The time of your life

The clock by my bed has started to tick. It's an electronic clock that has silently told the time for five years. Now all of the sudden it has decided to tick. So I'm lying here in bed, very awake at 1:30 a.m., listening to the ticking, knowing I have to wake up at 8 a.m.

Babies supposedly love ticking clocks—apparently it reminds them of when they were in the womb. I find it hard to believe that I ever could have been small enough to fit into anything less than the womb of an elephant.

I had a dream last night—a kind of pre-me-historic flashback where I saw myself in the womb, attached to my mother with an umbilical cord. I realize that's as far back in time as I can remember—and now I'm wide awake.

I don't like being reminded I was once inside another person. Yes, I know—it's perfectly natural. Still... This is the kind of thing I think of at 2 a.m., with only six hours until I'm supposed to wake up. It explains a lot, doesn't it?

Of course, it wasn't that long ago (in geological time) that we were all in the womb, and before that, just the cells of our parents. Yet now I'm at an age where my teenage years sometimes feel like ancient history. My father recently told me, "Oh, the next ten years are the best," while last week my 20-year-old nephew complained, "I feel so old," bringing a new meaning to Einstein's theory of relatives.

And the clock is ticking louder. Sometimes I feel like I've lost track of time. Where did this year go? We're all riding on the back of this unruly planet at 67,000 miles per hour and I'm sure I saw that same asteroid a year ago, so we are clearly going around in circles! Where does that get us?

Tick. Tick. It doesn't even "tock" it just Ticks. While I don't pretend to understand Einstein's theory, or how time seems to go slower as you approach the speed of light (and if this is true why don't light bulbs last longer?) we've all experienced how "Time flies when you're having fun," and days we "thought would never end." We're all time travelers, boldly going into the future, our own bodies like clocks that show time not in days, but years.

It hits me that I'm a product of time (so are you). You wouldn't be reading this if, in previous times, people hadn't invented language and alphabets; if there hadn't been time for technology to develop a way to transmit this to you; time for us to be born; time for me to think of this, time to put it in words, time for you to read it.

I'll never fall asleep thinking like this. It's 2:30 now. I am still awake. I sleep better when I don't have to get up at a specific time. I think alarm clocks, taxes and 24-hour news have undermined modern society.

I don't need this alarm. I'll sleep through it anyway. The alarm just becomes part of my dream—as a warning I've entered a restricted zone on a Thermian space ship or something.

I don't want to hear the ticking—it's louder than my own heartbeat. OK, I've just taken the battery out of the clock and now it's silent at last. The hands have stopped moving, but they'll still tell the right time twice a day, right? I will wake up and be glad that the sun rose again and I'm 1,608,000 miles further along my orbit.

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I may complain about this clock, but actually I love clocks and watches. They're microcosms of the universe all by themselves, complete with three kinds of orbits, once a minute, once an hour, twice a day.

I love them so much I started to design them, and am excited because two of my watch designs have just come back from the factory (you can see them at http://www.projects-us.com/html/mystery-watches.htm l ).

To help show how these unusual watches tell time, I made working models of them using Macromedia Flash (read more about Flash below). You've surely seen Flash on the web—generally in the form of animation—and it can be an extremely useful addition to your site.

Once I'd made Flash files, I realized I could also use the files on my web site to show anyone in the world how they worked. Then it was just a short mental hop-skip-and-jump to the idea that I could turn these Flash files into clocks that run on your computer screen—and screensavers that tell the time. 

And that's how my newest site, http://www.elementoftime.com was born. I built it with NetObjects Fusion and just dropped the Flash files in. I'm unreasonably happy with the results. And while the watches took almost a year to go from design to production, the site itself took about a month (though it felt like a long month...). Please visit the site and look around to find a free clock you can download.

Now that everything's up and running I need more time to sleep. Luckily, I see that in my future. May there be all the time you need to do the things you want to do.

dwh sig

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Flash is wonderful technology—efficient because it uses vector graphics (lines and curves rather than the tiny dots that make up GIF and JPG files), for small file sizes, as well as animation, interactivity, and sound. Yes—the file sizes can be small, smaller, in fact, than GIF or JPG files—even with animation.

The problem is that many people build bloated Flash files, and try to load everything at once (which isn't necessary). So, as with all tools, it's all how you use it. While you may have seen a lot of useless eye-candy done in Flash, the fact is that Flash, used thoughtfully, can be an important, powerful and effective piece of web technology.

In my new site http://www.elementoftime.com I used it as atmosphere, working models, and as the product itself, so the technology is versatile and can be used on and off-line. On http://www.projects-us.com/html/mystery-watches.htm l it shows the movement on the watches I designed—something you couldn't do with still images. Flash also lets you create interactive demos with animation and/or sound. And you can turn Flash files into screensavers, too.

While some people are using Flash to build entire sites, that can be problematic. You can't bookmark pages, you can't go directly to inside pages, and overall it can just become tedious. The best Flash-based sites use a normal HTML backbone—normal web pages on which the Flash files live. This gives you the best of both worlds—the flash of Flash, and the usability of HTML. And in case your wondering, many search engines can index the text inside of Flash files.

NetObjects Fusion is a great web building program for people who use Flash, because it's so easy to drop the files in, and NetObjects Fusion handles all the coding necessary to embed the files, and all the file management of uploading them.

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OK, so you want to add Flash to your NetObjects Fusion site. Easy! First, make sure that your advanced toolbar is turned on, by going to View/Toolbars. If there's a check next to "Advanced Tools" it is. If not, click on "Advanced Tools."

HOLD DOWN the icon that looks like a blue puzzle piece. The second icon is white, with vertical red and black lines—If you hold your mouse over it, it will say "Media Shockwave" and this is the tool for inserting Flash.

Click on the page. NetObjects Fusion will create a small box and open a dialog box where you can choose a .swf (Flash File). Select the file. A gray box with the Shockwave logo will appear it's actual size (you can resize it freely now if you want).

Here's the important step—with the Flash file selected, go to the Properties Palette. Click on the second tab. Click on "Auto Start" (or the Flash file can just sit there without running). I also recommend you set the quality to "High."

That's it. If you've put the Flash file inside of a text box, you can also change the Alignment to the text using the third tab on the properties palette. Press ^p (or click on the MX preview tab) to preview your site, with the Flash in place. When you publish, NetObjects Fusion will automatically upload your Flash file for you.

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So if Flash is so great, why doesn't everyone use it? Because it can be difficult to learn. Since it does so much, there are many different things you have to learn: timelines, layers, symbols, actions. Here are some sites where you can find useful materials to help you learn:

http://www.flash.com - The official site. They have FAQs and tips, training classes and tools.

http://www.peachpit.com/books/catalog/71614.html an excellent flash reference book. Highly recommended.

http://www.lynda.com/products/videos/flash5cd/ A comprehensive tutorial on CD—it's like taking a class without leaving your home or office. Highly recommended.

http://www.flashkit.com/ probably the best single site resource. Thousands of open-source Flash files you can download and customize for your own projects.

http://virtual-fx.net/index.html - More free files and tutorials.

http://www.flashmagazine.com/flash4.htm - News and info about Flash, well-done entirely in Flash.

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Flash can be difficult to learn, but there is a kind of "Flash-light" program that lets you create animated text banners and simpler flash animations. http://www.swishzone.com has just released version 2 of their popular "Swish" program. While not as powerful as Flash, it's much easier and less expensive and includes scores of built-in text effects that Flash doesn't have. Even people who have Flash buy Swish, so they can more easily add these effects. At $49.95, it's a good deal.

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http://www.secondstory.com/ creates the best educational sites I've ever seen. They combine the beauty of a book with the interactivity of a Flash web site. If you have a high-speed connection, make sure to see this site about mummies, absolutely astounding, beautifully designed, highly-educational:

http://www.discovery.com/highspeed/tlc/mummies/ind ex.html

Auto manufacturers seem to have a lot of well-done Flash sites: - download Mercedes' especially well done Flash-based screensaver showing the car drive through a line drawing of country and city.

http://www.x-type.com/ The new Jaguar X-type (ahh...)

http://www.fordheritage.com/tbird/ The new Thunderbird (sigh...)

http://www.future.nissandriven.com Nissan's cars of the near future.

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Bitmotion makes useful and easy to use components for NetObjects Fusion. One especially interesting component called Spamfree, formats your e-mail links so that they work with e-mail programs, but can't be digested by e-mail sucking robots that collect addresses for spam.

Their PagePosition component lets you align your page any way you want. Normally, NetObjects Fusion positions pages in the upper left hand corner, but this component lets you center the page vertically and horizontally within the browser window (as well as the top, bottom, left or right).

Their Quick Form Mailer is a great way to easily add form-to-email support on your web site. (While NetObjects Fusion has an e-mail feature for forms, IE doesn't handle this correctly, so it's not very useful).

Create your form as you normally would inside Fusion, using any kind of form fields. Then drop the Quick Form Mailer onto the layout as the submit button and setup the component as you like. Not only can you specify fields as being required, but you can require them to be in one of over a dozen different formats, including email address, date, person's name, phone number, country, etc. Another feature which isn't found in any other Fusion component is the ability to support file attachments. Now visitors to your web site can attach resumes, graphics, or any type of file and it will automatically be sent to you as an attachment. Auto-responder messages can also be sent out to the person who filled out the form.

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Do Good For Free With Just A Click

NOW is the time to visit these sites, and click to donate for free. Visit their advertisers, too, so they'll keep supporting these good causes.

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I don't know about you, but my brain can feel like it's going to explode if I try to think too deeply about time. Still, I find it fascinating, and there are plenty of interesting sites about it

Thanks for taking the time to read this—and the past 59 FuseLetters.

dwh sig



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