Conquer the command line with a hands-on bash workshop!

2005-12-15: griffith news goes open source

Open source software can make it through the rigours of policy and procedure in a large organisation. Griffith University news (www.griffith.edu.au/news) is published using an installation of TikiWiki (an open source wiki/cms/groupware solution). The wiki not only delivers the articles, it generates the XML newsfeed.

A small win, perhaps... but it all helps.

[Disclosure: I work for Griffith and my team pushed for the wiki :) Most of the credit goes to Colin Morris. I worked on Wiki templating for this and other Tikiwiki installations at Griffith. Naturally the look and feel was decided by the internal client; and like most open source products I've worked with so far the default templates are table-based so it's taking a while to knock the templates into some decent shape.

Obvious disclaimer: this site does not express any views of the University, etc etc.]

2005-12-07: ozewai 2005 presentation

I'm delivering a short paper presentation at OZeWAI 2005 today, via Skype. The topic is "Sticks, Carrots & Staying Sane - an approach to standards advocacy in large organisations". You can view the presentation notes if you so desire! If you have any comments on the presentation, please post them here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

2005-12-03: xhtml and css code commenting

Good programming habits make good markup habits too. A few well-placed XHTML and CSS comments can save you a lot of time later on and help your coworkers pick up where you left off... just as it does for programmers!

Complex <div>-based designs can be hard to navigate once the real content is inserted - you find yourself wondering what a specific </div> is actually closing. Even with your text editor's Nifty Bracketing Feature™ it can be time-consuming, plus if you've put a </div> in the wrong place in template-driven site the bracketing might be out of whack anyway.

Garrett Dimon: Closing Divs offers one suggestion which is close to what I've been doing for quite some time now. From the comments it seems a lot of people are yet to embrace code commenting; so I thought I'd show my system as an alternative. No doubt I'm not the only one out there doing this :)

comment your closing elements

I'd say comment your </div>s but sometimes it applies to other elements. No big trick, just put a comment after the closing tag including the id or class name of the element being closed:

<div id="content">
...
</div><!-- end #content -->

Obviously you could leave out the end - you know it's ending something since it's a closing tag - but a tired mind will appreciate the plain English. Plus, if a less experienced developer does the update it will help get them up to speed.

Actually over time I've started leaving out the end; but it's still an option. More important is ensuring you put the comment on the same line as the closing element. It avoids confusion like this real code example I saw recently:

                      </div>

               </div>
        </div>
                                       </div>
                               </div>
<!-- END Content Division -->
                       </div>
<!-- END BOTTOM SECTION -->

Want to bet on which one is the end DIV for the section? :) Is the second comment simply informative, or is it labelling the previous DIV? To aovid confusion, put the comment on the same line and don't put any other elements on that same line.

Don't jam the class/ID name up to the comment though, since <!--# is used for SSIs, environmental variables and so on.

Also, don't use multiple dashes inside your comments. Although it might look good to use <-- ----- blah ----- -->, you'll find that some Moz/Gecko browsers interpret any instance of "--" as a closing HTML comment. That means the natty sets of dashes will close your comments and that will Break Stuff™.

indent nested elements

A no-brainer, surely. Indent by one tab for each nesting level:

<div id="wrapper">
    <div id="header">
        <h1>Page Title</h1>
    </div><!-- end #header -->
    <div id="content">
        <div class="post">
            <h2>Post title</h2>
            <p>...</p>
        </div><!-- end .post -->
    </div><!-- end #content -->
    ...
</div><!-- end #wrapper -->

Indenting is not exactly a form of commenting so much as formatting; but it does lay the groundwork for some further commenting later.

css loves comments too

A few well-placed comments in your CSS can save a lot of headaches later on. A quick reminder about the order and nesting of id/class elements will save you reverse engineering that site you published a year ago, just to tweak a margin.

In fact, just separating the groups of definitions may be enough; eg:

/* ---- content ---- */
/* ---- links ---- */

...will help you find what you're looking for as quickly as possible.

If you're retrofitting an existing site, sometimes you won't have the chance to choose the markup; so you might need to remind yourself what's going on in the document:

/* .breadcrumb applies to DIV or P depending on the template */
.breadcrumb {
...
}

I know you'd rather get out there and standardise those templates; but right now, give yourself a break and comment that gotcha :)

If you're handing over a particularly complex design to somebody else, you might throw in an outline:

/* element order:
div#wrapper
  div#header
 h1
  /div#header
  div#content
 div.post
  h2
  p
 /div.post
 div.comments
  p
 /div.comments
  /div#content
  div#navigation
 h2
 ul
  /div#navigation
  div#footer
 p
  /div#footer
/div#wrapper
*/

Some may find this too much bloat for the stylesheet, but a little bloat may be a small price to pay for faster updates. It depends on your priorities. You could put the outline into separate documentation, but how many of us store our documentation as reliably as we store the actual sites? Be honest, now :)

brute force versions

If you're not using a full-featured versioning system like SVN, you can still do some basic version tracking. I find this especially useful for CSS, which tends to be tweaked relatively frequently. A simple number and date will do:

/* v1.1.8 - 2005.11.05 */

Use the appropriate number of version levels for the given site. I've found three levels works for me: a tweak is n.n.n+1; addition of elements and so on get n.n+1; whole new designs are n+1. If you're really keen, working copies can have n.n.nx where x is a-z; eg. 1.1.7a, 1.1.7b. Update the version when you upload to your server. Simple.

don't go crazy

Not everything needs to be commented. In fact, some designs are so simple you don't need to do it. If the closing tag is and will always be within a couple of lines, then common sense says you don't really need to comment it (unless you're into a serious debug exercise). But if the design is complex, or you regularly pass work around within a team or even to another team; then good commenting will help everyone.

2005-12-01: konqueror passes acid2 css test

Quick notable: Konqueror has passed Acid2. K Desktop Environment - KDE 3.5: A Visual Guide to New Features: Konqueror has now become the second browser to pass the arduous 'Acid2' css compliance test. Apple's Safari browser was the first, which makes use of Konqueror's advanced rendering engine KHTML.

Here's hoping we don't have to wait too long for the next browser to pass the test :)

It's worth mentioning that Opera 9 looks likely to pass Acid2: Opera 9, Acid2 and Web Forms 2.0.

Tags: , , , .

2005-11-30: firefox 1.5 released - if you can find it

You'd think it would be easy to find Firefox 1.5 just after its release, but at the moment getfirefox.com is forwarding to mozilla.com, which links back to getfirefox.com... mozilla.org has a big banner telling you to go to mozilla.com; but it does link to "Firefox 1.5 released" in their news area. That takes you to a page with the release candidate, but if you click "Firefox 1.0" it will take you through to the Firefox 1.5 release page.

Mozilla's flagship product has a major new release, yet their web presence is a mess. Whoops!

So anyway, if you still care about Firefox 1.5 after all that, head over to www.mozilla.com/firefox and grab a copy :)

All jokes aside, I'm not seeing much on the Firefox 1.5 release notes which explains why this wasn't just a point release to 1.1. Yes, I know it's just marketing hype and not a real version number; but it still irks me when people treat ".5" like a major version. The only notable feature addition is the automated update, which should definitely make life easier. The rest... well the rest isn't going to impress Opera users, who've been enjoying features like 'clear private data' and drag-and-drop tab reording for a long time now. Good to see them added to Firefox though.

Tags: , .

2005-11-28: browser makers work together, hell chilly

Browser Makers Band Together Against Phishers - Yahoo! News: Developers speaking for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, and Konqueror met in Toronto last week to hash over ideas on how their browsers could better identify trusted and suspicious Web sites. Additionally, they talked about changes to browser pop-ups that would make it more difficult for scammers to spoof sites or trick users into divulging personal information such as bank or credit card account numbers and passwords.

Alternatively people worried about phishing could just use Opera, which already gives you a one-click method to restore the chrome! :) Seriously though, it's good news for the industry that the major players can have a sit-down and work this sort of stuff out in a coordinated manner. Particularly good that Microsoft are putting aside their usual attitude and accepting that their product is not the only one in the market.

That said... I hope they're thorough in their actual implementation of these ideas. For example, having different colours to indicate levels of security is less than ideal. You shouldn't use colour alone to indicate meaning, so they'll need to add a text equivalent. It also means that if anyone figures out a way to hack the colour system the user could be hit twice as hard since they'll trust the site.

Really though, that's just details. The big point is to see the vendors putting the users first and working together towards an extremely important goal. Maybe next time they could talk about coordinated rendering standards :)

For more information, check out the posts from the various people involved:

Tags: , , , , .

history, but no news

Tantek's Thoughts | Pandora's Box (Model) of CSS Hacks And Other Good Intentions: Well it's been 7 years since REC-CSS2 ... But we don't have any fully compliant CSS 2.1 browsers yet.

Tantek gives us a history lesson about hacks; but at the end is forced to wrap up the same way we've been wrapping this issue for quite some time now: avoid hacks, validate your work, don't rely on defaults and wait for the browser vendors to get up to speed. I think Tantek's patience is greater than mine - 7 years is past the stage of asking the waiter where you food is. After 7 years we should be chasing the chef up the street with flaming torches and pitchforks.

Well ok, maybe not. But it is frustrating to be endlessly waiting for the day when we can actually build to standards, as opposed to build to standards then throw in a bunch of hacks to cater for all the browser quirks.

Tags: , , .

simple things that still need saying

Some articles are groundbreaking. Some are good reminders about simple things. Some illustrate how far we haven't progressed by remaining relevant years later (in IT that should never really happen!). Still, these are all well worth reading :)

2005-11-20: 301 redirections guarantee nothing

I've seen a few SEO consultants recommend using 301 HTTP redirections to forward traffic from an old location to a new location. It seems logical enough, since that's what it's for (301 - Moved Permanently). So I tried it out when I moved a personal website. I can now say that based on my own experience, using 301 HTTP redirections guarantees nothing :)

why try this?

I decided to try using 301s after one consultant in particular insisted that it was absolutely necessary to avoid losing whatever pagerank the old location had; and it would "ensure the site did not lose standing" in search indexes.

Well I know that consultants don't actually have some secret society with the search engine companies, so they're going on guesses and anecdotal evidence. Maybe they're educated guesses and maybe they're total crap. Depends on how ethical the consultant is.

So I decided to try it out myself, since I'm not getting paid to say it works. I didn't have a specific expectation, I just decided to See What Happens™.

the scenario

For quite some time, the site in question was the third or fourth result on Google for its most relevant keyword. Unfortunately I wasn't checking the public Google PageRank before the move.

The site has some (basic, ethical) SEO techniques including meta keywords (for what they're worth) and a couple of extra keywords included in the <title>. Otherwise it's just accessible XHTML.

the first move

The page has been moved before using nothing more involved than pages with links to the new location. The user had to actually click through. There was no noticeable dip in traffic to the site during or after the move.

the second move

Eventually I decided to move it again, which is when I decided to use 301 HTTP forwarding like the SEO guys tell people to do. Not having access to the server config, I just plunked a .htaccess file into the directory. In that .htaccess, each separate file had a forward to its specific new home.

the result

The new page (targeted by the 301 redirections) bombed out of Google, dropping from the top ten to the bottom of the top 100. The tenth page of results, aka oblivion :) Pagerank dropped to 1 or 2, depending on when and where you checked.

Eventually I removed the .htacess file and just put up a click-through forwarding page. A few weeks on, it's back in the top ten to fifteen on Google and its Pagerank has rallied to 4 (which seems to be about average for any site with even a little traffic).

what went wrong?

Well, this was hardly a scientific test so there are a few things which may have gone wrong.

  • I may not have set up the .htaccess properly
    • Maybe specifically sending each page to its new URL is bad.
    • There were three variations of the old index filename forwarding the new index URL - maybe that's bad.
  • Using 301 in any manner may trigger a bad ranking.
  • Using 301 to forward an entire site to a different domain may be a bad idea; perhaps you should only use them within the same domain.
  • Other factors may have been to blame and the 301 was coincidental.

No matter what, it seems reasonable to say that using 301 HTTP forwards does not guarantee that you'll keep your old search ranking. Even though using 301 is correct according to the HTTP specification, search engines don't simply swap the URL for the new and keep the current rank/index position of the old URL. My guess is that the new site either starts from scratch or - I think more likely in this case - it gets ranked lower than the old one and has to recover from the penalty.

Considering the page went back to the top ten basically right after the 301s were removed, I think the page was getting a negative flag due to the 301s. If I'm right, it's really a pity that unethical usage has ruined yet another useful technology on the 'net.

so should you use 301?

Maybe. But I would only recommend you do it if the usability benefit for your target audience outweighs the risk of dropping in search rankings. I'd guess that using it internally (ie. within your existing domain) is probably fine. Just don't think it will guarantee you won't lose search ranking!

Tags: , , .

2005-11-16: OpenOffice 2.0

I recently installed OpenOffice.org 2.0 (or OOo as people call it in the forums) and after using it for a little while I can say this: your average user would probably never notice the difference between OpenOffice 2.0 and MS Office. The interface is neat and tidy, the keyboard shortcuts are consistent with user expectations. The only obvious omission is revision tools, for that very small proportion of people who actually use revision tools. Be honest, most people use the B and I buttons, the font face dropdown and the font-size dropdown... and not much else.

can it PDF?

A big benefit for OOo is its ability to export PDFs, despite being a free product. With the hefty price tag of MS Office or Adobe Acrobat, this should be a big consideration both for the OOo developers and prospective users.

Unfortunately this is yet another application which has PDF tagging disabled by default - score yet another one for Dumb Defaults I Have Seen. As a quick test I enabled tagging and exported a PDF with the default job options (a couple of headings, paragraphs and an image with alternative text inserted). The only accessibility warning in Acrobat was the lack of a document language. Tags and alternative text were all ok.

The language failure is really annoying since - at this stage - OOo doesn't let you set a document language (correct me if I'm wrong!). Initially I thought I just couldn't find the option; but the response from the OOo user forums was that, no, you can't set document language in OOo yet. Which is very weird since the OASIS ODF format includes a Language setting, I would have thought supporting the format would include basics like letting the user specify what they're sticking into these documents.

I managed to add a Language value to the the same document created in MS Word. This meant that an all-default export had that slight edge over OOo PDF. Mind you, OpenOffice's image handling is far better than Word - I found it much easier to add alternative text in OOo.

performance

A lot of people have reported very slow start up times for OOo, particularly the previous version. On my beefy new WinXP work machine it flies. I can't see any speed difference between OOo and MS Office; which is interesting when you consider that OOo can't build anything into the operating system ;) My home machine is Win2k and doesn't really provide a good testbed, since it has some issues. Feel free to comment with your own experiences with OOo 2.0.

compatibility

OOo has been able to open nearly everything I've thrown at it, the only exception was a macro-laden spreadsheet that only just works in Excel (my timesheet, what joy). Word documents, average spreadsheets, Powerpoint slideshows; they all open with no trouble.

The only real hassles start when you start collaborating closely with users that don't have OOo. Round trips via MS Word don't work very well at all; and I've had a lot of trouble with bullet lists losing their bullets when exported to MS Word. I have no doubt this is why Microsoft is resisting adding ODF support. If you could round trip the documents, I wouldn't have needed to install MS Office on my work machine.

For a stand-alone home user, no worries. On those rare occasions you have to give one of your files to someone else; spit out a Word doc, PDF or even HTML. In fact, in an office environment you'd still be ok if you don't have to do lots of back-and-forth editing with someone else.

conclusion?

Still some work to be done before it can take over the corporate workplace, but for a home user... save your money, give the finger to Microsoft and use Open Office!

2005-11-14: google pimps firefox?

Apparently Google is going to start paying US$1 per referral to get users to download and install Firefox: InformationWeek > Google > Google Gets Closer To Firefox > November 9, 2005: [Google] is providing its ad publishers with a set of buttons that Web site visitors can use to download Firefox with the Google Toolbar ... Site operators using the buttons will be paid $1 each time someone installs the browser and toolbar. I'm yet to find anything on the Google's public website about this, but that could just be due to Google's website being crap. Update: Google does mention the general situation at https://www.google.com/adsense/referrals, although you probably have to sign up to AdSense before they'll admit the actual dollar amount.

I guess the benefit to Google is getting more users running their toolbar, so it the toolbar must collect data worth more (to Google) than $1 per user. I wonder how much we can genuinely trust Google?

No matter, I use Opera anyway ;)

2005-11-05: cognitive disabilities and online education


Update 2011.07.24: Since this was originally published, the case against the university was dismissed; and the university counter-sued for defamation. As part of the settlement the student has issued an apology and been ordered to remove posts made in a variety of places - including this page's comments.

The university's legal team brought this to my attention and requested I assist by removing the comments posted by the student. Since several replies didn't make sense without the original posts, I have removed all comments which directly discussed the legal fight.


The Chronicle: 8/12/2005: Lawsuit Charges Online University Does Not Accommodate Learning-Disabled Students (that's a terrible headline which translates to "online university gets sued by student with a learning disability").

A former Capella University student has filed a lawsuit against the online institution, claiming that it violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by using technology that does not accommodate his learning disabilities. ... Some experts say the student may have trouble winning the lawsuit because few clear guidelines exist dictating what assistive technologies colleges must provide to students with learning disabilities.

Murky to say the least. Learning disabilities are extremely varied and relatively hard to define, which poses significant problems for web developers. If a person can't see or can't hear, you know relatively clearly what you are dealing with. Screens can be magnified, colours can be changed, sounds can be cleaned up and amplified. The industry knows what it needs to do.

But what do you do, definably and repeatably, for people with learning disabilities? What standard can you lay down? What will work for each of ten different students? There is no alt="" for memory or cognition. If it's possible for clear standards to be created - standards which would form a W3C specification for example - the people who know what to do have not been able to communicate it widely enough yet. The web industry does not know what to do.

What little I have seen involves content based strategies: for example writing 'simplified but not dumbed down' versions of documents, which is not the web developer's role. They are not the subject expert, they are the technical facilitator. Content authors need to be trained in advanced writing techniques which are compatible with advanced web development techniques. Even then, it's hard to find any hard data about whether it actually works.

All this and we haven't even touched on feasibility of implementation, budget constraints and the reality of modern tertiary education.

The student who filed the lawsuit, Jeffry La Marca, says his learning disabilities include short-term memory loss, which is recognized by the federal law he cited.

...

After he completed one quarter at the university, in 2004, the administration installed a new software system, made by WebCT, for managing online courses. Mr. La Marca says he found the new setup confusing and difficult to work with. "It was just a navigational nightmare," he says. "It made it impossible for me to study."

...

He complained to university officials and asked them to switch back to the old software, which they said they could not do. Mr. La Marca then asked for more time to complete his course work, and discussed with the officials how much more time he should be given. But when the discussions became heated, he said, he was suspended from the university. Mr. La Marca claims that his suspension was in retaliation for his complaints about the software.

Greg Thome, general counsel at Capella, says Mr. La Marca's suspension was for inappropriate behavior in online courses and had nothing to do with his accusations.

I don't think they were lying about the software. They almost certainly couldn't afford to roll back to the previous system, no matter what the reason. The investment of time and money involved in implementing large applications is generally a 'no return' decision for a large organisation. That's it, they're committed. No going back. They can't afford to change for X many years, nor can they afford to uninstall it and go back to the old system. The money is gone.

Ultimately, the system should - theoretically - benefit the majority without unfarily disadvantaging any minority. The reality is that current technology at most universities has not reached perfection, or even anything close. None of the big commercial software apps are seriously standards-compliant. With that as a given - at least for the moment - there should be enough majority benefit to justify using the system, provided the minority can still access the material in order to complete their studies.

In the meantime if the technology fails, then the people must step up and cover the shortfall. Which does involve some cooperation from the student - they have to communicate their needs and work with university staff who are trying to help them.

There's an awful lot to be done in this area of web-delivered content.

IE7: sane and rational?

mezzoblue § IE7 Conditional Comments relates back a Question & Answer session with Chris Wilson and Brian Goldfarb of Microsoft, about IE7 and conditional comments. Transcribed by Molly Holzschlag (she has also posted about the rest of the meeting: molly.com » WaSP Microsoft Task Force Update: Upcoming Products, XAML, Acid2, SXSW, and IE7 Revealed).

One particular quote really has me stumped.

Why not implement conditional comments in CSS syntax, so we can move our filtering into external files and keep our markup clean?

Chris replies:

"I think it would be great if we provided a mechanism like conditional comments inside CSS. We’ve [Microsoft] thought about it, we’re not going to do it in IE7 because we want to do it in a sane, rational way. You’ll want conditional comments to be backward and forward compatible. Tough to design that into CSS so that it will actually work."

Microsoft wants us to do this to all our documents, to allow for IE6:

<!--[if IE]>
...link to IE-specific CSS file...
<![endif]-->

As I've said already, I think it would have been much better to provide conditional comments in the CSS rather than the page source. All they had to add to IE7 was the ability to parse something like this in a CSS file:

/* [if IE 7] 
...css...
[endif] */

...which both validates and works in other browsers (as in, it's ignored). So why on earth was it not a "sane and rational" approach?

ARGH.

2005-10-25: iTunes Australia - how not to launch an online music store

Australia finally has iTunes (meaning iPods can now feasibly have legal uses*): Apple - iPod + iTunes. Exciting... no, not really. Why not? Because I went and had a look at the site today at work.

I don't have iTunes at work, but I though I'd at least cruise over and have a look at the artists/tracks they've included in their grand opening. Surely they let you find out what's available before making you install software, right? Wrong, apparently.

Once I'd finally found the site (having first hit a 404 - silly me trying to use a .au domain for an Australian service) my first thought was.... hang on, I've gone back to the iPod store. Half the page seems devoted to selling you an iPod. OK, sure, it makes sense; but couldn't they have made the music the feature at least for a week?

I tried to look at their top ten, but all I got was a big empty blue box. By this stage I'm trying different browsers, but it doesn't work anywhere. The site is just busted. In Netscape you can even see the broken SSI hook, An error occurred while processing this.....

Next thought... their search input is busted in Opera, no surprise. But it's probably functional so let's try to search for some music - this is a music store, right?

Whoops. Now I'm on a blank screen which has two buttons: "I have iTunes" and "I Do Not Have iTunes". For a moment I'm back at WE05 - do I have hay or need hay? It's the first instance of good usability! I click the button for I Do Not Have iTunes Now Just Let Me Browse Some Damn Music.

You must download iTunes! No music for you!

That's it. I'm at work - I can't keep wasting time. I thought I'd spend two minutes flicking through the list of artists. All that's happened is I'm wondering how Apple's web developers hold on to their jobs. This thing is broken on launch day!

later that day...

OK, so we dropped in at the supermarket on the way home, to discover the place is full of iTunes posters. Yikes! There are silhouette people guarding the trolleys! Apparently you can buy iTunes Cards, $20 or $50... I guess they're like prepaid mobile phone cards.

So, when we're home my fiancee decides to check out the iTunes Store (she has an iPod, so yes we have iTunes at home). All that happens is.....nothing. Eventually she clicks something which triggers iTunes. That's all the website does, apparently. Which would be fine if the site at least told you that's it's just a gateway to the iTunes software. I could have looked at work, realised the deal and saved it for later.

On the second attempt, we're finally in iTunes.

so is my life changed?

Yep, for sure, I'll never buy another CD! ......hah. At $1.69 per track, albums are no bargain. We happen to look at the range of Cure albums, which are priced from $16.99 up to about $33. What the hell? I can get the albums in stores for the same price - less, in many cases - and I'll be able to take the CD to work and listen there as well. Not to mention you'd burn through those $20 iTunes Cards pretty fast.

If it was dripping with rare music that'd be a different story. But so far it's mostly mainstream.

what's good?

There are some good things. If you do like iTunes then it integrates very nicely with your player. It's easy to get around the categories and preview was quick. There's quite a lot of comedy stuff, even if it is pretty expensive for a download (you'd want a lot of laughs from a $40 download). The categories are mostly pretty good, although some are baffling - "Rock → Adult Alternative", for example. Alternative grew up, got a haircut and a real job?

the comedy

One thing is really great about iTunes though: the mis-filed artists. We found Henry Rollins in Children's Fiction and DJ Shadow in Hair Metal. Now that's funny :)

Footnote: * Australia still has no "Fair Use" provisions in copyright law.

Tags: , .

2005-10-22: web essentials remixed: our conference can totally beat up your conference

John Allsopp has capped the WE05 experience by remixing the podcasts into a couple of soundscapish electronic tracks, one with 'deep' stuff and one with funny stuff. Check it out. dog or higher: WE05 Remixed.

Now people are talking about remixing the remixes.

I think this is a beautiful example of some key concepts discussed by Jeff Veen about relinquishing control of your content. What people are now realising is that people will use your technology and use your content in ways you would never have thought of. Who the hell releases conference podcasts thinking they'll come back as songs?

If you want an illustration of what to expect from Web 2.0, this is it.

, , , .

2005-10-20: ieblog: replace your old hacks with a new one!

No doubt you've seen this: IEBlog : Call to action: The demise of CSS hacks and broken pages. Microsoft is telling us to replace CSS hacks with a new, officially-sanctioned hack (yeah, the perfect solution). Instead of fixing the rendering engine in IE7, they're telling us to use conditional comments and write a separate stylesheet all for IE (because it's special).

It would be far better to just make the rendering engine work properly, so it obeyed the standard rules and ignored the hack rules... you know, just like standards-compliant browsers do. Then we'd just remove the IE6 hacks when IE6 became irrelevant in the marketplace.

But no, MS wants us to edit every single document we have (we have nothing better to do, you see); adding a comment that no other browser needs, to load an extra stylesheet that no other browser needs. A hack, in other words. Bloat, to boot.

If they were going to make up a new hack, couldn't they have at least put it in the CSS? That way we could just wrap the IE-only code in a conditional CSS comment in our existing stylesheet.

I guess it's not going to be a big deal for a lot of people. If you have a decent CMS you should be able to just move your already-written hacks into a new file, then update your templates to add the conditional comments. It is effective, I guess it just irritates me that it's required in the first place.

Some other reactions to the IEBlog post:

  • Eric's Archived Thoughts: IE7 and IE7 ... in short, Eric suggests we could use the IE7 script to make IE6 behave the same as IE7. He also reminds us that we still aren't dealing with the final release of IE7, so we still shouldn't get too emotionally involved.
  • mezzoblue ��� Bye Bye Tan Hack: There’s a good chance that in some cases, you won’t have to change a line of code; the float bug your hack was fixing is no longer broken, so IE7 will simply render the initial rule properly, and not parse whatever corrective rules the hack piles on. IE6 will still behave as expected, and IE7 will treat the code as any other CSS-friendly browser. Hopefully. Maybe. In some cases. I wouldn't go so far as to say a 'good chance'. There's a chance, sure.
  • The Web Standards Project | IEBlog: Clean up your CSS hacks. The wasp crew simply suggest minimising hacks to better prepare for whatever really gets released.
  • Stop using CSS hacks now | 456 Berea Street. Plenty of interesting discussion.

See also: IE7: sane and rational?

2005-10-18: Blackboard takes over WebCT

Blackboard and WebCT Announce Plans to Merge. For those who aren't familiar with the companies, Blackboard and WebCT are two of the best-known LCMS products around. In fact, frankly I can't name any others off the top of my head. There are open-source solutions (which also happen to include the only standards-compliant options), but they have a relatively low takeup rate and basically have Buckley's chance of getting implemented at large universities.

It's pretty clear the Blackboard+WebCT merger is a "merger" in much the same way as Adobe+Macromedia or Oracle+PeopleSoft: one company is being swallowed by the other, with a vague notion of eventually releasing an all-new, all-singing, all-dancing product. From Bb's notes about the merger: Company will remain under the Blackboard brand. ... Over time, Blackboard will incorporate the best features and usability characteristics from the two product lines into a new standards-based product set.

So what does this all mean? Well, in short, Blackboard gets bigger. They pick up more clients and over time they'll phase out WebCT. They'll then release a "new standards-based product set". I wouldn't get too excited by the mention of standards though; the current version isn't at all accessible or standards-compliant despite what they claim. Marketing dross does not mean results, even if it does satisfy the odd manager who is vaguely aware of some problem about blind people.

To be fair, I believe the company genuinely wants to produce something more accessible; even though we won't be seeing the results anytime soon. Just like PeopleSoft, the code base is just too big and too committed to an existing methodology to change it quickly; and that methodology was set down when tag soup was the industry standard. On top of that, they have an entire range of considerations and unsurprisingly web standards are nowhere near the top of the list. Major bug fixes tend to come first.

On the plus side, it does at least show that standards are turning up as a selling point. The merger FAQ includes the question Will the combined company support industry standards?. Unfortunately the answer is more marketing dross: Consistent with each company’s leadership in education industry standards initiatives, the combined company will continue to invest in and support technical standards important to the education community. ...which just means "we'll keep doing exactly what we're doing now".

It just makes it that much more important for Blackboard to improve on standards and accessibility.

Tags: , , , .

google pagerank and why we shouldn't think about it

Entrepreneur's Journey | PageRank Explained - by Yaro Starak is a quick and easy-to-digest article discussing the ins and outs of Google PageRank.

Some key points:

  • The best thing you can do is focus on creating good content and not think about PageRank much, if at all: The best sites with the highest PageRank never worry about PageRank, they simply keep churning out content that people love to link to.
  • The data in the Google toolbar's Little Green Bar only changes quarterly. The actual rank can change daily. [I'm not sure if live lookup tools get the quarterly value or the latest value.]
  • It will help if other people link to you, but just let it happen naturally. XFN blogrolls, anyone? ;)
  • Write clear, accurate titles.

All of these points are pretty much compatible with my own thoughts on SEO, which still boil down to this: SEO is not rocket science ;)

I can never quite settle on an approach for writing titles. The SEO answer is simple, keyword-inclusive titles; but I've found humans respond pretty well to creative (but not necessarily keyword-compliant) titles. I guess - as in all things - balance is good; and that's about all you can really say.

Tags: , , .

2005-10-12: i ♥ unicode

Following on from previous thoughts on unicode, I've found some Windows 2000 voodoo which made a stack of new glyphs appear. I'll say from the outset, I really don't understand what the hell is going on... but stuff is working better so I'm not complaining.

The big trick? Drumroll please... I installed a font. Hey I didn't say it was complex, just weird the way it worked.

Scenario: I'm writing up study notes for a test in my information modelling class (I'm doing some postgrad study in the evenings). Information modelling uses lots of mathematical symbols - duh - so my initial idea about writing them up in XHTML hits a snag (or rather a bunch of broken entity symbols). How I (broken entity) Unicode!

So rather than give up, I tried installing the Code2000 font (shareware, US$5 via Unicode Support in Your Browser). From some reading, I hear that OpenOffice comes bundled with a similar Unicode font; but I haven't looked into that. I'm currently pondering if it's worth braving the horrors of signing up for PayPal to pay for Code2000. Might go oldschool and use a money order. Anyway, I digress.

So - font installed - I added a symbol class to the relevant tds to specify font-family: Code2000, thinking it would be necessary. As an experiment later, I removed the font-family statement from the CSS... yet the entities still displayed. I also noticed the Mezzoblue glyph test worked a whole lot better.

That's kind of weird. I installed a new font... and the system did some kind of mind meld, so even when that font is not specified it finds the glyphs.

Sure, Windows handles fonts in a weird way. A friend of mine once removed every single font from his machine - Windows 98 or 2000 I think - and the machine became unusuable in GUI mode. Windows did not have an extra display font stashed away somewhere. From memory he managed to reinstall Windows off the boot CD, or maybe he managed to get into the command prompt and copy a font back that way.

The point is, Windows uses its display fonts for everything. The Window manipulation widgets can be found in the Marlett font, as another example. The Unicode stuff wasn't working before I installed Code2000; so for Unicode to start working, it must be getting the glyphs from Code2000. But you don't have to specify Code2000 as the display font for Windows to wander off and grab the glyphs. Que?

So anyway, I've got no idea how it worked; but my lecturer asked me to email him a copy of my notes - apparently there's a particular glyph he hadn't been able to find. Meanwhile my classmates muttered darkly about having to "just leave spaces" and fill in the gaps after printing their notes out. They gave me a couple of those special "man, what a geek" looks, but they still thought my notes looked pretty.

Here's hoping I actually passed the test, after all that.

world usability day 2005

Upcoming event in Brisbane: CHISIG | World Usability Day 2005 - Making it easy: Usability and eLearning (3 November, 2005).

Many course developers and educators commonly ask for tools and resources to help them create accessible and usable online learning materials. The aim of the conference is to increase awareness about usability and accessibility tools, methods and principals when creating online learning materials.

Speakers:

  • Keynote: Dr John Eklund - Making elearning work
  • Tania Lang - Creating Usable Online Learning Materials
  • James Newton - Creating Accessible Online Course Materials
  • Janet Brimson - Case study - User centred design in practice

Tags: , , , .

2005-10-11: simply accessible minisite is live

Derek Featherstone wowed the audience at WE05 with his presentation Designing for Accessibility: Beyond the Basics. Afterwards he was talking about whether he'd make the presentation available or not... in short order the word "minisite" had cropped up. Now Derek has published Simply Accessible. Head on over there and check it out!

In other news, Derek definitely wins the Arsiest Way to Scam NRL Grand Final Tickets Ever award.

Tags: , , .

2005-10-09: w3c goes south

...so to speak. The Australian W3C office has moved to the CSIRO in Canberra. I'm slightly ashamed to admit that the office used to be at the DSTC in Brisbane and I'd forgotten.

Tags: , , .

why blogger?

I've had some passing comments and discussions lately about why I'm not running Wordpress (or Textpattern, or Movable Type, or something). Some people find it a bit odd that despite having my own domain and the opportunity to install whatever I want, I am still running with Blogger. Well, I do have reasons and I think they highlight some of the issues with choosing a blogging tool.

I will admit that I periodically think about switching to something else; particularly due to things like the poor feed handling and lack of category/tagging features. That said, I really don't have the time to maintain an application. I'm not interested in maintaining an application even if I did have the time :) So realistically before I'll switch I'll have to get really annoyed with Blogger, or really impressed with something else.

So anyway, why am I using Blogger?

why blogger?

I'm not claiming any of this is unique to Blogger, but here are the reasons.

  • Free (albeit with the blogger bar if you host on Blogspot)
  • 100% template control with simple tags.
  • There is some evidence of standards buy-in for the default template options (although Blogger is still far from perfect in terms of standards/accessibility).
  • The application is remote hosted:
    • I don't have to maintain it or worry about security patches.
    • The output can still be hosted on my own domain

    • NOTE: in 2010, Blogger abruptly announced the end of publish-by-FTP support. This means you can no longer host a Blogger-powered blog on your own server, you can only delegate your domain or subdomain to Google to host it for you.


  • Habit - I'll be honest, I've been using Blogger since 2001 and habit plays a fair part in these things.
  • Now owned by Google, so relatively unlikely to disappear overnight.
  • Pretty good uptime and performance - outages are fairly rare and speed is usually fine.
  • Can update with a bookmarklet.

All told, I have a pretty good level of control over the site; it's mostly the finer details that start showing up the limitations of the system.

the downsides to Blogger

  • Free, so you get what you pay for in terms of feature additions and support. That said, I've rarely needed support.
  • The comment system is a little bit clunky and some people think they have to have a Blogger account to leave a comment.
  • Syndication/feed handling is rudimentary and "configured" by other choices/settings. I currently work around some of the issues with a little PHP/XSLT.
  • Feature addition and bugfixes take a long time.
  • They don't support Opera all that well, most bug fixes for Opera are "use Firefox".
  • I suspect Blogger just doesn't have enough geek cool factor, particularly for standardistas. I've often had the impression people think it's one step removed from LiveJournal, which is a journal/social network system and not a blog tool per se. Geek status is an odd beast ;)

Blogger also tend to do some braindead things like release a new feature without writing the support pages for it. For example, the new linkback feature: A Consuming Experience: Blogger: backlinks feature (not quite trackback). If they'd released the details of the blogger tags, I'd probably be running linkback already.

other tools

I've looked at other tools and plenty of them look good. Some have problems with their hosting setups; eg. Wordpress seems to have a lot of maintenance downtime and Textdrive-hosted Textpattern sites seem plagued with availability issues (apparently attributed to 'growing pains'). Obviously these issues aren't really about the blog tool. Plenty of tools have a high "nifty feature" count, even if that does increase the "nifty undocumented feature" count as well.

As yet, however, I can't find any alternatives which are free, remote host the application but publish the content to my own domain... and that's before we even consider standards compliance and the actual application features. Plus I haven't even touched the problem of converting between systems, which is one of those things where I do not believe the vendor hype - I expect the process would be painful and/or produce less-than-desirable results, much like converting between email clients.

So for now I'm sticking with Blogger.

PS. Feel free to comment with your thoughts on what you run and why you chose it!

running to stand still

From time to time it shows that progress is slow for web standards and web usability. While certain areas of the web move forward in leaps and bounds, many others seems to show a lot of activity without much in the way of visible results. we have to keep running just to keep our place.

  • It's that time again... Jakob Nielsen has released his yearly Top Ten Mistakes rundown: Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005 (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox). Sadly, no real surprises; although the whole fixed vs. fluid thing will probably never be resolved.
  • At WE05, John Allsopp released the results of a survey of major company/government websites; all-too-appropriately titled Are we there yet? Best practices in web development in Australia - a survey (link goes direct to PDF). Essentially it rates 83 sites on the "Allsopp Scale" for measuring how crap a website really is. Even as a cynical standards guy I was a little disappointed to see just how badly most sites fared.
  • I'm not entirely sure why, but somehow the appearance of Dreamweaver 8 is sliding into this post. I think it's something about the claims being the same as last time, along with a page full of "you need javascript and flash" graphics ;) I'll have to play around with it later and give it a fair chance.

Tags: , , , , , .

2005-10-06: we05 - random informal observations

As Andrew has already noted, a proper rundown of WE05 presentations is yet to come after we compare notes. Still, I have a bunch of things written down which won't be included there yet haven't been posted yet. Hence, random informal observations from WE05. They include some timeline/social stuff and random notes scribbled down between the notes from the presentations.

day zero

  • At early registration, Maxine caught me by surprise when she immediately recognised my name and referred to a comment I'd made on Derek's blog. You mean people read the interweb? :)
  • Head back to the hotel with my WE05 swag and kill some time on the net... very very easy to kill time at 28.8k ;)
  • Andrew arrives and we head out for food, then alcohol and shooting pool...
  • By the time we crash, we've already become obsessed with the saying "Don't be that guy."
  • Did I say crash? HAH! A fire alarm next door to The Vulcan kept some of us awake for hours.

day one

  • Stagger out with only a couple of hours' sleep. Breakfast picks up my spirits with surprisingly good coffee from the Vulcan.
  • The WE05 experience seems to involve noise and fire alarms.... Tantek Çelik's question time was cut off just before I could ask my question, when the building evacuation alarm kicked in. Cue an evacuation out to the driveway in front of the ABC, dust flying everywhere. Turns out a demolition site nearby had kicked up an enormous amount of dust and set off the alarms.
  • A room full of coughing and sneezing geeks (all that dust!) was quickly sorted out by the unflappable WE05 organisers, who sprang into action and supplied water to anyone who needed it. Nice work!
  • Lucky seating on return from the fire alarm had us right at the back of the room, allowing us to bolt for lunch and avoid the huge lines. Spend the rest of the time trying - without success - to get the wifi access to work.
  • During lunch we spot Steve Faulkner doing a remarkable Jeffrey Zeldman impression.
  • Find seats within laptop power cord range. Dive on them like deranged fiends ("my baby needs power!"). Discover the flip up desktops aren't even close to level and experience the joy of typing downhill.
  • Question for the gallery: why are macheads so completely obsessed with making everything look like OSX?
  • I'm having to swap between laptop and paper because I can't keep using either one the entire time...! These presentations are too interesting to stop for a second.
  • At the day one drinks I meet and catch up with a huge number of people. I'll have to collate all the names and URLs later on ;)

day two

  • Considering there are really only three rendering engines in play at the moment, it seems weird that Opera barely gets mentioned. Are we really cross-browser developers, or are many "standards-compliant developers" just infatuated with Firefox? Are people just falling into a new version of an trap - only testing in Firefox instead of only testing in IE?
  • The on campus cafe barista actually knows how to make a decent coffee. I'm shocked!
  • Holy crap, nearly everyone in this room has heard a screen reader!!!!! I have the urge to stand up and yell "I have found my people!" (with a nod to Colin for that line... it's such a perfect way to express the moment).
  • During a presentation, text zoom is used... Firefox scales the radio button, but not the selected widget! Geek hilarity ensues.
  • Here's a modern moment: I post on my blog, Chaals comments on my blog, I run into Dean Jackson in the lunch line and pass on Chaals' "say hello to dino"... :)
  • Dean initially thinks my domain is zoook.com.au... yes, my handwriting really needs work. Plus I need to remember to cross stroke my zeros.
  • We really need some guru to come up with a keyboard replacement for drag and drop.
  • Interface designers... quit labelling buttons B and I and start labelling them STRONG and EM. Especially when they insert STRONG and EM!
  • Cameron Adams just got pwned by his own presentation after he forgot he had disabled javascript....
  • Tantek is so used to WE running behind, he was in his hotel room when the organisers were looking for him before his second presentation.
  • How can we resolve styling tables? I've found you often need to set widths according to each usage across a large site; yet we can't include attributes in the table's tags; and we should avoid style-based classes. Plus it's technically incorrect to insert border="1" even though tables become nearly unreadable without styles.
  • Geeks might care that something is not new, but the users couldn't care less so long as it's easier to download stuff.
  • Ajax/XMLhttprequest.... it's just like little framesets. But they're so damn useful.
  • Web 2.0.... basically harnessing the power of that one geek in Prague who went crazy on a caffeine bender and built something really good. Why the hell would you spend time and money creating it yourself, all over again, if the end result is the same?

PS. Yes, in case you're wondering, I do plan to eventually return to non-WE05 content ;) Give me a break, I'm on holidays! :)

2005-10-02: we05 day two - quick post

Another quick post in an attempt to talk about day two. Realistically, I can't do it justice while full of pizza and alcohol (I highly recommend Zia Pina pizzeria at The Rocks); but I don't want to wait another day before posting :)

day two quotable quotes

  • Eric Meyer
    • Tip: [When trying to get design signoff,] schedule the meeting right before lunch, you'll get a decision!
    • Anyone support IE6.0? (Hands go up) Anyone not want to support IE6.0? (Hands stay up) Ahh, my people!
    • [Gives crap to Dave Winer] Oh, this is podcast! ... He's in America and I'm in Australia - can get asylum?
    • [Typos "right" into "roight") Border roight... I'm localising!
  • Steve Faulkner
    • Day to day, what I do is criticise other peoples' work...
  • John Allsopp
    • Introducting Tantek Celik: Tantek is so busy he makes me feel like a sloth!
    • After showing the sad state of corporate websites: Keep fighting the good fight!
  • Tantek Çelik
    • On the box model hack: I didn't think it was a big deal...
    • On meta-data like 'keywords': Invisible meta-data doesn't work! (I nearly cheered. Now I can go back to my organisation with some hope they'll listen to me on this point ;)
  • Cameron Adams
    • Coolness is overrated. ... Now the first real reason to do this...

Not a big deal, Tantek? :) Let's visit that in a little more detail. (Note that this is more paraphrased than quoted - I'll get into the podcast and quote it properly once I am back home with broadband. Still, I hope this is a reasonable re-telling of the tale...)

I happened to have the ear, or email, of Jeffrey Zeldman. Jeffrey was saying he couldn't stop using tables for layout because of this bug... he mused that it would be great if he could send a different rule to two different browsers.

I said "Is that all? That'll be easy!"

"He looked at me... well he didn't really since it was email... and said 'easy'?"

So, using a test suite, I set out to find an error that screwed up in exactly where he needed it. After a short time hacking around I got back to him with this hack.

Suddenly Jeffrey decided he could move to using CSS instead of tables.

So what would be a big deal? :)

day two notable moments

  • Molly referred to Instant Messaging, blogs etc as the traditional ways of communicating.
  • A show of hands during Eric's session revealed that very few people are working to a formal browser support profile!
  • Derek Featherstone casually asking the crowd whether anyone could find him a ticket to the NRL Grand Final. Certainly a novel approach to the "sold out game" issue...
  • The Mac freaking out at the end of Derek's presentation, allowing me to goob the old "get a Mac!" advert. "Get a PC!" ...I was probably lucky to get out alive.
  • Cameron Adams managed to explain the DOM in a way that makes it seem almost trivially simple to understand. Why didn't anyone just tell me it just makes a tree out of your document? :)
  • Andrew's observation is definitely correct: Cam Adams wins Most Smartarse Jokes Slipped Into A Presentation. Just wait until Russ hears about the "snoozefest" comment. It'll might look like the Eric vs. Doug animation....
  • What is it with crazed mac heads? Cam Adams has reproduced the OSX desktop within a browser. If viewed on a mac, would it create a singularity? Your machine might reach some kind of Apple event horizon and turn into an iPod.
  • Tantek managed to use the word "folksonomies" without making me want to scream.
  • Jeff Veen reminded us that Your web site is a tiny piece of a much larger experience.
  • Jeff also introduced us to the term and formalised concept of the Culture of Generosity; which explains many of the web's current success stories. Give plenty, maybe take just a little, everyone benefits.

I also think it's kind of a notable moment - or at least very cool - that my non-geek fiance came to the after-party and didn't get driven insane by geek talk :) Maybe we're not quite as bad as we think we are ;)

See also: we05 day one - quick post, eric meyer on mobile computing (that photo :)), we05 - random informal observations and all over, bar the shouting.

2005-09-30: all over, bar the shouting

Never name drop. De Nero told me that. Attributed to Reverend Horton Heat

WE05 is done... although I hear there are some extremely inebriated web geeks somewhere in some club, possibly still in Sydney, definitely depleting the world's supply of booze :)

It's hard to convey the Web Essentials experience without turning into a truly horrific name dropper, but the fact is that not only have I been lucky enough to see so many big names speak... I got to meet lots of them. I think the only thing better than hearing their words of wisdom was discovering that they are fantastic people as well :)

I tried to list the things I now Get or Get Better Than Before; but it started turning into a session-by-session report. I'll be doing something along those lines, just not tonight.

Suffice it to say that I wish everyone on my team could have attended and I wonder how on earth Andrew and I can do it justice when we report back (at the next Griffith Systems Design and Development Community of Practice meeting, for those of you playing at home; and I think we might doing WSG Brisbane as well).

Can I recommend this event highly enough? No :)

we05 day one - quick post

The wifi has turned out to be a bust: to get connected with a PC, you have to disable all firewalls. Since I don't practice unsafe wifi, that means updates will occur in the evening on aforementioned modem connection.

A few quick impressions of day one before I collapse in bed...

day one quotable quotes

  • Molly described web types as The tribe of people who wear many hats. She also reminded us that Blogs help people change the world. I'm sure a certain professor would also be happy to know she cited blogs and wikis as killer apps!
  • Jeff Veen, looking at a screenshot of the Quixtar site: All I can tell is ethnically diverse people are having a lot of fun...
  • Jeff again: Web 2.0? What happened to Web 1.0? It's barely out of alpha!
  • Jeff again, again: AHA! I have resonated with my audience!
  • Eric Meyer, at the beginning of his talk: I'd like to thank Russ and Maxine for putting me on after Jeffrey Veen...............you tossers.
  • Eric again, over the thumping noise of demolition next door: I'll be talking about A List Apart, apparently to a driving industrial beat.
  • Kelly Goto, as the thumping kicks in again after she talked about drinking too much caffeine: Woah, is that my heart?
  • Dean Jackson, after some slightly dodgy comments: Uhh.... oh. This is all podcast isn't it...
  • Russ introduces Doug Bowman, describing him as the hundredth monkey of CSS. Doug takes the stage and proclaims solemnly: Oook! Oookook!

day one notable moments

  • Molly gets First Code-based Joke with her reference to her niece, carolyn:first-child
  • WE05: a conference so completely attended, the organisers have to usher people to their seats.
  • At least one attendee considers Firefox a "killer app". I Showed Restraint and did not yell out "go download Opera you philistine!" ;)
  • Tantek Celik gets First S5 Presentation of the conference (please forgive the use of <sup>, Tantek..).
  • Tantek proposes we play with combinations of existing XHTML elements in order to produce richer semantic meaning. I'm sure it's the influence of reading Neil Stephenson's The System of the World at the moment, but I couldn't help thinking of this as semantic alchemy: creating elements of greater value than the base elements ;)
  • World first, right here at WE05! A live podcast of a room evacuation. Right before I was about to ask Tantek a question, too.
  • Eric Meyer was spotted crouched on the footpath outside during the fire alarm, trying to connect to wifi. Photographic evidence to follow :)
  • I made Tantek laugh with my "I (broken entity symbol) Unicode" tshirt. It was judged "very geeky", which is perhaps slightly worrying in context at WE05 ;)

More detailed notes will follow at a later date.

meta post - feed woes

Just a quick note regarding the RSS feed: yes, there's a bug - quote entities are removed from the content along with anything in between them. Makes for some very strangely structured summaries as it steps through the post.

The bug has been reported to Blogger. Not much else I can do at this stage since the problem is with the source XML, not the XSLT tweaking I do before letting it loose on the world :)

Google's feed control isn't exactly syndication nirvana. It could really use some refinement.

slow connections: testing we forget to do

How many of us test on slow connections? Really?

We might validate our code, run The Wave over our pages, check the colours against contrast/colourblindness issues... but the simple fact is most of us who work in web development use network/broadband access. Do we pull out a modem and check our sites over dialup? Not unless we are forced to do so. In fact many of us would have trouble organising that at short notice.

Right now, I'm sitting on a 28.8k modem connection in a hotel room (56k is the maximum, remember; not the guaranteed connection); marvelling at how my browsing habits have changed since I got broadband at home. I'm used to doing a number of things at once - some quite high-bandwidth at that - without any real problems. Today everything is taking longer and I've actually switched off images in an attempt to speed things up (oh wait. alt text is just for blind people, right?).

It's disappointing but not in the least bit surprising to discover many sites don't work so well with images turned off... still. This is 2005 people! Get with the program!

Like a twitching junkie played by a ham method actor, I am looking forward to the wifi at WE05 tomorrow ;)

2005-09-27: see you at WE05!

I'm procrastinating from packing, flying down to Olde Sydney Towne tomorrow for Web Essentials 05! The most buzzword-compliant conference of the year! :)

I can't find the building number though. Details, details.

For those lucky enough to be going as well, see you there! Photo? Hell no. Just look for the geek with the unicode joke on his tshirt. After a few goes you'll find the one that's me ;)

[Oh yeah, it's got an official tag too: WE05 (view on Technorati)]

2005-09-25: configuring and using opera 8

It's bleeding obvious that I'm a keen Opera user. I've used (and hence installed) many versions since making the full time switch, particularly version 7/8 for PC. I've found there are a few things I always do when setting up Opera out of the box; and thought perhaps these tips might be useful to someone else (especially with so many people downloading it now that it's free). In addition to the configuration tips, I list a few specific features that I think people might like to try out.

installation

Installation is simple... the only gotcha is if you're currently using a beta version, uninstall it before installing the next version. Don't install over the top. Makes sense really since beta software is not final :) Final releases, on the other hand, should update with no problems.

configuration

Here's the basic deal: just about everything in Opera is configurable. Don't want Flash turned on? Disable it. Don't like where a toolbar is sitting? Move it. Want another button on your toolbar? Add it. If you really go to town, you can back up your configurations ready to roll on other workstations or when you do a clean system install.

quick preferences

Start Opera and hit F12 or go to [Tools → Quick Preferences]. This menu includes a lot of options you are likely to have Opinions about; and/or want to disable most of the time and just enable when you want them. The options include:

  • Popup handling (I recommend 'block unwanted popups')
  • Javascript, plug-ins, animated graphics, etc. I habitually disable everything except Javascript, since it's so easy to turn things back on when you actually want them.
  • In the bottom section please choose Identify as Opera. The more it turns up in server logs, the better. I know there are reasons to ship it identifying as IE6, I just don't agree :)

For many people that's enough, they've got popups blocked and they're ready to roll. For me though, I like to customise things a bit more. I use a web browser probably more than any other tool, after all.

selecting and customising toolbars

As you'd expect, you can choose which toolbars to show, where to show them, icon size and so on. Right-click the toolbar and choose Customise; or go to [Tools → Appearance (or Shift+F12)]. Go into the Toolbars tab and turn each one on and off to familiarise yourself with what's there already. Note the Progress Bar dropdown, which lets you choose where load progress is shown and to what level of detail.

adding and removing buttons

The default set of Address Bar buttons is not entirely to my taste, so I like to customise it. Open up [Tools → Appearance (or Shift+F12)] and go into the Buttons tab. Then you just drag and drop to add buttons to a toolbar, or right-click a button and click Remove From Toolbar to remove it. Some recommended buttons:

  • Author Mode under "Browser View" allows you to disable/override CSS with a single click. Alternatively you can find this under [View → Style → Author Mode]
  • There are optional Forward/Back buttons with a history dropdown (not sure why they aren't the default).
  • The Home button (and other options like Bookmarks) is available by clicking the location bar, however I use it a fair bit so I add it to the standard set to eliminate a click.
  • Find in page under "Search" is your usual page text search (enter your query and hit Enter to cycle through hits).
  • Fit to window width ...you can probably guess. Get rid of horizontal scrollbars!

You can also create your own buttons/bookmarklets.

skins

Skins are one of those things that some people can't live without, others don't care one bit. If you are into skins, the Skins tab has what you need [Tools → Appearance (or Shift+F12)].

Personally I got bored with skins a couple of years ago when they stopped being creative and functional. Somewhere along the line most skin galleries ended up being a parade of "make X look like Y". Most commonly: Make PC Apps Look Like Mac Apps (make everything round) or vice versa.

miscellaneous opera tips

  • Mouse Gestures are awesome. See http://www.opera.com/features/mouse/ ...when I'm testing in other browsers I always end up wondering why the gesture for "Back" didn't work...
  • Opera has an inbuilt RSS/feed reader (not to mention email and chat). The RSS icon will appear in the location bar for pages with associated feeds. Just click to subscribe.
  • [Tools → Preferences → Advanced → Search (or Ctrl+F12)] lists preset address bar searches and their "keywords" ("key character" would have been a better term). For example, enter "g searchterm" into the URL input and you'll be taken to a Google search for searchterm. Originally I was unconvinced about this feature, but actually it's an incredible time saver (and for some reason I find it easier than adding separate search inputs).
  • Right-click a page and hit "Validate" to send the source the W3C markup validation page.
  • [Right-click → View Source] or [Right-click → Frame → View Source] will open the current page source in your choice of editor. You can change and save that source file, then use [Tools → Advanced → Reload from cache] to view the modified file. This means you can try code fixes without modifying the original. When you find the solution that works, edit the original. You can also work on generated markup this way.
  • There is a voice module that lets you control Opera with vocal commands and/or have content read to you screen reader style. See http://opera.com/voice/ for details about installing this extension.
  • Opera zooms the whole page, not just the text. I prefer this, since it means most pages will put up with more zooming before they turn into a busted mess. Standards compliant pages just keep on going...
  • Opera can be set to remember your session, so you can come in tomorrow and pick up where you left off. [Preferences → General]
  • The Wand is a password manager like the Firefox Password Manager or Mac keychain. If you're into that sort of thing.

more opera resources

go to it!

Head on over and download Opera. I hope you like it as much as I do and I hope this article helps you find some of Opera's niftiest features.

2005-09-21: creating better printouts of your web pages

Just as I often think (Dilbert creator) Scott Adams bugs my office, A List Apart has an amazing ability to produce an issue on a topic I was looking at the day before. The latest in a long line is A List Apart Issue 203, offering up some wisdom on print styles.

I've found that web pages don't really like being printed. Even worse is the way many clients expect the same level of control as with print jobs - the print designers get exactly what they wanted, why can't the web team do the same? *collective sigh*

We can still do a good job under these circumstances, of course. Hey if we wanted easy lives we'd have gone into lion taming or something. We can set appropriate print colours and typefaces, we can hide navigation and other items that you don't need in print.

But then there are the sticky points - for example, where did that link go? The printout just has underlining. So, no problem, you generate some content:

a:after {
content: " (Link: "attr(href)")";
}

Sweet! Well, for about 10% of the audience anyway. The IE borg are still wondering where those links went. Even the 10% who are seeing the links don't always like a bunch of URLs in the middle of the content.

Unobtrusive Javascript to the rescue! Footnote Links | Easy Designs works in IE as well as non-crippled browsers. Sure, it requires Javascript... but I'd be pretty comfortable saying most IE users don't turn off Javascript.

Of course the text size still changes between browsers; but that will have to wait until another day. In the meantime, I'd like Mr Adams and the ALA crew to tell me where they've hidden the cameras.

opera now free

Opera Web Browser is now free. Yes, free as in beer! I've encountered a huge number of people who've objected to even trying Opera because it wasn't free. Well, now they can get their butts over to Opera and download away!

Now I'm off to let the software guys at work know that we don't have to sort out distribution of the free Opera 8 educational license for students after all :)

Oh, in case you missed it... as part of this change, Opera has incremented to version 8.5 - this does include a security fix or two. If they hadn't made the product free with this release there's no way I'd be forgiving the version number stupidity...!

2005-09-20: ruby in a nutshell

ObieFernandez | Ruby and Rails Bullet Points. Basically a short description of Ruby/Ruby on Rails. Is it a flash in the pan? Time will tell. It certainly has a chance with people deciding that Java is old and busted; not to mention everyone's tired of jokes like "Java should only describe what developers are drinking, not what they're coding". Now we can make all kinds of jewellery/gem puns!

Ruby: it's new and shiny!

2005-09-11: mixed bag linkfest

A few links I found floating around in need of a home. So to speak. Some new, some old(er). All worth a look.

  • Mozilla Firefox 1.5 Beta 1 has been released. I've always been irritated by x.0 to x.5 version jumping. The next version should either be 1.1 or 2.0, none of this claytons-version crap. I know there's precedent, but guess what - I thought IE5.5, PageMaker 6.5 etc were dumb version numbers too :)
  • footerStick, perhaps the cleanest and most robust solution I've seen so far; although i'm yet to subject it to the rigours of a full vmware test suite.
  • Cheat Sheet Roundup - Over 30 Cheatsheets for developers. A bunch of cheat sheets... 'nuff said.
  • particletree | Preview Your Links with Unobtrusive JavaScript: You know that feeling at the grocery store express lane when you find out that the person in front of you actually has 74 items, a book of coupons, a checkbook and arthritis? That’s the feeling I get after clicking on an innocent looking link that goes to a PDF unexpectedly. What a great quote :) Anyway, the article details a way to indicate link targets like PDF documents, based on the file extension, just by adding a script to the document head.
  • Javascript - Event pairs, which runs through some tests and looks for keyboard equivalents for common mouse-based events. In simple terms, stuff like recognising that mouseover is mouse-specific and needs to be paired with focus.
  • ColorBlender.com | Your free online color matching toolbox, a(nother) nifty colour palette generator; for those of us who didn't go to art college and don't like to rely on gut feel all the time :) Of course you will still need to check your colours for contrast and safe combinations, but you do that anyway right? Right.
  • CollyLogic: Ticked-off visited links Reloaded - a neat approach to identifying visited links with something other than colour, which is something that most of us still tend to forget (slap our own wrists!). It is a difficult question since you don't really want to be fooling with emphasis (links aren't necessarily something you'd semantically emphasise, so why do it visually?) and some pages don't look too good with dashed borders or whatever. Add to that the fact that abbreviations are indicated with dotted underlines in most browsers and you're really getting caught between rocks and hard places.

2005-08-30: redesign juice in the water?

Three redesigns in the past week:

I have a feeling there are more, I just haven't found them yet...

Update: yep, here we go - Relapse's Cupboard just got a spiffy new design (commissioned from Retrorocket Design, I believe).

short roundup: wanau brisbane

  • 70 attendees based on a head count, the sign-in list was voluntary so it has a slightly lower count.
  • Five presentations from four speakers; plus an official opening from the Griffith University PVC Information Services and a welcome from the Chair.
  • A few minor panics for the organiser (all resolved).
  • No take-up of the IRC option; I'm thinking this is a result of not promoting it well enough, low usage of IRC amongst attendees (many didn't know what IRC was) and the event's short duration. No big deal :)
  • I'm told it went rather well, although as the organiser I didn't get to actually sit down and enjoy it :)
  • Overall... success!

Here's hoping next time I run an event I don't have to spend the previous week trying to coordinate it from a laptop in a hotel lobby :)

Blog Archive