Saturday 31 July 2004

making lists

I’M MAKING LISTS. The first is the “Get in Line” list. This is the list for my creditors or people who just want to bitch at me. The second list is the “Get a Clue List.” The third is . . . well, I don’t know what the third is. Help me out, wouldya?

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 20:56 | Comments (62)

the snob blogs

MY BROTHER LINUS is a snob. In fact, he’s so dedicated to the art of snobbery that he’s started a weblog all about it, If you want to gain insight into first-class snobbery, he’s your man.

From snoblog:

“I’m on a mission to discover the best of everything in the world. I humbly submit that my opinions on life, art, culture, music, politics, literature, household cleaning supplies and everything else are better than those held by the swinish multitude.”

Linus is not only very, very funny, but he’s also the best writer in the family, even if I happen to be the most prolific.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 11:33 | Comments (21)

DOCTYPES not relevant?

PERHAPS IT WAS just his choice of words that caught my concern, but in a recent comment, Anne van Kesteren claims that “. . . a DOCTYPE isnโ€™t really relevant” [1]. For the theoretician, perhaps this is true. For the practitioner, the relevance is indisputable.

First, a few things about DOCTYPEs in HTML and XHTML for those unfamiliar:

  • DOCTYPE declarations are that bit of SGML syntax that should be at the top of every HTML or XHTML document you author – they define the document type and provide a URI to the document’s DTD (Document Type Definition)
  • Beyond declaring the document’s type, DOCTYPE declarations come into play when the document is validated. The validator uses the information in the declaration to compare against the DTD and report any warnings or errors
  • DOCTYPE declarations are required in conforming HTML or XHTML documents

Nowadays, DOCTYPE declarations also provide us with an incredibly important tool: The DOCTYPE Switch. Having a correctly formed DOCTYPE will cause browsers to run in compliance mode – an optimal browser mode for standard, conforming documents.

DOCTYPE switching is of course a debate in and of itself. That a piece of code used to identify and validate a document is being made into a functional part of the browser is considered a browser hack by many. I see the rationale behind that point, I do. But right now I’m more concerned with the benefit that switch provides to the working designer and developer.

Where DOCTYPE switching becomes crucial to the working developer is when designing with CSS layouts. That dominant bitch of a browser, Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 for Windows, has several CSS flaws, and one of the most challenging is that its native implementation of the Box Model conforms to the Microsoft interpretation, not the W3C specs. But what many don’t realize is that by using a DOCTYPE declaration that invokes switching, IE 6.0 will switch over into compliance mode where, guess what? You get the W3C interpretation of the box model, solving a significant concern with CSS design.

While the DOCTYPE switch might be seen as some to be a hack itself, is using a proper DOCTYPE declaration required by the specs in the first place a hack? All we’re doing in that scenario is what we’re supposed to be doing anyway, even if there’s the added advantage of solving a serious concern.

The other alternatives available to us are to add hacks and filters into the CSS, fall back on transitional techniques for layout, or look to the CSS3 box-sizing property, which has very limited support because CSS3 isn’t even a recommendation yet! If your target browser base doesn’t include IE browsers below 6.0 and you’re implementing switching, you might not have to add a hack or filter anywhere in your CSS. So in that scenario, you’re following the specs and not hacking to get the correct results.

Is the DOCTYPE debate one of what is ideal versus what is real? Perhaps, but practicality has to rule the day, at least during this very difficult, transitional time where people desperately want to reap the benefits of compliant design. This, despite the fact that the major stumbling block is one primary piece of software, IE 6.0, which also happens to be the most widespread, flawed software that we have to deal with. To my way of thinking, this makes DOCTYPEs extremely relevant, whether we like it or not.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 06:10 | Comments (39)

Friday 30 July 2004

why being polite is a waste of time

SALES CALLS SUCK, we can all agree on that. But what’s with the trend of sales callers who hang up on you if you politely say you’re not interested?

So I get this sales call today, and tell the woman reading from her prepared script that I’m not interested. Instead of saying “thank you” or “goodbye” she just – hangs up. Dead line. Took me a second to even figure it out.

Is it just me who finds this really rude?

I’m trying to be nice because goodness knows telemarketing jobs can’t be fun. I did it for one day in college years ago and hated it so much I left and never looked back. I know a lot of people in customer service and tech support phone jobs, so I’ve heard their nightmare stories of mistreatment and I always want to do the right thing by simply being polite to the poor sucker on the other end of the line.

Which one might think meant something. But apparently not. It’s just unfathomable how telemarketers find it completely okay to call me up any time of day, and despite my efforts to be polite, determine that it’s okay to do that most impolite of actions: hang up.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 14:48 | Comments (33)

blogging dreams

I DREAMED ABOUT blogging last night. Thought I’d written something completely inappropriate, woke up with my heart pounding. Ran upstairs to the office – what have I done?

I dream in code, sometimes, too. Nothing like solving markup or CSS conundrums in your sleep, only to wake and have no idea what it was you solved. Another thing is composing music – although since I hardly play anymore that rarely happens, but sometimes it still does.

What’s in your dreams lately? I wonder if this is the inappropriate post I’m actually dreaming about . . .

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 05:37 | Comments (24)

Thursday 29 July 2004

utterly, miserably, completely

UTTERLY, MISERABLY, COMPLETELY. XML has failed on the web. Do you agree? Mark Pilgrim dove in and said so.

But wait! Before telling us of all the failures of XML, Mark points with finger in cheek at some true successes of XML. I’m here to defend the very aspects of XML’s influence that he’s pointing to, although I feel a bit more enthusiastic.

XML has been shown to be effective for:

  1. supporting multilingual document encoding
  2. improving ‘tag soup hell’
  3. providing the basis for syndication feeds, no matter the format

multilingual documents

How many folks out there are creating documents in other languages, or in multiple languages? How about supporting character sets across browsers and platforms? XML in cases like these is your friend, and cases like these are important now and will be more important as time goes on.

improving ‘tag soup hell’

Nearly every person who transitioned from tag soup into more semantic markup in HTML 4.01 Strict and XHTML 1.+ knows that the influence of XML on how we write and use our web documents is indisputable. CSS is part of the reason, because the separation of structure and presentation becomes imperative.

providing the basis for syndication feeds, no matter the format

RSS of any version, Atom, whatever. Syndication is pushing the Web forward, no matter your holy war.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 17:42 | Comments (13)

and speaking of browsers . . .

Netscape’s promise of an update comes true as of August 3rd, when version 7.2 will be available. So, people looking for alternative browsers can add this update to their list of potentials.

While it doesn’t have the sly appeal of Firefox, or the great interface and rendering of Safari, it does have the best of the Gecko rendering engine and standards support from Mozilla 1.7 – Netscape 7.1 was based on 1.4, so there will be some definite improvements in the new version. It’s a very good choice for general users, as it comes with plenty of additional stuff, such as AOL IM and a mail client.

After my recent post, many people wrote in and asked about my browser of choice: Mozilla. I think it’s a great developer tool – between the Web Developer Extension (also supported in FireFox), sidebar tabs (the CSS 2.1 by Eric Meyer is indispensible) and the built-in DOM Inspector, it’s just where I find myself most comfortable. I use Opera for Opera Show when I present, and I have FireFox and Netscape and then there’s that other one, oh gosh, what’s it called?

Oh yeah, Internet Explorer. That’s it. It’s the browser that I only open after donning full body armor and making sure my adware-spyware-malware software is at the ready and the firewall is fully engaged. And I only do so when absolutely necessary for testing or updates or dealing with some misguided IE-only site that I have to use for some reason.

Obviously, I’m not a fan. But there are deep reasons for this other than just general disdain. See, I worked at MSN for nearly five years and we were developing with CSS in 1996. So I’m disgusted that not only is their browser a scourge in terms of security, but the fact that they really loused up CSS support despite the fact they could have done it so much better just sticks in my craw.

What also breaks my heart are the problems that people like my folks – intelligent people but not necessarily that computer savvy – are having with trying to control pop-ups and spyware and managing viruses and firewalls. You shouldn’t have to be a security expert just to get on eBay or read email from your kids.

Of course, I’ve got my family onto FireFox now, and they are much happier for it.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 05:44 | Comments (18)

Tuesday 27 July 2004

honestly, which browser?

TALK ABOUT TOWN suggests that no one “in the know” admits to using Internet Explorer, even if they do. So I’m asking you, honestly now: Which browser?

Name, version, platform, please. And feel free to include reasons. And don’t be afraid to tell the truth, whatever that truth might be.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 10:47 | Comments (101)

Monday 26 July 2004

be good tanyas

KEEPING IT LIGHT enough to travel? The Be Good Tanyas are. Back country rock made of moonshine and twang.

The lyrics are so yummy I wish I’d written them.

Light Enough to Travel

“Wound up drunk again on Robson St.
Strange cuz we always agreed
At the start of every evening
That’s the last place I wanna be . . .

. . . Keep it light enough to travel
Don’t let it all unravel
Keep it light enough to travel –

Keep it light enough to travel . ”

complete lyrics

Written by: Geoff Berner/Kolakovsky | Performed by Be Good Tanyas

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 19:18 | Comments (11)

css: from the programmer’s eye

YESTERDAY I HAD the great pleasure of reconnecting with friend and colleague Erik Hatcher, author of the highly praised Java Development with Ant and now digging deep into the Lucene search engine technology. Over excellent Mexican food we caught up on our various projects and interests.

One discussion that came to the forefront is the use of CSS. Because I sit more on the design and document management side of things, I tend to see CSS as primarily a tool for design and controlling style consistency across mass quantities of documents. Erik pointed out that from a programmer’s perspective; CSS is being employed more within applications. He recommended that I read a presentation from his friend Eitan Suez, A CSS Programmer’s Repertoire. It’s an excellent piece for everyone interested in CSS, but I think designers might especially find themselves illuminated by Eitan’s perspective. I particularly like this description of refactoring in the context of CSS:

So we’re taking a site in its present state, possibly a not-so maintainable state, and making small, discrete, isolated changes. We test that the change did not break or change anything.

Approaching CSS from the discrete level is fascinating to me, because most of the CSS design folks kind of overlook that power to focus more on the larger control issues.

In somewhat related news, Christina Wodke and Nate Koechley recently presented at WebVisions 2004. In their presentation, Wodtke and Koechley describe how standards-based development with semantic markup and CSS allow designers and developers to address long-standing challenges within Information Architecture.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 06:21 | Comments (5)

Sunday 25 July 2004

beggar’s poll: tell me what you want

IF YOU’VE EVER asked “What’s wrong honey?” just to hear “Ummm, nothing” in response, then I need your help. There’s a new poll up begging you for your guidance!

I’m easy, I’ll choose ‘all of the above’ if that’s what readers want. But I notice in recent weeks that my audience has changed significantly, and I want to get a better take on who’s visiting these days.

So vote in the poll, and comment below. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 18:44 | Comments (6)

Saturday 24 July 2004

seven deadly markup sins

Want to avoid the most common mistakes made in XHTML and HTML?

InformIT is still publishing my Integrated Web Design series. You can catch this month’s offering, Seven Deadly Markup Sins in both its regular interface (can you say ‘ads’? Knew you could . . .) and also in a print version, which I find generally easier to read onscreen except for the teeny code style.

If you missed other articles in the series and have some time to catch up on your reading, these are my personal favorites:

  • Strategies for Long-Term CSS Hack Management. Using CSS in a contemporary browser? You’ll probably need to use a variety of CSS hacks to accomplish the best possible cross-browser compatibility. This article helps you determine if you need hacks, how to manage them effectively if so, and which hacks you can employ to solve a range of common compatibility problems.
  • CSS: Beyond the Retrofit. Do you think Web browsers are the reason for all your CSS woes? Or that CSS is filled with so many limitations it can’t be used well for all aspects of design, including layout? Think again. Today’s contemporary browser support and the availability of smart workarounds make the promise of CSS more real than ever. This article shows you how CSS was meant to be used and demonstrates how to begin using it fully today to make your life (and your designs) more efficient, flexible, and even more beautiful than ever.
  • Social Networking โ€” The Relationship between Humans and Computers is Coming of Age. The interaction between community, computers, and society is now being referred to as “social networking,” and it’s making a lot of heads turn. But what is social networking, really, and what does it mean to web technologists? In this compelling article, you’ll learn what social networking is, which languages are emerging to support it, and what it might mean for the next generation of web design and development.

At the very least, go forth and stop sinning with that there markup! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 13:18 | Comments (8)

Friday 23 July 2004

xhtml v. html: a tiresome debate

The W3C publishes the sixth draft of XHTML 2.0, and over at Slashdot, the HTML vs. XHTML debate continues. What a waste of energy, folks! Read more about my thoughts on this at the Web Standards Project (WaSP).

To sum up my perspective: Pick a markup language and use it well. HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0 are almost interchangeable in the way that they work. Use what you like to use, or what you have to use for a particular job or application, but what is with all the fuss? It’s such a ridiculous fight.

And a draft is a draft is a draft. When XHTML 2.0 becomes a recommendation it still doesn’t mean you have to use it! The only thing I want from people regarding this issue is to make informed decisions, not ones based in the heat of the moment.

Focusing on structure over presentation in our documents means simplification of markup. The more we can get our presentation out of the markup and into CSS for our unique circumstances, the better.

Would most agree that it’s the way we use markup rather than the actual language and language version that’s significant right now?

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 13:38 | Comments (14)

Wednesday 21 July 2004

new book giveaway!

Hi everyone,

It’s book giveaway time again. The first three people who write a short essay (at least 500 but no more than 750 words) about the first popular text-based desktop web browser, who wrote it, which platforms supported it, and some commentary on actual usage will win their choice of one of my new books: 250 HTML and Web Design Secrets or Teach Yourself Movable Type (co-authored with Porter Glendinning).

The trick here is to be comprehensive in your description. You have to write it with substance- no answers that are simply lists will be accepted for the prize. The more detail you provide, the better your chances, and extra points to anyone who describes a current use of this browser accurately. Place your submissions in the comment section of this post. No email entries please.

Let the games begin!

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 10:58 | Comments (16)

Tuesday 20 July 2004

HOW design contest winners and some comments on writing books

Anyone here get HOW magazine? It’s a great magazine, cousin to Print but with an emphasis on visual design. Anyway, Curt Cloninger, Patricia McShane and myself acted as judges for a series of DVD, CD, and web-based designs. It’s only available in print, it’s a worthy read.

I found this discussion on book writing at 2 Blowhards a bit disturbing in light of my profession:

It’s such a pain to write books, it’s such a bother to go through the publishing process — what kind of person is willing to put him/herself through this? Answer: a very narrow demographic — the obsessed and the ambitious. Exceptions allowed for (hi Hugo!), this would seem to mean that most of the books we’ve interacted with over the years have been written by people who are nuts. Let’s grant that a few of these nutcases have talent and brains — still: funny, no?

The author of this post seems generally filled with bitterness and negativity despite never having written a book. And then he proclaims that authors must be obsessed and ambitious? Nuts? Thanks bud, I appreciate the vote of confidence there.

For the record: I’ve not only made a living at it but book publishing was the one piece of my world that stayed true during the worst of the dot-bomb years. While I agree with some of the points made (self-publishing can be rewarding, blogs are a good way to express creativity) it’s not a helpful or encouraging post for those individuals who do have a dream of book writing. As a professional author, I have to disagree with the negative tone of the post and counter the post’s premise.

Book writing can be one of the most essential steps to improving ones’ career options. Without book writing, I would not have the lucrative opportunities I have consulting and training-wise today. I’m sure many other obsessed and ambitious authors will agree. What’s more, the money isn’t necessarily in the book-making, although it can be. Think of the doors that writing a book can open. Think about the feeling of accomplishing something most people never accomplish despite their fantasies! And finally, think how authors are actively giving something to the world – knowledge, laughter, food for thought.

The first step to understanding the drive to write books and to find the rewards in the process is to stop thinking that book writing is just about you. Book writing is primarily about giving something to other people, and in that regard it’s one of the most rewarding things a person can ever do.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 06:09 | Comments (10)

Upcoming Travels