:Archive Of May 2001:

Thursday, May 31, 2001 - 9:52 PM -

Semantics. Aesthetics. Good Design. Bad Design. Toma-to. Toma-tah. Remember the phrase "When he was good he was very, very good, but when he was bad he was wonderful"? That's what I mean.

- 12:37 AM -

Uh-oh. On the local cheap things bulletin board someone has just posted a free Fleetwood cabinet TV. Built-in stereo. 5 1/2 feet long. I hate television. But I love old cabinet TVs. This is how the devil tempts me.

- 12:25 AM -

Oh, that's wonderful: Mikhail Gorbachev is doing TV interviews of world leaders. That could be great. I want to see that.

- 12:05 AM -

I locked my keys in the car two nights ago.

Only it wasn't my car, it was my computer. Box number one died. Click, snap; no workee no more. Viking burial at eleven.

The data was safe. I do backups. I burn CDs. I have multiple harddrives. I even have a second box. I was back online by switching cables. Only .. the keys were still in the first box. Uh-oh. I didn't have the login or connection info for my nice new domain. Couldn't upload, couldn't edit, couldn't get email. Couldn't even get to my old email that had that info. Nothing. I was locked out.

Yeah, I could have swapped drives. Only I'd have to swap all of them to keep the file paths working. And the machines are different enough that I might have to go through a reinstall hell to get things to work. Not an attractive option. Kinda thought I'd rather sleep through the night instead. Be awake for the inevitable rebuild in the morning, which would require it's own reinstall epic.

So I just browsed the web. Just looked. But I couldn't speak. Couldn't read anything addressed to me personally. It was like .. television. It was horrible.

Monday, May 28, 2001 - 11:03 PM -

So... text is searchable. And web documents can be long. And often you want to link to something way down a page. You know, when I or whoever appends a link with "Scroll down about two thirds."

I'm surprised markup doesn't allow something like href=http:/.../foo.html#phrase_Here_Be_Dragons. It's the sort of thing that makes sense and would be doable. I wonder if it was in the original HTML proposal?

Sunday, May 27, 2001 - 5:36 PM -

Oh man, that's sad. That was one of my favourite buildings.

Not a big thing on the large scale, sure, but that one was special to me.

Saturday, May 26, 2001 - 2:04 PM -


My favorite way of printing text heavy articles is to do a quick Select All, transfer it to my text editor and slap Print. Then I get nice dense formatted text in my preferred font type and size, edge to edge on the page, no big empty margins or graphics. A little stack of easy to read sheets I can take to the upholstered chair and read with my feet up, blissfully away from the monitor for a bit. Then, if the article was as good as hoped, it gets filed in the appropriate binder. It's a nice system. It keeps the toner cost down and helps me keep up with the info deluge.

One odd detail. Go to Mark Bernstein's The Narrative Web for ALA and try that. There are line breaks in the source code's text. If I Select All in Opera, these get copied too, and make a jumbled mess. Also Opera doesn't put a line between paragraphs, just a break. Old Netscape results in the same, but does put a line between paragraphs. I'm not going to try N6 because it's a pig to fire up, so I'd never use it for this. Explorer happily ignores the code's line breaks and puts a line between paragraphs, and so makes a perfect document.

But I can't figure out why either Opera or Netscape sees those code line breaks in the first place. I'm selecting text from the browser, not the source code. And there's no way to launder them out. They show up even if you copy to Notepad.

I don't use line breaks in my own html's text. Browsers aren't supposed to notice these but flakey browsers like Netscape did so just out of caution I use my editor's wordwrap instead. It's a small thing, but part of good coding to me is paying attention to details. Yes, of course I use line breaks to keep the markup making sense, but not in text. I figure it's unnecessary and thus one less thing that will catch me later in some company's flawed browser release. Pride of workmanship and all that.

Which is not a slag at either Mark Bernstein or ALA. I'm thoroughly grateful to both of them for publishing at all. This is just a high-profile example. Exactly the sort of article one would print this way.

Is this a browser result or OS I wonder? Do mac folk get this? Or is it some odd MS convergence item -- something to do with their campaign to make Explorer part of the OS -- and hence their browser got the patch for it? Curious.

Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 9:13 PM -

Remember the 100 year old colour photographs of Russia? How that time suddenly became real instead of a distant sepiatone?

Remember the other kick of reality when you first watched the colour films of Vietnam? The young guys with sunburns in sweaty fatigues, dusty airbases of tents and crews loading ammo, the air footage of weathered aircraft in formation, peeling off, exploding the ground. And footage of what the ground looked like afterwards. The first and last war we let the military show us that way. Close, in colour, with sound, and the hollywood jackasses had been left at home.

Here's more. Just one little detail. It's 1944. It's Italy. "This is the country. And this is what we did to it."

By the way, look at a map. Look what countries are right beside Italy, on the right. Think about that as well. And think about how bloody little you get to see of it.

The film is 42 minutes. It's not some insipid "Pearl Harbor". And if it wasn't for the web, you'd probably never see it. You'd just get "Pearl Harbor". You should probably think about this, too.

(Ignore the writeup on the page I'm linking to, and just click the connection speed of your choice. The 'Matinee' atmosphere the chap is trying to convey is really at odds with what he's linking to.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2001 - 2:26 PM -

Go read Victor's comment on strategy.

Monday, May 21, 2001 - 5:03 PM -

Opera 5.11 is out. And they didn't fix the 5.02 bugs with Flash and CSS. C'mon guys...

They did fix the incredibly annoying pop-up window glitch. Oh and a little less javascript fails than before. But the rest of the changes? Skins? Mouse gestures? Aww geez. Let's fix the basic problems first. It's version 5 for crying out loud. In 2001 no browser should fail things we've had for years. And this browser is so dang good in other ways.

- 1:29 PM -

Funny you should mention that,

Victor says, "My current, alternate career choices: 1. Sexy cell phone design/retail shop; made by customizing existing phones..."

A current back-burner do-it-when-bored/need-a-break project is to find out if there is no one making custom watches. I haven't found anyone yet, and it's a natural, really. The watch market is filled with enormously expensive hand assembled jewellery that's designed by a committees fondling market research, or by some 'big name' designer or design house gone flabby. (Yes, I am thinking of Marc Newson, who hasn't made an object of depth since the early 90s.)

Where are the independents? The mechanical artists. Someone with in a tiny room patiently wringing out one-off watch cases of beauty? A little metal lathe, a casting crucible, an enamel set, a few hundred beat up mechanical watches from junk stores scattered across benches. You'd think there'd be someone doing this. I'm half tempted myself just to fill the void.

But back to cel phones.. The local dollar store has a big rack of cel phones in the toy section. Bright soft plastic hollow flip phones for kids. I keep looking at these and at my out of date tank (big enough that people think it's WAP) and get bad thoughts. The warranty is long expired. If I can find a cheap smaller battery I can probably transfer the guts in an evening. Oo. Temptation.

Friday, May 18, 2001 - 5:01 PM -

The oddest things show up in referer logs. An enormous collection of Soviet propaganda posters.

Thursday, May 17, 2001 - 2:13 PM -

17 May 1991 -- WWW is presented to the C5 and released on the central CERN machines. Some questions were raised. I particularly like the second and third ones.

But hey, it's 10 years old now. Where were you that day? Did you have any idea you'd be here now?

It all moves so fast and so slow.

- 2:28 AM -

Oh jeeze that's depressing.

I did the old "let's see who's linking to the Box Lesson" via the other search engines. Remember HotBot? AltaVista? I'd forgotten myself. Anyway ... boy there's a lot of people proudly displaying CSS pages that show serious flaws in Opera. Um, folks? It's a good idea to test in more than ie/netscape. Opera shows the page badly sometimes because it's at fault, and sometimes because it's right. And regardless, in my logs at least, it's in a solid number 3 spot, and some days it beats out Netscape.

I own no stock in Opera. Personal experience has shown it has a real double personality, being both the superior product of an advanced civilization and stupidly buggy at the same time. Politically, I think it's really important we have a fully functioning browser not owned by a content producer. But all of this aside --even if I completely hated it-- I don't think it's going away.

In other news,

Rory has suggested that instead of a text upgrade notice, use an image with an empty alt.

His point is the text notice was being read by text browsers and search engines.

Notice how often Google's results come up with "you are using a browser that does not support frames" in the site quote? We're going to see a lot of upgrade notices in that spot if we don't do something. My foray into AltaVista just now came up with a whack of them.

Using an image also gives better control of tone. I've worded my text notice gently, but since one needs big fonts to get attention and make it distinct from the page, it still comes off as a little loud.

Caution: Although you want your message to be read and be distinct, being too distinct will make folks think "banner ad" and ignore it. Rory adds that you should choose an img size that won't cause banner-blocker software to do the same thing.

So far, I can't think of the downside to doing this. Anyone?

(Yes in advance: People with images turned off in a 4x browser won't see it. That's darn few people and they're not too concerned about aesthetics anyway. I'd rather worry about the search engine issue. imho, and all that.)

Sunday, May 13, 2001 - 10:40 PM -

Richard_1970 asks: What's your vision of the world and our knowledge about the universe in - say 50 years from now?

Douglas Adams: Well....just to take one aspect of what would be an enormous answer, let's say our technology, which of course is leaping ahead, will not necessarily make the world a better place--that's down to us--but it will make a more interesting place.

--online, 1998. Thanks Douglas.

- 3:26 PM -

Y'know, sometimes... it's 2001 and I look at the shoddy browsers and hardware we've got and I'm really glad we never did make flying cars.

Saturday, May 12, 2001 - 4:27 PM -

The first link. The other link. Yes, I know concept cars are just concepts. I know they're just playing around with ideas. But the corporate-speak that surrounds the stuff is chilling.

Friday, May 11, 2001 - 10:31 PM -

Well poop. It appears you can't use the css to make the content expand horizontally. I'm not a big fan of side scrolling but I'm working on something where this would look good. Forcing the issue with tables or nobr isn't appropriate because it's an all-browser all-resolution project. That's kinda frustrating. I would have thought some combination of box height and overflow declaration would make this possible.

- 2:06 PM -

So why don't they make (and i just know somebody in the 70s must have) a mattress & duvet combination that is sliced bread? A couple of lettuce green sheets, and a padded olive and pickle for pillows, and there you go.

Just don't dream of the hungry monster under the bed.

- 1:52 PM -

Finally, HTML I can understand: "To answer your question, I'm using a big black box with a variable speed motor attached to an alternating beater arm..." --Jeff explains at evolt.

Thursday, May 10, 2001 - 3:17 PM -

Happy-happy joy-joy. moreCrayons is a web-smart, not web-safe, palette test site. Why? Because web-safe often fails on 16-bit colour machines. So who still uses 16-bit? Um, me, but I've just been too lazy to upgrade my 1995 video card, so I've ignored 16-bit, which is why Box Lessons and Inflight look crummy in it. But CodeBitch advised me that the iMac uses 16-bit at its highest resolution. That's a lot of perfectly current machines. In short, I'm wrong. 16-bit needs to be considered. Thank you, Kirk.

- 12:54 AM -

Large images of works of Joseph Cornell, and the exhibition he gave for "children only".

Wednesday, May 9, 2001 - 11:56 PM -

Oh ... wow. PanQuake; 360 degree view in Quake. I'm not a big Quake fan, but I am big on seeing more that the current limit of our monitors. Think in terms of information architecture. Very, very interesting.

Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 2:14 PM -

Jeremy A. Engleman: "Please use these textures freely, for any purpose, without restriction. It is my small contribution to the Internet and the idea of cooperative computing and art. Remember to always do your part if you can." A little under 1000 photographs, and they're beautiful... [via the Invisible City]

Monday, May 7, 2001 - 3:36 PM -

Blogger has a design contest. NUblog has some criticism. I'm just thinking... Had Blogger gone along the lines of NUblog's original suggestion, offer professionally designed Weblog templates, how many people wouldn't have gotten interested in writing pages who are now? Yes, they're be lots of people who'd have learned to roll their own anyway, yes there's lots of people who'd be glad to use "skins", but how big would the between group be, the group who didn't know they'd get into it? How many designers wouldn't I be enjoying now?

Just thinking. It's along the lines of something else I've been thinking about, that the complexity of current code is going to start scaring people off, people who wouldn't have been scared off a year ago. HTML and tables is only 'easy' after you've got the hang of it. This is corollary to the fact that something is always in the last place you look for it. But there's a level of first glance complexity that makes people either back off or go for it. If I was starting fresh today and looked at ALA's style sheets, would I go for it like I did years ago with basic HTML?

I like making web pages. I like encouraging people to make web pages. I'm just wondering if we're hitting the point where the 'basics' are as approachable as the 'basics' for C++. You don't hold a new user's attention for long when they realize all they're going to get to work in the first week is as exciting as "Hello World".

Keeping the entry level approachable is not a mandate of the W3C and I don't know that it could or should be.

With wireless web devices and CSS2 soon to become normal, perhaps we need to rewrite our old standby tutorials. No small project. But take something like Webmonkey and start editing and rewriting from a standpoint of "everything you need to know if you're starting six months from today." Right now our online tutorials are a patched hyperlinked mess referencing preceding files that just aren't right anymore. I find myself answering innocent how-do-i-get-started emails with convoluted sentences like "well read all of ALA, especially Fear Of Style Sheets 1 through 4 but keep in mind that some of it changed as we went along so print it and edit it down to one document that relates mostly to the last one, and then check all the other Style Sheet articles, making note of their dates because they contradict some parts of earlier ones, and view source on the css of the main page to see what's actually being used, and use the forums to ask lots of questions, though you've got to hang around for a bit to find out who really knows the answers, and..." You can almost hear the person run away.

Hang "May Day Reboot" for design sites, we need to do this for our tutorials.

Sunday, May 6, 2001 - 7:48 PM -

Okay, that's a head trip. One of the things that makes earlier decades seem unrelated to now is the recording technology. The big one being black and white photography. Things just seem to realign in your head when you find rare sixty year old kodachromes, no matter how many b&w images you've seen of the same thing. Suddenly you're looking at real people, not feeling so separated by history. Well how about 100 years ago, and in Russia.

- 1:20 PM -

We are having a long overdue census in my country. Preceding the forms has been a email chain letter, quite polite, suggesting that if you have no religion, put down 'jedi', because if enough people do, it becomes an official religion. This'll be amusing to watch.

Yes, I want to live in a country that has a sense of humour.

A year ago, when the economy was still hot, it would have been fun to try to get 'disco' adopted. It wouldn't have to be a fundamentalist interpretation, just groove and funky clothing. Rave fits right in. All the elements are there. High priests, lingo, temples. And imagine what the 'greeters' at airports would be like.

I think I'm still reacting to that embarrassment at the Atlanta Olympics. Our swim team decided to be celibate during the event, but were fool enough to say it publicly. The bored international press swooped. Suddenly there was a press conference with the coach and these young kids sitting in the glare of camera lights stuttering prepared speeches about how their decision had nothing to do with athletics, just that they were representing their country. Say what? Um, thanks ... tell the world we're hysterical prudes.

- 1:39 AM -

Something that's been slowing me down (lately) is everywhere I look on the net I see more 90's design, in about 10 permutations. What's the next next?

I'm tired of the shapes, the layouts, the file card hypertext navigation. The web"page".

Dunno. It's a hard one to explain to somebody else. It's like we're at 1929 in radio. I'm leaning on the technology as much as what we're doing with it. Both are great, really, and have room for considerable development, but I'm chaffing on it somehow.

Saturday, May 5, 2001 - 12:35 AM -

Diggers. 68 pages of 50 photos each. Takes a while to load, but what a resource. 1960's front engined fuel dragsters. Dig those shapes and colours. We'll never see that era again. Kinda like Nasa painting the shuttle tie-dye. Racing wasn't so corporate then. The people with the fastest wheeled machines on the planet were pretty much just rich surfers building carts and racing each other at self organized events. Lotsa real individuality and experimentation.

Friday, May 4, 2001 - 7:46 PM -

User testing: Some time ago in another city, I and thousands of others would drive along one major highway and take the turnoff for another major highway that ran perpendicular. Daily. Naturally we tended to hit the turn fast. The traffic engineers eventually installed a radar triggered sign that would light up, "TOO FAST", when you were about 10k over the safe limit. So naturally everyone would hold their speed up to kick the sign on. A little entertainment in the boring commute. I've yet to find a discussion of website useability that considers this aspect of our nature.

And yes, one dark night the sign was broken. I got more than a little entertainment.

- 3:50 PM -

... Well that's the weirdest link I've ever seen in my referer logs: intranet.divestco.com/bookmarks/index. Divestco.com seems to be an online land title auction outfit for oil companies. Presumably their web flunky is linking to the css box pages. (Dude! I freelance! Let's talk.)

The preceding message is from the Let's Pay The Rent Relief Fund. I now return you to the regular noncommercial sideshow.

Wednesday, May 2, 2001 - 7:47 PM -

Now that's a little red wagon. Care of pedalcarsplus.com, which I found care of this wonderful photo and story.

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