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Archive: August 2003

Spiralling Apples and Mice

Much to my delight, Containing Floats hit Blogdex, just above a story about Al Franken (when I looked, anyway).  It also tied for 29th with the Ars Technica Macintosh browser smackdown, which I was further delighted to see used the complexspiral demo as one of its evaluation criteria.  Thus we come spiralling back to where we started.

Congratulations to Jeffrey Zeldman and Doug Bowman on their new project with Apple!  Doug explains that they’ll be giving Apple strategic guidance toward better using Web standards, which is wonderful thing for me to hear at this stage—it’s another indication that there is indeed a demand for the kinds of services I’m offering through Complex Spiral.  I’ve very little doubt that the demand exists, but reinforcing evidence is never a bad thing.

Speaking of Apple, I like OS X a whole lot better now, but not because I’ve gotten used to it.  Instead, I’ve gotten it used to me, with help from Robb Timlin.  He wrote the freeware tool Classic Window Management, the installation of which instantly eliminated about 85% of my frustration with OS X.  Now the Finder acts the way I think it should: when I click on the desktop, all the Finder windows come to the front instead of staying hidden behind whatever application I was just using.  In other words, now OS X acts like a Mac, not a Windows machine.  That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

I also recently upgraded my computing experience by finally ditching the Apple hockey-puck mouse in favor of a Logitech MX700 cordless optical mouse.  Between the freedom to mouse anywhere on my desk and the application-specific programmable buttons, I’m a happy guy.  I also picked up an MX500—same mouse, except with a cord.  I was going to use the MX700 on the TiBook so that I could use a mouse on flights and not have to fight with a mouse cord.  It was the perfect plan until I realized the plan involved using a radio transmitter on a commercial airliner.

Oops.

Multiple Launches

It’s up, running, and official: Complex Spiral Consulting finally has a Web site.  So far I have up recent news and upcoming events, information about the services I’m offering, ways to contact me, and a publications area that contains a new article: Containing Floats.  If you’re having trouble getting elements to stretch around floats, this article is for you.  Anticipate more such articles in the future, as well as the addition of information on just what I’ve been doing in the past month, and for whom.

Also today, Macromedia announced the impending release of Studio MX 2004, including a major new version of Dreamweaver MX.  I’m happy to say that the CSS support in this new Dreamweaver is pretty darned good, and it comes with a number of CSS-driven templates already installed.  I provided the layout skeletons to Macromedia, and then helped make sure the markup and layout were acceptable once a design firm made the layouts look pretty.  And hey, who are those mugs being quoted in the Dreamweaver MX press release?

There’s also a new layout for the Macromedia Web site, and it uses some relatively sophisticated CSS to create the layout.  I did some CSS optimization and upgrade work for the site, running in parallel with the Dreamweaver MX input I was providing.

Ketchup

The weeklong break is over.  Now I start a weekend break.  Meanwhile, a few things that flitted across my radar while I was away:

  • Please, for the love of all that’s holy, patch your Windows boxes!  Like Zeldman and Kurtz, I too have had an e-mail address filled into forged e-mail headers, and been hit with bounces galore.  Hopefully this will all soon become a lesser problem with a change in server, but still—patch those leaky systems!  Now!
  • Some interesting quotes from and commentary on Weaving the Web.
  • Thanks to a post by Mark Pilgrim, “‘Considered Harmful’ Essays Considered Harmful” is getting some traffic.  This amuses me.
  • Hell yeah.  I’m behind George 100% on pretty much every point he makes, and I’ll just add that we’re a major airline hub so finding reasonably priced flights to just about anywhere is a snap.  ‘Nuff said.

That’s it for the moment, but I hope to have a new site and some new content to share with you on Monday.

Grand Designs

Everyone complains about Jakob Neilsen’s site design, but nobody ever does anything about it—until now.  Bob Sawyer has announced a “redesign useit.com” contest that’s being held with the blessing of Dr. Neilsen himself.  Dare we call it Designer’s Eye For the Usable Guy?  The contest closes at the end of October, so you have some time to really do a great job.

The trends described in the Time article “Believe It, Or Not” bother me quite a bit.  The last paragraph in particular seems chilling to me.  I’ve no objection to religion, as long as it isn’t being shoved in my face, and frankly I think more people could use a strong moral/ethical core.  It’s the decline in intellectualism and critical thinking, and the view that one can’t be moral without a belief in God, that trouble me deeply.  I can say with absolute certainty the latter is patently false, unless one defines morality to be solely derived from religious teachings, in which case either the term needs to be expanded or we need to ask a different question.  For example: “Is it necessary to believe in God to be an ethical person?  A good person?”

As I looked at this and the last several entries, I see that most of my recent posting has been personal in nature.  The CSS has fallen more or less by the wayside, which also bothers me.  I’m going to take a week off and think about the balance or technical content versus personal commentary, and how I want this site to evolve as I move forward with the consulting business.

Between Darkness and Light

Our power came back on about 8:00am EDT, sixteen or so hours after it failed.  Not everyone is back online.  Portions of Detroit may be out until Sunday, and I’ve gotten word that parts of New York City are still offline even as I write this.  As an example, Jeff and Carrie Zeldman are still blacked out, so try to go easy on the e-mail for a while.

There was a flutter in the power before it went out yesterday that was kind of fascinating.  I heard a low surging sound, repeated five or six times, coming through the speakers on my computer; it sounded very much like an old cassette tape warble, except I could see the power was fading in and out on the speaker set.  My biggest concern at that moment was that my speakers were getting ready to short out.  As it turned out, the entire power system shorted out instead.  I was hearing the death rattle of a multi-state power grid, and didn’t realize it until later.

As for Kat and me, things went fairly well.  I had the new TiBook to work on, and although I was cut off from a lot of the files I needed I still got some work done.  We cook with gas, so we were able to make dinner by flashlight and eat by candlelight, which is never a bad thing.  Since close to the entire city was blacked out until this morning, the clear weather last night made it a perfect chance to stargaze and get a good look at Mars.  I spotted the Milky Way faintly through the summer haze, and the across-the-street neighbors had a fairly powerful telescope, so we checked out Mars and the Moon, then sat in the moonlight chatting.  All in all, the evening could have been worse spent.

Mesmerized

Flurry is the new Satori.

Pray Tell

I just found out that Joshua Davis will be in town tonight, and I’m not going to be able to make it.  So the rest of you local types need to get down there and attend!  Even if you don’t use Flash, as in fact I don’t, Josh is a great speaker and you’ll have a lot of fun, so hurry up and RSVP.  The entrance fee may be a bit of a deterrent, but trust me, if you have the cash to spare it will be well invested… if for no other reason than getting a chance to look at Josh’s extensive tattoos.

I don’t know how your day has been, but I learned something about myself this morning.  There’s an online CSS-centric forum that I frequently read—actually, there are several that I read, popping up every now and again to post, but there’s this one I have in mind.  My last few posts there have gone basically unacknowledged, despite the fact that my posts were (I think) detailed and helpful.  Of course, I didn’t post them to generate worship, but these didn’t even get so much as a “thank you” or “that worked.”  I posted, and then it was crickets.  Other threads were continuing, so I knew the community was still in some sense active.

So as I made my morning rounds of various weblogs, forums, mailing lists, newsgroups, and so forth, I thought to myself, “You know what?  I’m not going there any more.  I don’t have time to help out people who don’t even acknowledge that I tried to help out.”  Childish and petty, I suppose, but that’s what I thought.  Then, several minutes later, I found myself headed to the very place I’d resolved to abandon, because I wondered if there would be any interesting posts, anyone looking for help that I could provide.  I realized that providing assistance was more important than any wounded feelings I might have.

So what I learned is that I can be petty, but that the pettiness gets trumped by other, stronger motivations.  I think that’s a good balance to have in my life.  It may be the key to thickening one’s skin, which is another necessary trait, particularly online.

Windows Pains

Even in the bright, shiny, translucent world of Mac OS X, Windows haunts me like a vengeful spectre.

Upon deciding to strike out on my own, I knew I’d have to buy a laptop.  The older-model TiBook and two-months-old Dell Latitude both belonged to AOL Time Warner, and they would want them back.  When I went somewhere to speak, or to train, I would need a portable computing node.  I would need the ability to carry everything needed to deliver my presentation: all the slides, the working files, the examples.  Too often have I seen speakers show up assuming they could run their presentation via the net and be told, “Sorry, the connection is down.”  Or arrive with a CD-ROM they burned containing everything, only to have the presentation machine absolutely refuse to read the disc.

So I bought a new 1GHz TiBook, with the gracious assistance of a local Apple employee.  It’s shiny on the outside, and shiny inside too.  After a quick hard drive repartition and reinstallation of both OS X and the Classic OS, I spent a couple of hours adjusting the OS look to at least vaguely resemble my old Mac’s desktop, customizing the Dock and System Preferences to put the important things within quick reach, and learning how the new OS works as compared to the Classic OS.

Then I installed Virtual PC 6.  And the pain began.

Please realize I have very little against VPC6.  It does a stunning job of recreating a Windows operating system right there in a Mac OS window.  If I launched a Classic application, I could run three completely separate operating systems on the same machine.  Slowly, of course.

But anyway, I installed my Windows 2000 Professional edition of VPC6, and there it was.  Windows.  Mocking me.  Can’t live without me, eh? it sneered.  In a sense, no, I can’t: I need to be able to test designs and templates and CSS techniques in Windows browsers as well as Macintosh browsers.  And I need to be able to test in different versions of Internet Explorer.  To do that, you either need multiple Wintel boxes, or one Wintel box running Virtual PC for Windows—think about that for a minute—or one Macintosh running Virtual PC for Macintosh.  In the latter case, I’d also get OS X, which I haven’t been running but need to, since Safari is a serious browser that deserves to be taken seriously.

Economically speaking, there was no contest: one laptop that gave me everything I needed.  Aesthetically speaking, there wasn’t much of a choice either.  TiBooks are just so darned… cool.

I fought with virtual Windows for almost 12 hours yesterday, trying to make it behave with some semblance of normalcy.  Discovering that I’d done something sensible yet still horribly wrong, and having to start over, more than once.  At least with Virtual PC, a badly botched installation is no big deal: you just throw away the drive image and empty the trash can.  It’s like reformatting the hard drive on a Windows machine, except it takes less time.  You can also, once you get a drive image set up as a baseline, copy it to new images and make changes to the copies.  So I can have images with IE5.0, IE5.5, and IE6.  I can also install Opera, Mozilla, Netscape, Firebird, and all the other Windows browsers.  (I’ll probably install them into the IE6 image.)

But getting to that point, making my life easy, was amazingly hard and deeply frustrating.  And I’ve been using Windows 2000 Professional on a regular basis for the last two years.

At least VPC6 has a “go to full screen mode” that will let me present my presentation slideshows using Opera, as I’ve been doing for more than a year now.  I was very glad to see that feature.  Now, if only the software had a “shrink drive image to eliminate unused drive space,” I’d be a really happy camper.

Oh, and the next time someone tells you how bloated Mozilla or some other browser has become, kindly point out to them that the install package for Internet Explorer for Windows 5.5, Service Pack 2, is 84.1 megabytes; IE6.0 is 76.7 megabytes.  Even at T1 speeds, those take a while to download—almost as long as it takes light from the sun to reach Earth, in fact.  The only reason nobody ever complained is that nobody had to download Explorer.  Funny, that.  Imagine if Microsoft had been required to offer Explorer for download instead of bolting it into the OS.  I wonder how many copies would be in use today?

August 2003
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