« November 2003 | Main | January 2004 »

December 30, 2003

Printing From Action Window

I've got a question: Is it possible to keep the Flash authoring environment from overwriting my custom color settings when printing out code from the actions window?

End of the Year Gifts

There's still time to include GalaxyGoo in your end-of-the-year-gifts. GalaxyGoo is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and your donation may be tax deductible. Support GalaxyGoo

December 29, 2003

Conclusion of the Flash 7 Cross-Domain Policy Saga?

When Macromedia released version 7 of its Flash player, many developers were justifiably upset with the sudden change in the security of the sandbox. It's not that we didn't want things tightened up...in fact many of us embraced the increased security. The problem was that the changes broke our existing applications and we were left without a method to repair them.

If your application served through a port other than port 80, you were out of luck. Yes, there was the cross-domain policy file you could upload to your server. However, if your application served data through..say port 8080...the player would not find it. The player would only look on port 80.

Now, at last, there is a solution. Macromedia has added to the ActionScript API: System.security.loadPolicyFile(); With this, you can tell the player, from within your application, where to look for the policy file ("crossdomain.xml").

There are two drawbacks to this, however:


  1. Code must be added to the source file of the application, and a new swf must be compiled and uploaded to the server.

  2. The solution works only for the Flash Player version 7,0,19,0, and later. All earlier subversions of the Flash Player 7, will still pop up a security warning message to end users.

For more information, including how to resolve the policy file issue for XMLSocket servers, see Deneb Meketa's article on the Macromedia website.


Macromedia Flash Player Download Center

File size:476 K
Download Time Estimate:1 minute @ 56K modem
Version:7,0,19,0
Browser:Internet Explorer and AOL
Date Posted:12/16/2003
Language:English

December 28, 2003

Edwin's Flash MathML Reader

Edwin's posted a link to the MathML reader he's working on. Notice that he's got an example with a complex fraction! That's something I've been having trouble with.

GalaxyGoo Working Forums - Small example of MathML reader

December 24, 2003

Prions and Mad Cow Disease

Given the recent news about Mad Cow Disease appearing recently, I thought folks might be interested in some of the biology of the infectious agent. Prions: When Good Proteins Go Bad

December 18, 2003

Visualizing Science with Flash at FlashForward

WooHoo! There it is! On the FlashForward website--a description of the presentation I'll be giving at the next FlashForward. Currently, mine's the second one listed: "Visualizing Science with Flash".

Yep, I'm pretty excited. I love this topic, and I can't wait to talk about it.

[Flashforward2004.Com >> Keynote & Seminar Descriptions]

December 17, 2003

Caught in the Net

It's finally happened...I got email bounced back from a spam filter.

JD, if you see this post, please consider it your personal invitation to our Happy Hour this Friday. Also, I'm still having problems with the Flash player not finding the policy file for an application served through port 8080.

Flash Happy Hour this Friday

This Friday, we'll get together for another GalaxyGoo Flash Happy Hour.

If you're in San Franciso, join us:

  • Bliss Bar (on 24th street, between Noe and Castro)
  • Friday, December 19th
  • 5:30pm

I'll be getting there around 5:30. If 6:30 is a better time, come when you can.

December 16, 2003

Mathematical Knowledge Management workshop


Second North American Workshop on
Mathematical Knowledge Management

January 6, 2004
Phoenix, Arizona

If I had time, I'd be attending this workshop. Anyone able to attend, and interested in reporting on proceedings for GalaxyGoo?

From the email notification:

What is MKM?

Mathematical Knowledge Management (MKM) is an exciting new field in
the intersection of mathematics and computer science. The need for
good MKM is great: mathematical knowledge is mathematics' treasure;
it is vital to engineering, science, and mathematics itself, and it
is used by millions of people. The challenge of MKM is also great:
mathematical knowledge is unsurpassed in its extent, richness, and
interconnectedness. Current technology is not capable of
fulfilling this need and meeting this challenge. New and more
sophisticated theory and technology is required.

Objective

The purpose of NA-MKM 2004 is to introduce the issues and
challenges of MKM to the North American mathematics community. The
goal will be to share ideas and to explore ways mathematicians and
MKM researchers can collaborate.

Flash Image Viewer

This project is over a year old, but recently I've been getting a lot of requests for source code. It's messy, but should give you some ideas.


GalaxyGoo Working Forums - Image Viewer

It was originally intended to show how easy it is to create a visual browsing tool for images from NASA. A tool that annotates those images with reference to source and other info.

December 12, 2003

mathML reader algorithm

I've been working on a MathML reader, in Flash. As soon as I get a complex fraction to display properly, I'll post an example and maybe the source code.

Here's a sketch of the algorithm I'm using to render MathML in Flash:


  1. Initialize: refer to root node, create "myMath" movieClip (Clip) and assign stage coordinates for myMath

  2. Loop through all nodes in mathML tree, and create nested Clips for each node, attaching node-specific information to each Clip

    • (if a text node, create a text Clip || if not, create an "invisible" clip), with nodeName and ancestry going back two generations in tree

    • If new Clip is for a text node, save the path of this Clip in an array, for later reference

    • determine display rule to apply to Clip, based on node names of parent and grandparent nodes in mathML tree, and save relative position and additional information to this Clip object, and to its parent Clip Object.


  3. Loop through "visible" Clips
    • for each visible Clip, recursively traverse the tree and add the Clip's size to a variable of it's ancestors


  4. recursively loop through all Clip and set positions on stage
    • use relative positioning variables, for each Clip, to determine and set _x and _y values for each character in the math statement.


Reinventing the Chalkboard

These notes got burried in the obscurity. Since some folks may benefit from them, I'm posting them here.


Reinventing The Chalkboard


Presentation Notes for May 22, 2003

By Kristin Henry


Abstract:


Effectively communicating science and math online presents a unique array of challenges. When considering design, it is important for content, concepts,
and interfaces to be approachable and usable. But there is also a technical dimension: for example, how to render scientific and mathematical concepts within
a browser environment. Kristin Henry, President of GalaxyGoo, Inc. (an interdisciplinary think-tank dedicated to exploring expressions of science and math using online
technologies), will discuss these challenges and demonstrate effective solutions drawing on her own work, and other examples drawn from the Internet.

Introduction:

What does a chalkboard and the internet have in common?

  • tools for communication
  • interactive
  • dynamic
  • text and graphic (chalkboard great for real time illustration)
  • only as effective as itís used

Math and science are very visual. Research techniques use visual signals. Math problems are converted into symbols before solving. Charts, and tables, and micrographs...oh my!

Note: A lot of good design practices are especially important when teaching a complex subject.

Basic Web Design Tips:

Navigation:

  • Navigation is a summary of your web site or project.
  • Use descriptive terms for menu items
  • Keep navigation and content discrete (donít blur them): If elements of the navigation and the animation are too similar it can be confusing, at least on a subliminal level.
  • But donít make them hunt for the Interface, and if you have to use banner adds on your site, be sure that you're interface doesn't look like a banner add.
  • Keep the navigation in the same place. Donít make them hunt for the "next" button, and don't let your buttons jump about from one screen to the next.
  • Use navigation, when needed, to lead through the story

Readability:

  • Use relative font sizes
  • Make your default font size at least 10 point
  • Text is Text, donít use graphics for text,
    • Style sheets, and user settings, donít have any effect on graphics.
    • using images for text takes the meaning out of the document
    • Search engines canít index the content of the graphics, without alt tag <--increases download time.
    • If a heading, the importance of the text is lost when graphic
  • If you can, provide alternate style sheets -->low-vision users, color-blind
  • Maximize the color contrast between the text and the background
  • Avoid color clashes --donít put red text on a blue background!!!
  • Keep background simple--so it doesnít interfere with text

Misc. Points about HTML :

  • Use alt text for all graphic elements! --for screen readers, especially
  • Frames: avoid them!!
    • When choosing courseware package, look for optional use of frames <--donít get locked into a package that only generates frames.
    • IF you must use frames, provide a fallback / alternative , and be sure to include navigation back to your site from every page.
    • If youíre tempted to use frames, for design purposes, why not use Flash?
  • Site map (table of contents) -- link to it from every pager
  • Essential links at page footer , especially if graphic menu is used

Animation & Design Tips:

Start with the Subject

  • What youíre communicating has unique character, and challenges.
  • Break it down into smallest units
  • If youíre working on an animation, and you have illustrations to start from, figure out how the stills are related. Often, textbook illustrations are not clearly connected. This is where context and continuity can be the biggest challenge.

Context & continuity

  • Opportunities for making connections!
    • Tell the whole story.
    • Donít just skip from illustration to illustration-- connect them.
    • Some gaps will pop up when you start animating, gaps that no one thinks of ahead of time.
    • Plan for them, and expect at least one round of additional research.
  • When zooming into more detail, maintain context for the user.
  • Show the mechanism for the change, if possible

Accuracy is Critical

  • Inaccurate use of symbols, models, and captions can be misleading, and users can jump to incorrect conclusions.
  • Design artifacts can lead to misinformation, be careful.

Use the whole canvas!

  • Make use of all the space you can. (But donít forget to use white space.)

Using color:

  • Color can be a powerful tool for communication
  • When distinguishing between units that look similar (like amino acids), use color to emphasize difference instead of using shapes, or another gimmick, that are unrelated to the content.
  • Color and transparency (alpha) can also be used to organize complex information without oversimplifying or overwhelming.
  • In Flash, set colors programmatically, and use a style-color object to set color variables.

Sound:

  • Let user decide if sound is off or on.
  • Make it easier on low bandwidth users, and only load sound if user selects it.
  • Donít rely on sound
  • Offer a version that makes sense without the sound on at all (include text captions).

What to show, and when:

  • Itís a delicate balance between showing too much and too little information in illustrations and animations.
  • With animations you can use various design tricks to emphasize particular elements at different times.

Danger!

Legends and Labels:

  • Try to keep them separate from the animation, so that the animation is less cluttered.
  • When using lines for labels, use straight lines, and right angles to more clearly signify them as pointers and not part of the illustration/animation.

Use Icons Carefully:

  • If using icons, have a legend that gives an explanation of them, and keep it readily available to the user.
  • Avoid using icons for navigation ---("mystery meat").

Challenges:

Math Notation --Displaying math statements properly in digital documents:

  • pdf files: static, large file size...
  • gif images: interrupts flow of text, be sure to use ALT attribute to provide for accessibility ---Cannot be interpreted by screen readers or Braille-- displays Cannot be edited-- No two way communication of math
  • MathML: where we're headed, and best solution within reach, currently
    • Amaya browser: renders mathML natively (http://www.w3.org/Amaya/)
    • webEQ: authoring, and viewing tools. currently on the market, but not open source
    • MathML in Flash: open source project in the works

Build for the future:

  • Program animations to run at relative speeds, or future computers may zip through the animation too quickly to benefit the user.
  • Keep source files, and documentation of project, so that they can be more easily updated in the future. If possible, make programs open source.
  • Main challenges, for math and science communication online, revolve around notation. We're getting close.

One Last Thought

Think of the internet as a chalkboard. By itself itís not very useful, but give it to a talented teacher with a box of colored chalk, and it becomes a powerful tool for communication and learning.


Author's Bio:

Kristin Henry is President of GalaxyGoo, Inc, an interdisciplinary think-tank dedicated to exploring expressions of science and math with online technologies, for public benefit. Her research interests include: expressing science and math concepts with new-media techniques; exploring user interface and database application design and implementation; and integration of webMathematica with various client-side solutions, including Flash.

References and Further Reading:

  1. How To Teach Over The Web, Accessibly. CSUN Conference - March 21, 2000. Laurie Harrison, Jan Richards, Jutta Treviranus. http://snow.utoronto.ca/courses/csun2000.html
  2. Designing an Interactive Internet-Centered Course in Environmental Chemistry: A Multifaceted Approach to Distance Education. Thomas R. MacDonald and Robert F. Toia. Chemical Education Journal (CEJ), Vol. 4, No. 1 /Registration No. 4-8/Received February 8, 2000 http://chem.sci.utsunomiya-u.ac.jp/v4n1/toia/header8.html
  3. Readability Guidelines for Websites. useit.com http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20020819.html\
  4. Optimizing Flash or Search Engines: http://australia.internet.com/r/article/jsp/sid/13073

December 09, 2003

Flash Happy Hour, December 19th

It's time for another happy hour!

If you're in San Franciso, join us:

  • Bliss Bar (on 24th street, between Noe and Castro)
  • Friday, December 19th
  • 5:30pm

December 08, 2003

Invisible Women

John Dowdell extends Doug Bowman's question of "Who/Where are the Women" in web standards. Why are women almost invisible in the flash community?

Sites like FlashGoddess show that there are indeed women Flash developers and designers. So, why do the boys ignore us?

A number of comments to Doug's post mention that women may not wish to "out" themselves, but let their work stand for itself. Rings true to me.

December 06, 2003

new math server is live

The new server, with the upgrades for both Mathematica and webMathematica, is now live: GalaxyGoo webMathematica Lab


We're now running a Mathematica 5.0 kernel and webMathematica 2.0.

December 02, 2003

Switch to new Math server

So far, things look good for the upgrade installation on the new math server, and we're moving ahead.

Some good news: existing applications, written for webMathematica 1.0 are working fine on the upgrade. Things were not as dire as we thought.

The server switch is scheduled for Friday evening. We expect about 5 mins of downtime during the router change, but that is all.

December 01, 2003

Books on Women and Space

I just got an email about these books, and thought I'd pass them on. I haven't read them, but glanced through some other titles from the publisher at an AAAS meeting.

You'll notice that the links take you to Stacey's Bookstore. We have an affiliate account with them, instead of a well known online company, for two reasons: 1. because Stacey's is an amazing science and technical bookstore, and 2. because we support independent bookstores and believe that they are crucial to the health of the publishing industry.

Overcoming Stigma and Descrimination on World AIDS Day

It's hard to believe that today, decades after the world first became aware of AIDS, the disease is still shrouded with stigma. The challenge to educate seems as daunting as finding the cure itself.

The theme for this year's World AIDS day is Stigma and Discrimination. Take the World AIDS day quiz, on AVERT's website, and see how much you know about HIV and AIDS.