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The Nature of Progress

A redesigned Netscape DevEdge has been launched.  Look, ma, no tables.  Well, hardly any, and none in the basic design.  I was a primary project manager for this one, and the design is a from-scratch effort.  It’s nothing visually groundbreaking, and of course using positioning for a major site has been done, but we’ve gone a step further into using positioning to make the design come together.  The site didn’t quite validate at launch thanks to some deeply stupid oversights on my part, but hopefully they’ll have been fixed by the time you read this entry.

As for the design approach we took… that’s a subject for another day, and also the subject of an article I wrote.  I predict that we’ll draw fire for using HTML 4.01 Transitional, for not validating when we launched, for our font sizing approach, and for our dropdown menus.  On the other hand, we’ll probably draw praise for making the markup accessible (once one of my stupid mistakes is fixed), for using CSS in a sophisticated manner, for pushing the envelope in reasonable ways, and for our dropdown menus.  For myself, I’m very much satisfied with and proud of the result, and very grateful for all the effort and help I got from the other members of the team.

On a less important but possibly more amusing front, yesterday I hacked together a color-blending tool after Matt Haughey asked on Webdesign-L how to calculate the midpoint between two colors, and Steve Champeon explained how to do it in some detail.  The JavaScript is no doubt inefficient and clumsy, the tool may not work in your browser, and for all I know it will lock up your computer.  It was just a quick hack.  Well, not quick, actually; I’m not very skilled at JavaScript.  Enjoy it, or don’t, as you like.  Just don’t expect me to fix or add anything unless you mail me the code needed to do whatever you want the tool to do.

Lucas Gonze over the O’Reilly Network mentioned a fascinating paper on “cascade attacks” and how they can be used to take down a distributed network.  So the Internet can suffer cascade failure, eh?  I wonder how much effort would be required to take down the Internet’s starboard power coupling.  Or, worse yet, trigger a coolant leak.

It’s been revealed that the blurry, grainy image of the Space Shuttle Columbia wasn’t taken using any advanced telescopes or military systems after all, but three engineers who used some off-the-shelf parts to put together a personal experiment.  CNN says: ‘Hi-tech’ shuttle pic really low-tech.  Let’s think about that for a second.  Three guys took an eleven-year-old Macintosh, hooked it up to a telescope that probably cost no more than a couple hundred dollars, and took a picture of an object almost 40 miles away moving 18 times the speed of sound.  That’s low-tech?  The fact that you can even recognize the object they imaged is astounding.  Hell, the fact that they imaged anything at all is astounding.  No criticism of the three men intended; I’m sure they’re brilliant guys who know what they’re doing.  But think about it!

I refer to moments like this as “technological vertigo.”  They’re those points where you suddenly come to a dead halt while you realize the incredible complexity of the world, and just how much we take for granted.  For that one moment, you stop taking it for granted.  Here’s an example: a couple of years ago, I was driving south through suburban Columbus.  In the back yard of a house just off the interstate, I spotted an old satellite dish lying on its side, obviously no longer in use.  Then it hit me: whoever lived there once had the ability to receive information from orbit, and decided to throw it away.  Their garbage was so much more advanced than anything their parents had ever even envisioned that the gap was barely comprehensible.  Any general in the Second World War would have given anything, including men’s lives, to have the kind of communication capability that now lay discarded in somebody’s back yard.

The even more remarkable thing about this trashed satellite dish is that there was nothing remarkable about it.  So somebody threw out an old satellite dish—so what?  They can always get another one, and one that’s a lot smaller, better, and more capable than the piece of junk they tossed, right?

And that is perhaps the most incredible part of it all.

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