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 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.


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 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.

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