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Archive: February 2004

Confess! Confess!

Okay, so I can’t count.  I claimed yesterday that there were three new XFN tools, and then listed four.  Plus I missed one.  So… among our many XFN tools are rubhub; Rubhub It; Autoxfn; the MT template; Daniel Glazman‘s Nvu, which supports the editing of XFN values on links as part of the UI; and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.

Based on the feedback to my question yesterday, it seems the #1 reason to link to your Amazon wish list is to help out family members who can’t seem to remember what you like whenever a birthday rolls around.  The other reason given was to provide a window into your interests, which is felt to help foster a sense of familiarity in what can sometimes seem an impersonal medium.  Fair enough.  I did something along those lines when I added the “Reading” feature (with archive) to my personal page.  Perhaps the only real difference is that I’m giving a current and backward glace at my interests, whereas the wish list link provides a forward look.

A couple of people also wrote to say that they actually have had random passers-by send them something off of the wish list, sometimes in thanks for a favor they’d done online, and that it was pretty neat.  I’m not sure I’d feel the same way, but I thought I’d pass along their feelings on the matter.

Speaking of passing things along, I promised that I’d summarize the suggestions I received regarding books presenting reasonable arguments for the conservative point of view.  Here’s the summary.

  • Letters to a Young Conservative by Dinesh D’Souza
  • Radical Son by David Horowitz
  • The Content of Our Character by Shelby Steele
  • The Death of Right and Wrong by Tammy Bruce
  • First Principles: A Primer of Ideas for the College-Bound Student by Hugh Hewitt
  • The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man by J. Budziszewski
  • A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat by Zell Miller

I also received e-mail from liberals who had been looking at the same issue, and wanted to mention some books they thought were good.  They are:

  • Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell (for a look at both sides)
  • The 2% Solution by Matthew Miller
  • The Politics of Rich and Poor and other books by Kevin Philips

Please note that I have not read any of the books I just listed, and so am neither recommending nor condemning any of them.  Similarly, I’m passing along an unchecked recommendation for The Weekly Standard, not to be confused with The Weekly Standards.

Those of you more interested in the latter of those two links will probably also be interested in the Web Standards Awards, with three awards to be given every month.  You can submit any site for consideration, whether it be your work or someone else’s, but be sure to check the competition criteria first.  The first three winners are already listed on the site.  Check them out—there’s some great work there—and then go check out Wasabicube.  It’s elegant, lovely, and I love the current-page effect in the sidebar.  Now I want to redesign meyerweb again, except if I did it would be a ripoff of Peter’s design.  So I’d probably better refrain.

Feeling Friendly

The Web is getting more and more friendly.  In the past two weeks, there have been three XFN tools that were announced: 

Can you feel the love?

While I was trawling personal sites. I kept seeing something I that I just don’t get.  There seems to be a small trend toward posting a link to one’s Amazon wish list.  What’s the goal?  Is it just a convenient way to say, “Here’s what I like”?  Do you assume, or hope, that a random passerby will decide to buy you something off of the list?  And wouldn’t it be kind of creepy if they did?  Somebody clue me in.  I mean, yeah, social networking is interesting and I’m all for the spread of information, but this seems like it might have crossed a line.  I only wish I could decide which one.

Au Naturel

The masthead has changed, as those of you dropping by will probably notice but those of you depending on RSS might not.  Like the first week’s masthead, this one is based on an old meyerweb theme (“Natural”).  At this point I plan to change the masthead every Sunday until I run out of new ones, at which point I’ll start randomly cycling through the old ones on a weekly or twice-weekly basis.  I’ll decide when the time comes.

I got several screenshots from helpful correspondents pointing out that the Redesign Watch and Platelets modules either do sit next to each other, or don’t, apparently depending on your native time zones.  Or maybe whether your house’s street address is even or odd, I don’t know.  So when you get right down to it, this seems to be a pseudo-random problem at best.  The layout works for me in every browser I tested, both Mac and Windows.  At this point, I guess it’s up to the whims of the Layout Gods.

I’ve spent the past week feeling more and more downcast about the state of America.  Why?  Janet Jackson, of course.  A one-second glimpse of half a woman’s chest has lead to an FCC probe (which seems an unfortunate choice of words), the possibility of several million dollars in fines for CBS, digital delay for the Grammys and Oscars, an enforced edit of ER by network executives, and a complete change to the Pro Bowl’s halftime show.  Apparently, Ms. Jackson’s right breast wields more power than we could possibly comprehend.  What would happen if she revealed them both at the same time?  The world trembles in fear.

No word on whether the FCC also plans to investigate CBS in relation to the rapes, murders, assaults, thefts, and other ‘immoral’ behavior depicted on CSI and CSI: Miami, or for its willingness to charge enormous sums of money to run advertisements featuring flatulent horses and crotch-savaging dogs.

It’s Always Something Else

According to a correspondent, the Redesign Watch and Platelets columns don’t actually sit side by side in Linux, but instead the Platelets drop down to start after the end of Redesign Watch.  This is, apparently, consistent across his various Linux browsers, including IE/Win (using crossover).  I’m not sure I can explain this.  The widths of the two divs that contain those modules are set to 9.5em and 5.5em, respectively, and they have neither margins nor padding (nor side borders).  Add them together, and you get 15em, the exact width value of div#extra.  I was going to claim a rounding error, except it’s happening in all his browsers, so now I’m thinking maybe a font thing.  I might suspect that the Platelets float is expanding its width to enclose the content, except explicit-width floats shouldn’t change width even if its content won’t fit.  IE/Win might do that, but I wouldn’t expect it from Firebird/Mozilla, which apparently also has the problem.

As with any experiment, the design here will probably slowly evolve as I run into such things.  As an example, I may adjust the widths of the two modules slightly, perhaps to 9.25em and 5.75em, just to see if it causes more problems or not.  I knew that, in setting widths so closely to each other and to their inherent content widths, I was taking a risk.  I don’t see the risk as any greater than using a table, though: if I did drop those modules into a two-cell table, then the content might push the table to be wider, thus having it stick out of the sidebar entirely.  That would be fairly awful.  So, as usual, it’s all about tradeoffs.  Here, I traded away “always stay next to each other” to get “always stay within the sidebar.”

As silly as this progression of creeping fixes might seem, it’s nothing compared to what Morbus Iff went through in an attempt to make Panther act the way he wanted it to act, and indeed the way Jaguar acted.  I suspect there are similar tales of woe from any major power user of any operating system, or any technology for that matter.  The more you know, the easier it is to get yourself trapped by unexpected changes.

For example, there have been some problems with the CSS validator of late; Mr. Zeldman has all the details.  As a result, there’s been some confusion here and there about the validity of the Box Model Hack.  Let me be clear up front: the hack is valid.  It always was, and always will be unless the CSS grammar undergoes some fairly radical changes.  This is an entirely different question than whether or not you should use it, or any other hack—that’s much less clear.  I’m not saying that the hack is Good or Bad.  I’m saying that it is completely valid according to the CSS grammar.

Historical note: the Box Model Hack was derived from test p.twentyb in section 7.1 of the CSS1 Test Suite.

Here’s the heart of the matter, the part that causes most people to assume that the hack isn’t valid:

voice-family: ""}"";

I know, it looks like a burst of line noise, or maybe a regexp (but I repeat myself).  It’s still quite valid.  It’s an attempt to supply a voice-family value of "}", while quoting that value.  This is analagous to:

font-family: "New Century Schoolbook";

Now suppose we had a font family named Joe "Average" Public, with the quotes being a part of the name.  We’d likely want to quote the name when making it part of a value.  Thus, we’d need to escape the quotation marks that are in the family name itself, like so:

font-family: "Joe "Average" Public";

In order to keep the quotes in the name from breaking the value up, they’ve been escaped using a back-slash.  That’s part of the CSS grammar.  In that light, then, reconsider the name "}".  If it’s to be quoted, then the quotes in the family name have to be escaped.  Thus, highlighted part of the following example is the escaped voice family name:

voice-family: ""}"";

Therefore: a valid hack.  Again, I’m making no claims that using the hack, or indeed any hack, is a good idea or a bad idea.  I just wanted to make clear how this particular hack works, and that it conforms fully to the CSS grammar.

This is at any rate better than the recent FrontPage ad that’s making the rounds of standards-aware folks.  I’ll just point to Dave Shea‘s post, which contains both a link to the ad in question and a useful hint to understanding why it’s so funny.

It’s Always Something

Anyone visiting the main page of meyerweb with IE6 in the last fifteen hours (it’s now about 1300 EST) may have noticed the sidebar was intruding into the main content column, and generally looking icky.  The problem has now been fixed.  It happened thanks to, of all things, a bug in IE/Win’s rendering engine.  (Gasp! No!  How can this be?)

Here’s what happened.  I added the “Redesign Watch” and “Platelets” lists to the sidebar, which is actually marked with an id of extra in the source because it’s what I regard as extra material; it comes after the page’s content in the source.  I wanted the two lists to be side by side, and here’s how I originally did it:

#extra #redesigns {float: left; width: 9.5em;}
#extra #platewatch {margin-left: 9.5em;}

Simple enough, or so you’d think.  Instead, this caused IE6 to push the sidebar about half an em to the left, which is what led to the overlap.  The (previous) link at the bottom of the Platelets column was also way out of joint.  If I removed the two lists, then everything went back to normal.  So clearly IE/Win was having trouble with the floats, or perhaps with floats inside a positioned element.  At any rate, it was the new material that was triggering a bug.

I seriously considered doing this:

#extra>#redesigns {float: left; width: 9.5em;}
#extra>#platewatch {margin-left: 9.5em;}

By using the child-selection combinator (>), which IE/Win doesn’t understand, I could have entirely hidden both rules from IE/Win.  That would have meant the Redesign Watch and Platelets lists would simply follow one another, as Destinations does Navigation, because none of the floating or margin-modification would have been allowed to confuse Trident (IE/Win’s layout engine).  This solution, while practical, didn’t really satify me, so I decided to try another approach.  Perhaps floating both elements will be sufficient, I thought.  So:

#extra #redesigns {float: left; width: 9.5em;}
#extra #platewatch {float: right; width: 5.5em;}

It worked: the two lists ended up side by side as I wished, and the sidebar was no longer pushing its way into the main content column.

This should not have been a real surprise to me, as I’d been aware that IE/Win has trouble with floats overlapping the margins of normal-flow elements that follow them in the document source.  I just forgot, which I seem to do pretty regularly—it’s the one IE/Win bug I can’t seem to permanently store in long-term memory.  I have some hopes that writing it up will help affix it in my brain, in addition to helping out anyone who’s had similar problems with their layouts.

Thanks to The Ferrett for pointing out the layout problem, so I could track down and fix it.  I hadn’t sworn at IE enough this week anyway.

I also rediscovered Explorer’s lack of support for the keyword inherit.  So the “previous” link in the Platelets column will use a monospace font in IE.  Other browsers will properly see it in the site’s default font (Arial, as of this writing).  I could write a rule or two to make the display more visually consistent, but I decided against it.  In this case, I’ll accept the visual evidence of limitations in IE over needlessly complicating my CSS.

Oh, by the way… did you notice that I added HTML+CSS redesign and license-plate information to the sidebar?  My personal page also has a new sidebar feature, one which will be of particular interest to anyone who wants to know what I’m reading in my few spare moments.  These are all the result of my working on creating “blogmark”-type data structures and pushing them live via XSLT (<shudder />).  I haven’t bothered to set up individual RSS feeds for them, but it wouldn’t be difficult.  I may extend this to a real “blogmark” area where I point at stuff that I find interesting, but don’t want to spend time writing about.  Most of the things I’d be likely to link I’d be getting from other people’s blogmarks anyway, and somehow the process of taking someone else’s blogmark and turning it into a local blogmark just seems silly.

Love, Feline Style

Ever since the day after Carolyn came home, our cat Gravity has mostly ignored Carolyn’s presence.  We’d been somewhat concerned that there would be hostility between them in the months to come, which wouldn’t really end well because Gravity still has claws.  Those concerns are now, for the most part, erased.  This afternoon, we discovered that not only has Gravity gotten used to Carolyn’s presence, but now regards her as a part of the family.

We know this because Gravity left Carolyn a gift—a freshly killed mouse, lying on the floor right next to the bassinet where Carolyn sleeps during the day.  A small mouse carcass lies on the floor next to the bassinet.  From what I understand, this is typically how mother-cats feed their children, and start training them to hunt for their own food.  I wished there were some way to communicate to Gravity that she could have her hunting spoils back, since Carolyn’s fairly well fed even without rodent supplements.  When you think about all this, it’s really rather touching, in a morbid way.  Kat and I both got a pretty good laugh out of it.

Of course, then I had to dispose of the carcass.

So Safari 1.2 is out, and of course was released just two days after I changed designs.  So the fix for the first-letter bug that occurred with “Thoughts From Eric” in the previous design is in place, but you can’t see it working here.  On the other hand, my recently constructed test page demonstrating Safari 1.1’s bugs with :hover and generated content show that 1.2 fixed the problem.  So, that’s cool.

What is even cooler is John Gruber’s in-depth exploration of the OmniWeb beta.  The “tabbed” interface, although not what I personally think of as tabbed, is still a welcome addition; I’ve found that I basically can’t live without tabs.  (I do a sweep of all my regularly read blogs by opening them all in tabs, via a bookmark group.)  What sounds really outstanding, though, is OmniWeb’s workspaces and site-specific preferences.  It’s probably enough for me to tolerate the obsolescence of the rendering engine, which is equivalent to Safari 1.0, but we’ll see.  You should see, too—go read John’s review of the browser, which is comprehensive and detailed.  Truly excellent.

Complete topic shift: back in September, Molly was aghast at the Quizno’s television commercial featuring an adult male human suckling at the teat of a wolf.  Well, their new ad campaign has launched, and if anything it’s more wrong.  Sure, it’s a complete ripoff of the Spongmonkeys, mostly because it turns out the same guy did bothWarning: if you follow the Spongmonkeys link, I am not responsible for any psychological damage you may suffer, but it is very much like the commercial.

Is it just me, or are commercials in general getting a lot weirder of late?

Mapping Things Out

First Matt Haughey did it, and then Nick Finck did it too, so I guess I’ll join the movement.    Here’s a map of where I’ve been in United States, one which I created myself rather than use the generator offered by World66.  I’ve never been to either Alaska or Hawaii, so I left them off the map.

A map of the United States showing the states which Eric has visited or driven through as of 2 February 2004.

The reddest state is my home state, and the one where I’ve lived for most of my life.  (Psst… it’s Ohio.)  The medium-red states are the ones I’ve visited, and the light red states are those through which I’ve driven on my way to some other destination.  In order to qualify as a “visited” state it had to contain a destination, a place I went intending to meet someone or see something, and where I stayed for at least a night.  Thus, although I once spent three nights in Arkansas, it wasn’t by choice (we were caught by the blizzard of late January 2000) and we were only there because we were on our way to another state, so Arkansas is light red.  I also left the Upper Peninsula of Michigan white because I’ve never been there, even though I’ve visited the Lower Peninsula several times.  It’s an arbitrary decision, I admit.  Yes, I know they’re all one state.

I thought about giving states varying shades of red based on how often I’d been there, but that seemed like way too much effort.  I suppose if I had GIS software of some kind that interfaced with a database of some other kind, I could have quickly generated such a map.  Again, the effort: too much.  I decided to move on to other things.

After reading my political discourses, Michael Glaesemann and Todd Roberts both wrote to suggest that I try the Political Compass, so I did.  I found it interesting because it plots your stance not only along a left/right axis, but also an authoritarian/libertarian axis; in other words, your responses place you somewhere in a two-dimensional space.  For those who are interested, here are my Political Compass results, in which I’m rather unsurprisingly graphed as a libertarian liberal.  Also somewhat unsurprisingly, I took the test twice and got two different plots, although both were the same general area of the same quadrant.  This plot represents my second run through; on the first run, I was plotted closer to the origin.

In doing a little more research, I came across some complaints about the Political Compass, particularly that its methodology is closed and there’s suspicion that it’s rigged to favor certain results (although not the results I got).  One critic decided to create his own political survey as a response, one based on an open methodology, and he titled it Political Survey.  Very creative.  So I took that one as well, in part because Andrew Sidwell wrote to recommend it, and here are my Political Survey results, which place me as a pragmatic liberal.  It’s tempting to claim that pragmatism and libertarian leanings go hand in hand, but of course that’s plain wrong.  One person’s pragmatism is another’s wild-eyed delusion.

As I mulled these results, I realized that while helpful, they weren’t as important as a more fundamental realization.  It’s simply this: when it comes to matters such as political belief, trying to plot yourself one-dimensionally will lead to thinking of a similar depth.  You need at least two dimensions to even begin to accurately capture the stances of real people, and to therefore be able to think with any real sophistication about the topic at hand.  What’s tricky is picking your axes.  Right/left (or liberal/conservative) is an easy choice, but what about the second axis?  The two surveys I took used that axis in different ways.  Suppose we were to take the two surveys and merge them, so we graphed political beliefs in a three-dimensional space.  Again, what do you place on which axes?  These are difficult questions in themselves.

As an example, the December 2003 issue of Scientific American describes work done to map the regions of the world in a two-dimensional space that represents modernity:

Modernization, the subject of intense scrutiny at least since the time of Marx and Nietzsche, has seldom been measured systematically. One of the most useful attempts to do so has been done by political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Wayne E. Baker of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

In their approach, being modern implies not only a lack of traditional beliefs but also a need for free expression. To measure these attributes, they use responses from the World Values Survey, an international collaborative study based on extensive questioning of people in scores of countries making up more than 80 percent of the world’s population. The first of these dimensions—the traditional versus secular-rational scale in the chart—derives from attitudes toward religion, respect for authority, and patriotism. The second dimension—survival versus self-expression—derives from questions about physical security, trust in other people, gender roles, and personal happiness.

That sounds pretty good, but should modernity be measured by picking different conceptual spectra to combine?  Not being a political scientist, I can’t intelligently answer the question, but I’m sure there’s plenty of room for disagreement.  If you’re already subscribed to the digital version of the magazine, you can read the whole article: Measuring Modernity, or you can see the resulting map published at the World Values Survey Web site.  For that matter, you can get a slightly blurry scan of the Scientific American article in PDF format from the WVS site.  My fundamental point is that, again, a two-dimensional map yields far more useful information (and a much more complete basis for debate and analysis) than any one-dimensional line could hope to offer.  Assuming, of course, that any debaters accept the graphed space as being appropriate; if not, then the debate can’t even start.

At any rate, the process of going through these surveys helped me realize just how poorly the current public political debate maps to the real opinions people hold.  The two American political parties jockey for position on the right/left spectrum, and the members of those parties try to move to the right or left of each other in an attempt to capture votes.  But what if what I want in a candidate is a particular placement along a y axis, not the usual x (right/left) axis?  The media just makes the situation worse, likely because simplistic right/left distinctions help keep news segments as short as possible.  Heaven forbid they should actually try to capture the nuances of a candidate’s positions and opinions.  That would take time, and might demand that viewers actually think.

So if nothing else, my public political musings have led to the realization that I was being far too restricted in my own thinking about the whole topic, which was an intellectual failure on my part.  I sincerely hope that this realization will spur me to consider other topics with a similar level of sophistication.  It’s easy to get trapped into a limited view—often all too easy.  Fighting that temptation is an important step toward thinking more clearly and completely.

Rebirth

As any visitor can easily see, the new design is in place and seems to be working smoothly.  In conjunction with the redesign, I’ve reworked the post structures and permanent URIs a bit.  The old URIs won’t change (’cause, you know, they’re cool) but moving forward, I’ve tightened the URIs up a bit.  In this, I followed Tantek’s lead to a large degree.  Generally my posts won’t include a timecode since it’s highly unlikely that I’ll post more than once per day.  (Shoot, any more I’m lucky to post more than once per week.)  If I ever do need a timecode for a post, it will be simple enough to add; my XSLT is already set up to handle it.

You may also have noticed that the posts previous to today have disappeared from meyerweb’s home page, and from the RSS feeds.  This happened because I rewrote some of the XSLT and changed the base XML structure of the archives, and trying to merge the old structure and transformations with the new ones was just too annoying for words.  So I’ve basically hit the reset button on the posts, although the old posts are still available from the archives, just as they always were.  It’s a temporary situation at best, since both the home page and RSS feeds will fill up as I write more entries.

As for the masthead image you can see today, it’s the same one I used for the Eos theme in the previous design, thus giving some minor sense of continuity to the process.  (Said image is the intellectual property of Tantek Çelik and used with his permission, by the way.)  The masthead image won’t remain constant—I’m planning to change it every week or two, with future images coming from photographs I’ve taken.  I already have thirteen ready to go, culled from the two thousand or so images in my iPhoto library.  I imagine that eventually I’ll add the ability to pick a favorite theme, or to pick one at random, or something.  I might even add the ability for you to supply the URI of an image you particularly like, although that seems a little obscure.  You can already do it with a user stylesheet anyway, since the site’s CSS signature (www-meyerweb-com) remains fully in place.  For those who feel the urge, the masthead images are 1280 by 128 pixels in size, and I’ve tried to keep them to 25KB or less.

Gradual changes will probably continue to happen for a while, in fact.  The sidebar content will be developed over time, for example.  I may also slowly enhance the design from its current sparse styling.  I doubt it’ll change a whole lot, to be honest, but I may from time to time test out new techniques or visual effects.

Let’s see, what else… oh yes.  If you’re using Mozilla or Safari (and maybe Opera), notice what happens when you mouse over the title of the post.  That’s generated content, not a background image, which is why Explorer doesn’t get the same effect.  This fails to bother me, since it’s more fun visual frosting than anything critical.  What’s interesting to note is that it doesn’t work in Safari 1.1 unless the border is changed in some way.  If the hover effect is removed, no generated content.  I wonder if that’s been fixed in the current internal builds.

The sidebar is absolutely positioned, and the gray area around the page content is the background of the html element (which means the black borders around the content are set for the body element).  The sidebar assembly was reworked so that it’s easy to add different content for different areas of the site.  For example, the Destinations on Kat’s page are different from those in my area of the site.  I haven’t done a lot with this capability yet, but probably will as time goes on.

That’s about it for now.  I’ll get back to the usual ramblings tomorrow.

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