Archive for ‘uncategorized’ category

iTMS Success Story

I’ve just spent my first 99 cents at the iTunes Music Store. It’s taken me awhile, as I’m one of those people that likes to be able to hold the liner notes, etc. when they buy music. Anyhow, the process was so simple, seamless and instantaneous, that it could easily become a dangerous habit. Although I will try my best to avoid that.

The story behind my first purchased song is somewhat of an internet success story. Flash back 6 years ago, when my wife and I are sitting in a London pub (probably Old Speckled Hen on tap) and a fantastic song is being played. I remember only a partial lyric: “shake baby shake”, which at the time I remember hoping meant “baby” in a metaphorical sense. But based on the mood of the song (positive and poppy), I’m sure that I was right.

So, I forget about the song for a long while, never knowing who it was. Now, going from that one line I remembered 6 years ago, to having the song on my iPod in about 2 minutes is what’s worth celebrating here. Search Google for the partial lyric to find out the song was “500 (Shake Baby Shake)” by the band Lush. A second query for “Lush” on iTMS pulled up the song, one click and it’s downloading directly to my iTunes library. I’m sure it’s why the system is so successful — that the downloading and automatic integration with your existing music libarary is so seamless.

Those that have been using the iTMS all along already know how convenient it is. I’m certainly late to the game. For full albums, I’ll most likely stick to buying the actual CD — but for instances like the Lush song, when I just really want to hear a particular song without investing too much, it couldn’t be any easier.

The Silence is Deafening

It’s just occurred to me that since the redesign of Fast Company (April) and (July), we’ve received zero complaints from Netscape 4.x users (or any other non-standards-compliant browser user). This could mean several things:

  • They like reading the un-styled version of the sites.
  • After being startled and disgusted by the undesign of it all, they can’t be bothered to find a feedback link.
  • There are very few users of Netscape 4.x that come to Inc. and Fast Company, and of those, none are the type to send feedback.
  • They hate it, yet don’t care to tell us.

Now, I’d like to think it’s the top reason :). Regardless of why, I’m extremely happy that we’ve received not even one email scourning the move to standards-based design. It’s brings a sense of relief and reinforces the reasons to build web sites this way — showing that there are real world benefits that are being proved everyday.

The way I like to view it is that using web standards is not a religion whereby there is one golden set of “rules” to live and die by. They are guidelines to building better, more accessible sites — and the sooner that companies start understanding that by using even some of these methods, business can be improved and information can be more widely be distributed, the better.

I am also excited that I used the word “whereby” in a sentence.

Image-less Markup Version: Part II

Thanks to all that sent in results and screenshots of the test below. The news was not good though, as it broke in just about every other browser (including IE6/Win) that I didn’t have a chance to test last night. Using position: absolute; was the major culprit here, and in IE6/Win placed the text miles away from the icon. Oh well, not great.

It’s an idea I’d like to play around with some more, just for fun. If you’re replacing the text with a transparent image of some kind — then it appears that Ben’s original idea works fine. Of the screenshots I received, the icon seems to show up properly. This could possibly be used like a variant of the background-replacing-text trick that Douglas Bowman has explained. But getting an icon and text to work requires more experimentation. Onward.

Magic Icons: Image-less Markup Version

I posted last week about Magic Icons that can change color with a simple CSS update using transparent images. That method required the image to be inline within the markup when attached to a heading (or similar) tag. Ben de Groot wrote in with a clever method using background-image and effectively setting the height and width to the size of the icon. Excellent, because not only are the colors of the icons changeable at a moments notice with CSS — but the images themselves would be swappable and out of the markup completely:

h3 {
background: #696 url(icon.gif) no-repeat;
font-size: 0;
height: 13px;
width: 13px;
margin: 0;
padding: 0;

By Ben setting the font-size to 0, and setting the height and width to the exact dimensions of the icon used, he insures the backgound color will only show through the transparency of the image. Bravo.

But now we need to get the text within the h3 to show up next to it again. So, I added a second step and wrapped the text in a span tag (controversial yes, but this is just for demonstration) so that we could set a proper font-size on it. I also add the following CSS rule:

h3 span {
font-size: 11px;
font-family: verdana;
position: absolute;
padding-left: 18px;
color: #696;

The font-size could whatever you’d like, of course, and position: absolute; was what I found to work as far as pulling the text out of the height and width restrictions of previous h3 rules.

Here’s an example (using inline styles):

This is a Heading

I’ve only tested in Safari, Camino and IE/Mac so far and I’d be interested in hearing how others fare. Interestingly, Safari is the reason for the margin: 0; padding: 0; on the h3. It wanted to center the entire heading without this. Odd, but padding and margins could be adjusted to something other than 0. Thanks to Ben for the clever idea!

Rushmore to the Rescue

I’ve learned an annoying flaw with the NetFlix system — the hard way.

I’ve been looking forward to watching Gangs of New York for a little over a week. It’s 2 discs. See where this is headed? Yup, I received two copies of “Disc 2″. Great. Both sleeves were marked correctly, but had duplicate discs in each.

I imagine this happens a lot, because reporting the problem was extremely simple. It’s just that the solution is to send them both back, put the movie in my cue again (at the top) and wait. If this had happened at the local video store, I could’ve high-tailed it back there and exchanged.

I guess this is the price you pay for the convienence of NetFlix — a service which is amazingly great, otherwise. I highly recommend it, regardless of the occassional hiccup.

Luckily though, we had Rushmore as backup. One of my favorite films — and the Criterion Collection has some great bonus stuff on it like extra film shorts from the Max Fischer Players, the usual making-of documentary and some pretty funny audition footage. The night was saved.

Smart Bookmarks

I’m sure someone has already been thinking about this. I’m too lazy to use an RSS reader on a regular basis. I love the idea of RSS and feeds — but I want it to be easier.

I need the sidebar from NetNewsWire, built-in to Camino or Safari or Mozilla. Having a browser that has support for RSS built right in would be incredibly convienent. I imagine “Smart Bookmarks” for weblogs and news sites that display a number next to the bookmark’s title signifying an unread post or story.

Maybe I’m too lazy, but XML feed aggregator support in the browser would be a feature I would certainly pay money for.

Update: Well it seems I was right — someone (many) have already though of this :). Thanks to all that have sent in pointers to various Mozilla extensions and sidebar apps that already exist. There’s also a few things in the works that sound interesting as well. Here’s a list of what’s been sent in. Many are courtesy of John Beimler:

This is why I love the web.

Hello It’s Todd

I like Todd Rundgren — especially his 70s masterpiece, Something/Anything?. Fantastic pop gems that always seem to get overlooked. What’s interesting is that he is also a diehard techie, as discussed in an article in today’s Boston Globe. He’s right on in saying:

“It’s time for the labels to go, in the sense the way they’ve done business is based on a commodified model, and they’ve no experience in a service model — which is what the Internet is. Only someone like J.Lo needs the labels, because she can’t go out and build an audience from scratch with the quality of her singing. The future for real musicians is, was, and always will be performing.”

He’s right on the money in that only people like J.Lo (will eventually) need record labels. As soon as this whole digital copyright issue is improved, I expect we’ll see a lot more artists — well known artists taking their distribution to the web and saying adios to the labels. Maybe. What do I know…

Magic Icons for Lazy People (like me)

A neat little trick for those that want to change a site’s colors — but also create only one set of images that also reflects those changes. It’s been done on numerous sites, and I’ve employed the method on Fast Company with the redesign done back in April.

The idea is pretty darn simple, and works best with two-color images. Create a two-color .gif image and choose one of the colors to be transparent. Next, we’ll “fill in” the missing color with CSS using background. Change the CSS rule and the images will change with it. Very simple — but effective, and a heck of a lot simpler than creating multiple sets of icons.

Here’s an example (using inline styles to demonstrate). Below is a small little icon (13px x 13px) that is white and transparent. I’ll fill in the transparency with a few different colors using the same icon image, repeated:


On Fast Company I place icons within h3 headings and style them like this:

h3 img {
background: #369;
vertical-align: middle;

It’s important to note that because I’m using white as the visable color, the icons will be invisible on the un-styled version of the page. This could an unintended benefit. Keeping decorative images entirely in the CSS file using background-image is arguably a more ideal solution — but the chameleon effect you can create with one set of transparent images is a nice little trick.

All Hail Red Stripe

Top six reasons why I like Red Stripe beer:

  • It’s from Jamaica. How exotic!
  • The bottle is short and stout with a tiny mouth.
  • It tastes slightly better than Budweiser.
  • One of the few beers to still screen print its label.
  • It’s summertime.
  • Relatively cheap.


Octodog II: Octopus in Seaweed

In response to my earlier post on the Octodog, reader Ian Roberts wrote in with a killer recipe — one he and his wife call “Octopus in Seaweed”:

“My wife adds a drop of green food coloring to the pot of Ramen noodles, then arranges the octopus hot dog in the middle. The kids love it…”

Now, I’m not a kid, but that sounds brilliant. Yet another reason to buy an Octodog to make this all easier. Ian also added that a simple Google search brings up a score of similar recipes. Bon Appetit.