Archive for March, 2004

Now We’re Floating

Today I’ve made some significant changes to the CSS that powers this site. Significant enough to post about them, primarily to warn that if things look funky on your end, kindly give a refresh and things should pop back into place.
Previously, I was using absolute positioning to control the site’s two columns. Now, I’m using the single float method — floating the content left, while the sidebar takes up the remaining space. This keeps the order of the markup the same way I initially intended — content first, then sidebar.
I’m still using Faux Columns to create the sidebar’s background and fancy siderails. Previously, to make IE6 play nice (its background centering differed by one or two pixels from every other browser… go figure), I was assigning the same tiled background image to both the body and containing wrap elements. IE6 users may have noticed a “shift” while the page loaded. No more. The tiling is now only happening once on the <div id="wrap">.
Using the float method for laying out columns gives me another benefit. I can clear both columns with a full-width footer at the bottom of each page — regardless of the length of either column. Previously, on pages where the content column was shorter than the sidebar, the footer would be appear higher than the bottom of the sidebar’s content. Because we can clear floats, that’s no longer a problem.
Either method has their own pros and cons. Case in point: I ran across some absolutely maddening bugs in IE6 to get this simple, two-column float layout to look proper. Historically, I’ve found absolute positioning to be far easier to grasp and troubleshoot — but the footer issue always bothered me.
So now, we float. And continue to evolve…

Save As Replace Trick

While repeatedly saving a file to overwrite an already existing one, I found a cool little timesaver that’s built into OS X’s Finder. I’m sure this is old hat for most users out there, but for those like myself that didn’t know about it — it’s worth mentioning.
Save As dialog boxWhen saving a file, if you’d like to replace an existing file using the same fileneme, just click the file you’d like to replace from the dialog’s column view (they will be grayed out) — and the filename will auto-populate the “Save As:” field. No need to retype the name. It will even append the file extension, based on what file you click.
A small timesaver, but cool nonetheless. And yet another example of the subtle features that Apple builds into the OS. Too subtle though? It sure took me awhile to discover it — and that was by chance. Then again, I’m not putting much effort into seeking out tips and tricks on a regular basis.

Particle Board Desk

A small victory was won this week. I finally converted our large walk-in closet to an office (before, after). Shelves were torn down, spackle was applied, red paint was purchased, new carpeting installed. It’s finally comfortable to work at home.
my desktopWhat I’m most happy with though, is the built-in desk I devised. Run a few 2x4s around half of the room, put two (for added strength), half-inch sheets of particle board on top — and you have yourself a nice solid desk. For about $20.
The key here is polyurethane — and lots of it. Four coats did the trick, as particle board acts like a sponge, soaking up anything and everything. But it’s amazing how beautful it can look with a little finish on it. Shiny and durable — but unique.
Drilling a big hole in the corner was necessary to hide all the cords — and let me just say, it had to be a pretty damn big hole to accomodate the huge Apple Display Connector. In fact I had to essentially drill two holes side by side in order for it to fit.
Now I can get some real work done. And just as I warned that this wouldn’t turn into a home improvement tips web site. I’ll leave comments on, if anyone has any other creative desktop ideas.

Standards Around the House

I bought a window shade yesterday. I measured the window. I went to the store (yes that store). I pulled a 23″ shade off the shelf and brought it home. It fits perfectly.

Last year, we bought a new dishwasher. We pulled the old one out and ordered a new one. When the new model arrived, it fit — perfectly.

NOTE: I promise this site will not turn into HomeImprovementBits.

I’m merely making a point here. That home improvement is made easier by standards. Someone like myself can walk into a store, buy a garbage disposal hose, and more than likely it’ll fit just right. I can also purchase a new doorknob and nine times out of ten it’ll fit the door without any major adjustments.

Predetermined, standard measurements make life easy for people who build and maintain houses. When a new owner needs to update or maintain their home, standards make it easier to fix or improve it.

This wasn’t always the case, of course. Not all houses built prior to the twentieth century utilized standards. This didn’t mean that houses built without standards were bad houses — it just meant that updating, fixing or maintaining these houses required extra work.

Oftentimes, people buy old houses and renovate them. Once the hard work in renovating a house is complete, the owner can take advantage of standard sizes and measurements to make maintaining the house easier.

There is a list a mile long of improvements that my wife and I would like to make to our old house. But making those improvements takes time — and money. We’re just trying to check off one item at a time knowing that, once the work is done, things will get easier.

Battery Powered World

Everything is battery powered. My laptop, my iPod, my digtal camera, my mobile phone, my regular phone… everything. Regardless of the fact that I rely on all of these devices on a daily basis, I just can’t seem to keep them all powered up.
I stopped using a Palm Pilot long ago for this very reason. It was never charged up, and as easy as it is, I simply couldn’t be bothered keeping it in its cradle. It’s collecting dust now. Ditto the mobile phone, although I’m making a point of plugging it in these days. Perhaps the monthly fee has something to do with it.
I have an older model iPod, so I need to remember to plug it into the Firewire cable dangling permanently from my computer. Newer models come with a dock that makes recharging easier. I have an older model.
The problem: each device has it’s own power adapter. Each one of them different. I don’t have enough outlets in one room to keep the suckers juiced to max power — and if I did, the resulting octopus of cables would be insanity.
So, I’ve decided I need a universal adapter that will charge everything and anything. Or better yet, I need wireless recharging — or batteries that last years.
Wireless internet technolgy is amazing and everyone is (rightfully) fired up about it — but it’s amazing how tied down we are to power that is never fully wireless.
While at the airport recently, I found myself constantly searching for a comfortable seat near a power outlet. They were always taken. I resorted to sitting on the floor, usually propped up against a vending machine, using every last second to give my PowerBook just a little bit more life.
While at SXSW Interactive, power outlets in panel sessions were scarce. At one point while chatting with a friend, I had to quickly write “battery dying. bye.”. Thankfully, the friend unplugged his adapter and silently handed it over so that I might siphon off some precious voltage. Ahh. Rejuvenation.
Will we ever be truly wireless?

Hi-Fi Design With CSS Slides

I had promised a few at SXSW that I would post my slides from the panel. As part of “Hi-Fi Design With CSS”, I talked specifically about the accessible image-tab rollovers that I designed for Fast Company last year.
I thought this would be a nice example of the flexibility that CSS can bring — and that image-based rollovers can be achieved with far less code and zero JavaScript, using CSS and a simple unordered list.
The drawbacks of image replacement were also mentioned — that we’re still searching for the perfect way to handle replacing text with images. But while keeping those drawbacks in mind, this method (as an alternative to table/image/JavaScript options) can work in certain situations.
The slides aren’t terribly exciting without me blabbering on behind them. But I thought it’d be good to post for those who attended the panel, wanting to take a closer look.
Be sure to also check out my fellow panelists’ notes and slides that are posted as well (Bowman, Shea).

More SXSW Notes, Photos

Austin is nice. Didn’t get to see as much as I’d hoped of the city, and didn’t get any BBQ while I was down there either (does The Salt Lick at the airport count?). What’s nicer is meeting everyone in person — seeing people get excited about the web. It’s inspiring.
Check out Matt Mullenweg’s photos of the event. He snapped some great ones. Also, Dave Shea has been keeping an ongoing update of all things SXSW.
Congress St.For whatever reason, I didn’t end up taking that many photos during the weekend, but put together a slideshow of a few that came out decent. My favorite is undoubtedly the mirror shot inside a pizza stand somewhere on 6th Street, with (L-R) Josh Williams, D. Keith Robinson, Ethan Marcotte and myself (with camera). The pizza was amazing — although I believe this to be due to the timing of it all. Being extremely hungry makes so-so pizza taste incredible.
If you know of any other photos posted from the conference, feel free to leave in the comments.

Austin to Boston (by way of Bangor, Maine)

I’ve just spent 10 and a half hours on a plane. One would think I returned from Europe, or South America, or Hawaii or some other far-off exotic land. Nope. Just Texas.
My flight left Austin (only a minor delay) rerouted to Chicago because of the insane snowstorm in the northeast. I figured I’d be spending the night in the windy city — but instead, I had to stay on the same plane, and take off for Boston. We hovered over snowy Boston for about an hour and a half with no word from the captain. And then had to land in Bangor, Maine. Sit on the runway for 2 hours, refuel, then fly back to Boston. What a nightmare. I took a $50 cab ride back to Salem at 2:00am.
What I’m most annoyed at (besides surviving the entire ordeal on a single bag of pretzels) is the lack of information we were given. A simple, Hey, this your captain, we’re circling logan, running out of fuel. We may need to fly up to the far reaches of Maine soon, would’ve been nice.
But I’m not going to let the trip back put a damper on a great weekend.

SXSW Notes

One of the most surreal parts of the trip to SXSW in Austin was that “bookmarks come alive”. Putting a face to so many people I’ve admired and known only online prior to this trip has been pretty amazing. I think it was Dave Shea that said “everyone is pretty much as you imagined”. Fully agreed. And now I need to do a severe update to my XFN-friendly blogroll. I was going to attempt to list everyone I’ve met over the course of the weekend, but it’s impossible to remember everyone.
It feels nice to have my first speaking engagement under my belt — learning much from my fellow panelists. It’s been fun, and hopefully the first of many. Sharing a panel with Doug (who prepared two amazing presentations — be sure to see him speak next time), Dave (who will need to book an extra seat on the way home for all his awards — congrats!) and Christopher (very tall, very nice, very smart) was absolutely the highlight of the trip.
The weather in Austin was somewhat grey and rainy, until Monday when the sun finally came out. But even in the rain, it was far warmer in Texas than Massachusetts.
So tomorrow, it’s back to Boston. More comments to come… Oh, and I missed the ceremony, but SimpleBits won a Bloggie for “Best-Designed Weblog”. Wow, thanks to all who voted!

Poor Parking Interface

Due to the fact that I’ve visited The Home Depot approximately 2,483 times this winter — I’ve noticed something. The parking interface for the store is unacceptable. I’m not talking about a web site here.

Figure 1
Figure 1

If you’d kindly take a look at Figure 1, this will all make sense.

Upon arriving at America’s home improvement super-store, I have two choices. I either park near the extreme left of the building, where I then have a pleasantly short walk to the store’s entrance. Or, I could park near the extreme right of the building, where following my purchase, I’ll have a short walk to my car upon exiting. It’s important to note that the store is gigantic

Ninety percent of the time, I choose to park as close as possible to the entrance. I think to myself, fantastic. Now I have a really quick walk to the front door. However, when I’m ready to leave the store — I only have one option, to leave through the exit located at the opposite side of the store, miles from where my car is parked. Barricades prevent me from going back to where the entrance is. I then have a brutally long walk, back to the car. I cannot win.

NOTE: The reason this is such a big deal is that it’s cold outside. Very cold. So this is merely a seasonal annoyance.

I believe the parking design at The Home Depot to be a wonderful example of bad user interface. Why must they force customers through entrances and exits that are so far apart, leaving no option of parking near both of them? Perhaps there is a good reason. But I just don’t see it.

Because I am insane, I of course attempt to relate this to a web site. It could be the equivalent of giving your users two navigation options, but with many, many clicks in between either of them. Or I may be lazy.