from a random website. I am also a left-brain shopper who reads the fine print on the generic and name brand medications to see which one has 5% and which one has 9% of the active ingredient.

The included recommended readings at the ending are an excellent addition. From the PDF at, it appears that Neumeier has got onto the Godin's IdeaVirus theme.

You can download the The Brand Gap PDF from my site, smjdesign.

--Stephen M. James great job of looking for a job

According to What Color Is Your Parachute's Richard Bolles, only 4 percent of job holders obtain a job by utilizing the Internet. The problem of course is that the employer doesn't know you from Adam. Then as Josh Cade (Indianapolis/MidWest) from (freelance/placement firm) told me, posts from students flood his email box. 30 out of 400 applicants might be goos enough for the creative position he is offering. Employers don't like posting to the's and the's because of all the email they get. It's all about the referal. That being said, I stumbled onto SimplyHired the other day and it does a good job of searching posts from a multitude of job hunting sites. Why visit one job posting site, when you can view 20 at one indexing site with a lot less advertising.

Of course, the best thing as always, is the RSS feeds. I wonder what their business model is?

--Stephen M. James

Can we track our RSS?

How do we track RSS? We can track hits to our XML files with our logs and stats, but since the client views the feed in an aggregator and not a browser, can we we tell when that person leaves the site?

Many RSS feeds only sample the full article and that makes sense if you are trying to extend your site and bring people into your site. Many blog sites, of course, display there whole site in RSS and therefore the aggregator becomes a mini browser. Hey, we get to create our own little AOLs with our hand-picked content!

(Timely) Link of Interest:

Interview with Dave Winer- Creator of RSS


Thursday, October 13, 2005

The ThyCa DrugCard: Color

My newest graphic project is a fundraiser for ThyCa (thyroid cancer survivors non-profit). My client is not ThyCa though, it is a thyroid cancer survivor who wants to do a fund raiser for ThyCa and pay for all the development and printing costs of the ThyCa DrugCard. The premise is that people often forget to take their medications or forget to take them all with them when they visit their physician, especially during hypothyroidism. The card is a list of the patients prescriptions, vitamins and supplements. An accompanying card will have directions on how to perform a thyroid check on one's self that can be given to a friend.

The largest hurdle (besides HIPA rules) is the fushia/navy/cyan color scheme of their logo. I got out my swatchbook and considered the delimna. The solution takes the original colors and deviates from them enough to eliminate the 1980's motif and not scare away the males. The majority of thyroid cancer patients are women (so soft is good), but there are still plenty of men in the fold. As a male, I know that to use pink (especially neon) is scary. The new pink is a pastel on the peach side with enough yellow not to look like a baby shower present either. The cyan has become a sky blue that along with the butterfly motif (the butterfly/thyroid is a common association in ThyCa circles, the thyroid looks like a butterfly) symbolizes freedom from the disease. The navy blue has become an accent, and the "black" of the type.

Any comments?

--Stephen M. James

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Mid-morning shower = creative ideas?

Don't waste your showers on your half-awake morning self.

Some people have said that their "Big Idea" hit them while they were in the shower. Ideas actually hitting someone makes less sense than spontanesous mutation (although I guess I do have to leave room for divine intervention). But none the less, would it make sense for employers to harness the shower time by having employees take showers at work?

The process is that one must have time for ideas to sink in and that time alone (yes, alone!) with a menial task might lead to better, more creative ideas. Of course, the brain would need to be fed (blogs, readings, work-related socializing) before it could run wild. I'm sure a better proposal to make to the boss would be to suggest a different menial task could take a shower's place that would not require installing a shower in the workplace. Any suggestions?

--Stephen M. James

(By the way, I did come up with this idea in the shower.)

Freelance/Employee Blog

After viewing my friend, Ryan's blog at I thought about recording my daily triumphs and struggles related to the media industry in this blog. People want a story, after all. My hesitation is how much transparency employers/clients really want? No, really? How much of your struggle do you share? We are people, we are not public traded corporations. Although you could call some employers investors, since they are paying your income and would like a nice return on their investment.

You can start a transparent brand--after all it will make you more accountable. It will make you the fast moving cheetah around the dinosaur (I heard on Tavis Smiley the other day that some dinosaurs it takes 2 min. for them to feel if their tale was cut off).

It's the same paradigm for companies/investors/customers. How transparent is your brand?


Links of interest:
Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea describes how he capitalized on his “learning opportunities” and turned a simple idea into a multimillion dollar enterprise.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Creative Economy?

Procter & Gamble Co. or General Electric Co. are hiring Design Continuum, ZIBA Design, Doblin Inc., and IDEO as consultants to design their products along with their inside R&D. Business Week article (Augest article) calls new ecomony model after the "Knowledge economy," the "Creative Economy." Does the comodization of left brain services mean that the right brain will dominate?

--Stephen M. James

Monday, October 10, 2005

Current RSS/Podcasts/Live Bookmarks

Now that my Live Bookmark bar is getting full, I thought I would share my current RSS and Podcasts:


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Idiotic Mystery Meat Navigation

I’ve been browsing the web for almost ten years (late 1996) and this has to be single most consistently annoying user interface problem I’ve seen (well, this and frames).

We all have seen it. Little dots, squares, or unrecognizable icons that go WHERE in the website? We don’t know--unless we move our mouse over it for the text to reveal the destination. The biggest irony is, of course, that these same marketing sites that evangelize customer experience as the next big thing in branding don’t care about the extra cognitive and mouse moving steps their users have to take so that they can be minimal in their visual design. This is form over function.

The saddest part is websites that use Mystery Meat Navigation win design awards as if visual design was more important than usability or information design. (My guess would that these judges have worked on print for most of their life). We can compare interactive to paper. I dare anyone to print out a web page with Mystery Meat Navigation and tell me how to get somewhere. Or what if the table of contents were little shapes that you touch with your finger to view.

I can’t believe that I taught a seminar back in high school on the snares of Mystery Meat Navigation, and the problem still exists today. Thankfully, the CSS/DIV tag duo has come to the aid of many interactive users by enabling mouseovers to reach their full potential instead of solely controlling image swaps.

Descriptive photographs are often fine for navigation, especially for portfolio entries at marketing firms--after all these are often ads (or read branding) that are touch points and should be visual appealing. Intelligible icons make sense also (email, phone, fax, the firm’s logo in order to return to the home page).

While I was writing this article, I stumbled onto Leo Burnett (a Publicis Co.) that uses Mystery Meat Navigation, but they also have a menu-based navigation, thankfully. The pencil motif is nice. It took a few seconds though to find out how to return to the last viewed screen (hint: click anywhere else except the piece you are viewing).

In closing: The Road Sign Idea

I have a marvelous idea! We should help clear all this text clutter on our road signs. The government should give little remotes (much like mice) to every driver and tell him or her that he or she should point to each sign to see if it’s the place to turn off. If that worked, we could do the same to billboards. I think our clients would be very happy if we hid their billboards and their web banners, too, until the user waved his or her mouse in its direction.

--Stephen M. James

The term "Mystery Meat Navigation" and the road sign idea come from an article written in the late 90's by Vincent Flanders.

Give FireFox to a friend

Give the present of Open Source (FireFox and Thunderbird) to your friends today!

Go to and download the programs in one file and burn it to a CD.

Contents include: Plugins such as Macromedia Flash, Macromedia Shockwave and Sun Java; Themes such as Whitehart, Qute, Noia Lite, Doodle Plastik, Curacao, Crossover, Nautipolis, Winstripe; Firefox Extensions such as Adblock, All-in-One Mouse Gestures, FoxyTunes, SessionSaver, ScrapBook, Tabbrowser Preferences, Bug Me Not, Context Search, Download Manager Tweak, FlashGot, ForecastFox, Focus Last Selected Tab, FirefoxView, Googlebar, Hotmail Tabs, IEView, InFormEnter, Linkification, Paste and Go, Super Drag and Go, StumbleUpon, Webmail Compose, Undo Close Tab

NOTE: Currently there is no Mac or Linux version of Firemonger, but there is of Firefox and Thunderbird.

Current Browser Statistics

87% Internet Explorer
8% FireFox
2% Safari


--Stephen M. James

*In response to Blake (see comment below), my post does not focus on the security issues. I enjoy FireFox because of the plethora of extensions (some of my favorites are listed above). The Adblock, EditCSS, and Web Developer extensions along with Live Bookmarks allow a user to manipulate the content of a site. I love Firefox not because it is a departure from Microsoft (although that's a very good reason), but because of the control that it gives the user. Every new software that comes from Microsoft seems to have more and more Digital Rights Management. You can even disable the JavaScript disabling of a "no right click/context menu" in Firefox.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Brewster Kahle on NerdTV

Back in the mid-nineties, the original business model of AOL was royalty based. The consumer paid the ISP and the ISP paid the content creator--much like the publishing industry. AOL decided that content providers should pay them for their “eyeballs”--much like the television/cable industry. This started the advertising boom on the Internet.

It seems that if allow somebody to control one piece of it [the chain of production/distribution], then they'll strangle it and they'll work back up stream and down stream [control other parts of the chain]. . .organizations like to deal with other organizations that are their same size.”

-- Brewster Kahle, Alexa, Internet Archive founder, NerdTV

Links of Interest:
The Internet Archive
Truveo: “The Google” of web video

NerdTV is essentially Charlie Rose for geeks - a one-hour interview show with a single guest from the world of technology. Now if only we could get view the Charlie Rose show for free.


Digital Rights Management

DRMs, CIOs, CSSs, AACs--oh, the many acronyms of information protection.

As our economy becomes more information based, I often wonder whether information will ever become a commodity. Being a recent graduate that was not being paid for most of his work anyway--it's a little hard to transition to corporate confidentiality (if you would like to view the actionscript source code of my interactive portfolio, goto my website and email me). In some interviews, the employers can't even show me, the prospective employee, what they create. Your ideas are your money.

In the media marketing industry, it seems that it's up to the client or distributor to protect content. We squabble over clients and create (illustrate, film, code, etc.) media that is easily duplicated--and often wouldn't mind our creations being duplicated (like the ads we create). This will change as the ad-agencies diversify into full-service firms. More proprietary information will be protected.

For further reading:
Wikipedia article on DRM
(maybe linking to a for-fee site, like Britannica would have been more appropriate. . .)