January 2001

01/31/2001 Wednesday

One of the mailing lists I read has had a running discussion on fixed verses flexible width design. The argument for flexible design is that the user can scale it to whatever they feel most comfortable with. Also, they scale for a variety of displays (print and WebTV included). Fixed width proponents argue that you can design for the most usable layout (though this rarely occurs except in the case of some news sites) and the user doesn't have to take time to find the most usable width. I prefer the flexible width layout. Perhaps it is because I don't browse full-screen - I am continually adjusting the width of my browser. The first machines I browsed on had huge displays and, in the days of Mosaic when there was no alternative to the flexible full-window layout, you couldn't browse full-screen. I got used to a less-than-maximized display. I would imagine that most people used lower resolution screens and are used to full-screen browsing. And it's annoying to change an application window away from full-screen display - you just get used to it. These people would find flexible layout annoying because most designs will be too wide and it forces them to change away from full-screen.
10:00 permalink

The bugs section of css.nu has a very helpful list of CSS bugs and workarounds in the various browsers. Check out the first bug in the NS4 section. Scale of bug: catastrophic. Possible causes: pretty much everything. Workaround: can't utilitize one of the main advantages of style sheets. Sigh.
09:15 permalink

A simplified guide to CSS sums up the font-size thing nicely.
08:55 permalink

01/30/2001 Tuesday

The font of the revolution will be Verdana 10px. If you have read all the articles and columns on the CSS font-size property, you'll know that the W3C would like us to use relative or percentage measurements to set font size. Unfortunately, support for them universally suck. If you want consistency, the concensus is that pixels are the way to go (see A List Apart). Though pixel measurements are internally consistent in the various browsers, a particular font size in one browser probably won't look the same in another browser. Verdana 10px, however, is almost identical across all browsers I've tested (the PC-Mac difference is due to the difference in pixels per inch). The only variation is in NS4.x on the PC which appears a bit smaller. Oddly enough, Verdana 11px on NS4.x PC is the exact same as Verdana 10px on anything else. So by using a style sheet that sets the font to Verdana 10px followed by a script that does a browser detect and changes the font size to 11px on NS4.x PC, you are set. As a side note, the font-size difference between NS4.x and everything else is pretty consistent through all font sizes but only makes a notable difference at smaller font sizes. Don't bother resizing for NS4.x PC if your default size is 12px or greater.
09:15 permalink

01/29/2001 Monday

The Curse of Information Design claims that "many designers and front-end developers find themselves ... hemmed in and held hostage by [the work of information architects]." If they do, it's because they are reading too much into the documents that the IA produces. The majority of information architecture work is on the large scale - how the site is designed. Designers and developers work on a page level. The lowest level and most detailed IA work concerns itself with what is on individual pages. The relationships between pieces of information and their relative importance must be represented through this page-level AI. Frequently, conventions such as spacial arrangement, visual grouping, font size and weight are used to represent these relationships. Problems arise when designers see these visual representations of information architecture as being a guideline to the design. Why should you feel "hemmed in" by the IA if you don't feel restricted by the general purpose of the site?
10:15 permalink

01/26/2001 Friday

I will sometimes click on a blank part of a webpage to give it focus if it is stuck behind a popup or something. Apparently, some advertisers have worked this out and started creating ads with huge areas of whitespace. So when you click in an area you think is blank, you are really clicking on their ad. Case in point: the Compaq ad on the left side of the Register homepage. It's 800 pixels high but, in some frames of the animation, content occupies a region only 130 pixels high. A full 360 pixels at the bottom are always white. And for me, the Register site is always obscured by the Javascript error console reporting an error in some Doubleclick code at the bottom of the page. So I always click on the browser window to put the error console in the background. Today I clicked on the "blank" ad space.
09:15 permalink

Ericsson to stop making mobile phones. They aren't pulling out of the mobile handset market entirely, though - they will be outsourcing the manufacturing. Still, it's pretty big news for the wireless internet since Ericsson is one of the major players.
08:55 permalink

01/25/2001 Thursday

Most of the posts at Memepool subscribe to the same school of gratuitous hyperlinking as Suck. Suck's design, editorial style, and linking stategy hasn't changed since the early days. Though they are all recognizable aspects of Suck's columns, they were all probably borrowed from elsewhere. The narrow format was first used by HotWired's Flux column (interestingly enough, Suck was bought by Hotwired which was later bought by Lycos). The heavy linking with mysterious destinations was probably designed to mock early homepage designs where links were embedded into paragraphs of text. We don't do that stuff much anymore. Except on weblogs. Now article text and links are separated. Probably a good idea from an information architecture point of view but not the original idea behind the web.
10:00 permalink

Microsoft's .NET initiative is aimed at making all their software web-based. But the fact that all Microsoft services were down for 22 hours on Wednesday because a technician mis-configured some routers doesn't inspire confidence. Perhaps they should make sure their system is more robust before people start having faith that the application they need to use will be available when they need to use it.
09:05 permalink

01/23/2001 Tuesday

The project I am working on right now didn't go through a design phase. I am coding directly from the architectural page mockups. This is because "the site doesn't need a design". In reality, everything has a design. In this case, I am doing the design (guided by the architectural mockups which do have some design hints beyond component relationship and importance descriptions). What is really meant by "doesn't need a design" is a designer would probably try to be smart and original and end up sacrificing clarity and usability. In my design, I am ephasizing clarity and usability 'cause I'm bad at smart and original.
09:25 permalink

01/22/2001 Monday

So if I didn't play square ball during elementary school recesses, what did I do? Dunno. I remember playing defence (soccer) and outfield (baseball) - positions that required a minimum of actual skill but allowed conversation. I remember arguing the merits of the Atari 2600 over Intellivision. I remember imitating Bob and Doug Mackenzie. It's all very hazy but my recesses seem to be spent in more cerebral activities than those of my peers.
10:00 permalink

I read Douglas Coupland's City of Glass on Friday. The book is a set of very perceptive and witty short essays on various Vancouver-centric topics (some are available online) - a true insider's guide to Vancouver. Of course, any Vancouverite has their own Vancouver-isms they would like to see in such a book. For me, it would be the massive gathering of crows (in the thousands) near the intersection of Willingdon and Canada Way at dusk and the post-war house design known as the "Vancouver Special". Oh, and since it's a book about a city in Canada, you won't find it listed on Amazon.
09:20 permalink

Neat! Yahoo circa 1994. This is the stuff I wanna see!
08:50 permalink

01/19/2001 Friday

How people are coping with the 'dot-com crisis'. Far more interesting and insightful than any failed dot-com story. Some interesting highlights:

  • Europe seems unscathed.
  • Userland is losing money but will continue to support Manila as long as it can.
  • The Senior Art Director at Vir2L Studios calls his company stable but boring. To be truthful, he's describing the parent company Zenimax and he says that 'it may sound like a boring company..."
  • Small companies offering focussed services seem ok.

(via Tomalak's Realm)
10:00 permalink

A while ago, I was looking for samples of the web as it was. Screenshots are hard to find. Live HTML pages are even more difficult. That's why I think the National Archives and Records Administration's request for federal agencies to archive their sites on Jan. 20th is a great idea. (via Tomalak's Realm)
09:45 permalink

One of my biggest annoyances with Netscape is that sometimes it seems to stall while loading a page. This usually happens after you've stopped the loading of another page (usually one with Javascript in it). It only hangs on pages with Javascript in them - non-Javascript pages load fine. This leads me to believe the Javascript parser is stuck in some sort of loop. Quitting the application doesn't help because the next time you run Netscape, you have the same problem. The only way to fix it is to log out (or shut down).
09:35 permalink

Micheal Mandiberg is selling everything he owns. Everything. E-commerce taken to an extreme. (via Memepool)
09:30 permalink

01/18/2001 Thursday

AOL proxy servers use a lossy compression scheme on gif and jpg images which usually causes images (particularly gifs) to look like crap in AOL browsers. AOL users can turn off the "Use Compressed graphics" preference but few people would know to look for it. Apparently, though, the compression isn't performed on animated gifs. If AOL users are important to you, you can add a tiny, extra frame to your gifs, save them as animated gifs, and your images won't get screwed up in AOL.
14:15 permalink

I was never any good at square ball (also called 4-square). In square ball, 4 players occupy separate quarters of a large square painted on the ground and bounce a ball between each other. When the ball bounced in your quarter, you had to make it bounce in someone else's quarter before it touched the ground again. Otherwise, you were out. The quarters were ranked and if a person in a higher quarter got out, the players in the lower quarters would all advance one quarter. The lowest quarter would then be filled by someone waiting in line to play. The player in the highest quarter was King and always served (usually to the lowest quarter). The next quarter was Queen and I think the 3rd was Prince. Can't remember what the lowest quarter was called. Square ball wasn't much of a real game - it was all about popularity. The most popular people would fill the higher ranked quarters and would use various tactics to get the lowest person out. Usually this consisted of serving the ball from an inch above ground so that there would be no way of returning it before the second bounce. Or bouncing it as hard as possible. The King could change the rules at any time. The fairer rule set was call Bethel (named after another local school). Games always degenerated to the looser Mt. Pleasant rules (our school's name) after someone popular became King. This is why I wasn't any good at it and why I rarely played.
10:05 permalink

01/17/2001 Wednesday

Yesterday, Macromedia and Allaire annouced that they would merge. I wonder what will happen with Homesite and Dreamweaver. Though they do the same thing (author websites), they have different approaches and different followings.
10:00 permalink

Altavista is preparing to defend the patents it has on 'search technologies'. Things like indexing and spidering. Sigh. I guess if you don't have any other viable business plan... (via Slashdot)
09:45 permalink

01/15/2001 Monday

Instructions on a bottle of shampoo:

Saturate hair with water. Massage shampoo deeply into scalp and roots. Breathe deeply to enjoy fragrant aromatics. Drench with water to rinse. Repeat if desired.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it?
08:40 permalink

In the same way that all McDonald's smell the same, all Starbucks smell the same.
08:35 permalink

01/11/2001 Thursday

When I was doing my undergrad, I bought a Sharp EL-9000 programmable calculator off a friend who had just failed our electrodynamics course and was going into philosophy (where you don't need programmable calculators). I still have it though the batteries are dying. I remember trying to write games with it's primitive programming language. Pretty difficult. The best I managed was a starfield simulation. Using the graph plotting feature, the program placed one point randomly in each quadrant, moved the points away from the origin, and replotted the view. When a point left the view, a new one was created. That's as graphical as you could get. I guess you could also write turn based games (like lemonade stand). I'd love to hear from anyone who managed to write a game on a calculator.
14:55 permalink

01/10/2001 Wednesday

The WAP emulator at Yospace understands WMLScript. Neat. So you can view my WAP site in it. It appears to have problems with the maze game (like the UP.Browser emulator). I'll have to work on that.
13:30 permalink

01/09/2001 Tuesday

The WAP site is now live. You can find it at http://www.dithered.com/wap/index.wml. To play the games, you need a browser that understands WMLScript (that rules out Opera unfortunately). The maze game seems to have some problems working in the UP.Browser emulator.
13:30 permalink

I like the idea behind Confluence.org - to photographically document as many of the confluences of lines of longitude and latitude as possible. 50N, 123W is in Garibaldi Park. 50N, 122W is just to the west of Harrison Lake. I may take a couple trips this summer.
10:30 permalink

I'm getting sick of having to fill out endless forms to become a "registered developer" just so that I can download some half-assed developer app.
10:15 permalink

01/08/2001 Monday

Someone else's pictures of the line-up on the 97C I was stuck in on December 23rd. What amazed me was the lack of information on the radio stations from Kelowna and Penticton. A major highway into your town closes for 3 and 1/2 hours and you don't think it's important enough to tell anyone?
18:35 permalink

The spinny plus signs at SiteNavigation.net are gone. I didn't think I had that much influence.
17:35 permalink

01/05/2001 Friday

If you put your script contents in HTML comments (and you should), the end comment should be a //-->. Too many sites leave out the two slashes which hide the HTML comment bit from the Javascript parser (the slashes denote a Javascript comment). It doesn't cause any problems in IE but Netscape doesn't like it. I'm old school and I still use Netscape as my main browser. And I have my preferences set so that the Javascript error console pops up automatically when the interpreter encounters an error because I want to be able to see the errors in my own stuff. So I get to see everyone else's errors too.
09:50 permalink

SiteNavigation.net is supposed to be all about site navigation (surprise, surprise). You can find collections of DHTML, Javascript, and Java based menus, articles on navigation and usability, etc. So you would expect this site to make careful decisions about the navigation systems and structures it chooses for it's own site. Not only should they be reasonably cool and unique but also very user-friendly. So what's that spinny plus sign next to the menu items in the left-hand menu. A plus sign to me says 'more'. A spinny plus sign says 'click me for more'. But they aren't linked. They don't do anything. Except spin. Bad.
09:40 permalink

01/04/2001 Thursday

The WAP world is in a tizzy about the damning report released by the Nielsen Norman Group. The WAP Forum has released it's own condemnation of the report citing a small survey sample and other biases. I haven't read the report but I'm guessing that most of the problems are due to the devices used and the sites viewed. The current generation of cell phones with small screen and limited WML support are inadequate. The future will probably see a movement towards PDA-style devices with larger screens, improved UI, and full WAP support. In browsing WAP sites, I've found a considerable lack of design for usability. Why people use splash screens in WAP applications is beyond me. Complaining about the lack of usability of WAP now is like complaining about the usability of HTML in 1994. In the past 6 years, HTML has not changed with regards to usability but the devices and design of sites has. The same will probably happen to WAP. Effective use of a new medium doesn't come overnight.
10:00 permalink

When a company is about to go 'tits-up' as The Register puts it, the most secure position is in upper management. The second most secure position is as an 'executive assistant' or, as they used to be called twenty years ago, a secretary. If a company isn't going to go under but isn't doing well, upper management are the most vulnerable. So being an executive assistant is probably the most secure position in a wide range of circumstances. Getting back to the fucked company situation, the third most secure position is held by whoever is sleeping with upper management.
09:40 permalink

Today's Camworld has lots of neat links.
09:25 permalink

®™ark specializes in demonstating how stupid things are. Check out their various 'projects'.
09:15 permalink

01/02/2001 Tuesday

So far, I've been using the UP.SDK from Phone.com and the Nokia Toolset from Nokia for my WAP development. Both are far from ideal but using both simultaneously is helpful. The UP.SDK has some annoying deviations from the WML and WMLScript standards (see the bug link in the release notes). Type conversions aren't handled well and have to be done explicitly, boundary conditions for a number of functions aren't treated correctly, and the invalid datatype can crash the program. Compilation error messages are pretty good but non-compilation errors (due to the bugs mentioned earlier) aren't - they just cause all variables and their values to be dumped. Check the variables from the 'Info' menu if you suspect a non-compilation error. The best way to debug these is the old fashion way - simply comment parts of your code out. The Nokia Toolset is a bloated Java nightmare. It takes forever to load, consumes massive amounts of resources and requires you to be connected to the web if you want to view anything. Compilation error messages are pretty hopeless. To top it off, it is generally accepted that it isn't a decent simulation of the real behavior of any Nokia phone (the Nokia SDK is much better but impossible to find). But it does show how the Nokia and UP browsers differ in their treatment of WML elements. Particularly <select>, <input>, and <do> elements. And it is a truer representation of the user experience using a cell phone in that keyboard input is ignored.
12:25 permalink