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Archive: September 2005

Skewered By a Transcript

A little while back, David Poteet of New City Media conducted an interview with me, and the much-edited version is not only a part of today’s UIEtips newsletter, but also published as a full article on the UIE web site.  In it, I lay out my case for why standards-oriented design is a good thing from a non-technical purity-neutral point of view, and use eBay as my Exhibit A for a site that could reap big returns from moving toward using standards.  Ethan has already called the article a “great read”, further cementing his reputation as the whacked-out loon of the standards world.

I have to be honest: reading the full transcription of the interview was a deeply shocking and humbling experience.  In the past, when reading transcripts of news interviews and commentary shows, I’ve winced and clucked over the mangled syntax of the people being transcribed.  False starts, weird shifts, strange commas, unfinished sentences, mind-number repetition, long rambling assaults on syntax and coherence—what was wrong with these people?  Are these the best minds our society can produce?  Can none of them do so much as utter a sentence with a clear point and progression?  How many “you know”s does one person really need?

Then I read the transcription of me, and was utterly horrified.  I sounded exactly like everyone else!  Worse, at times.  Here’s but one example, from a portion of the interview that didn’t get used in the edited version.  (Note that this was conducted before I moved to my current host; so far as I know I’m no longer in danger of hitting any caps.)

Yeah, you’re talking about actually, you know, reducing the bandwidth bill and saving money, in that sense.  I mean, for most people, for my site, MeyerWeb, I’m actually getting close to, I’m having some bandwidth, I’m getting close to hitting a bandwidth ceiling with my current provider —

And then, not five seconds later:

It’s less of an issue because I’m paying more, 30, 40, 50, whatever number of dollars per month and as long as I don’t put up The Matrix Reloaded for people to download and, you know, they use several terabytes worth of data in a month, you know, that’s what I pay.  I don’t have to pay extra bandwidth.  That gets rolled into the cost.

The horror.  The horror!

Thankfully, the published version of the interview makes me sound a good deal less like an epileptic chimp—so you might want to check it out, if you have a few spare minutes.

You know, a lot of people have told me I write like I speak.  Apparently, they were all being very, very kind to me.

An Event Apart Debuts

I couldn’t be more proud to announce the launch of An Event Apart.  What is An Event Apart (AEA)?  It’s an all-day seminar, one that moves from city to city, featuring me and Jeffrey Zeldman.  The inaugural event will be held at the Franklin Institute in central Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Monday, 5 December 2005.  We’ll be taking it to other cities in 2006; keep an eye on the AEA RSS feed for announcements.

Honestly, AEA can be summarized in one sentence: it’s the kind of seminar Jeffrey and I would want to attend.  Hopefully that right there is enough to get you interested, but wait until you hear the details.

  • No “intro to X” sessions.  We’re packing the day with as much detail, technical insight, and expert information as possible.  We won’t be taking any time to explain the basics of CSS or XHTML or anything else.  From the first minute to the last, we’re putting the pedal to the metal.
  • An intimate look at how Jeffrey and I do what we do.  Most of our material will be drawn from recent projects we’ve done together, such as the web sites for A List Apart, An Event Apart, UNIFEM, and others.  All the nifty tricks, browser hacks, practical compromises and development surprises—they’ll be laid bare for attendees to examine, question, chuckle over, and take back to their own work.
  • Going from  comp to complete.  How does one get from a visual comp file to a working XHTML+CSS page?  You’ll find out how we do it as we step through that very process.
  • Constant interaction.  This isn’t a rigidly formalized “we talk for 80 minutes and you ask questions for 10 minutes” kind of setup.  Jeffrey and I see it as more of a conversation between us and the attendees.  We’ll probably do most of the talking, and we’ll certainly have all kinds of stuff to talk about, but we’re really looking forward to questions that will take things in a new direction.  We want the attendees to ask tough questions about what we’re showing, and ask us about the tough problems they’ve faced.
  • Attendee markover.  For one of the day’s sessions, we’ll take a site submitted by an attendee and give it a markover, turning it into semantic XHTML and CSS without disrupting the visual appearance.  This will make for a great look at practical standards-oriented design for a real-world site.
  • Interesting venues.  Jeffrey and I been to a zillion conferences in hotel ballrooms and conference centers, and frankly we’re bored to death with that whole repetitive scene.  So we’re going to aim for places that are a little off the beaten path; venues that have some interest.  As an example, just look at the venue for AEA Philadelphia, the Franklin Institute; it’s one of the most prestigious science museums in the country.

The content of AEA won’t be just markup and CSS, either.  We’re going to talk about how standards-based design speeds up the development process, how we work in a distributed team, and how we approach web design in general.  We’ll share what’s worked for us and what hasn’t, and find out what experiences the attendees have had.

So if you’re in the Philadelphia area, or can reach it fairly easily, I strongly encourage you to take a look at the AEA site—and then ask yourself whether this is an event you can afford to miss.

Clearly Impossible?

I’ve been pounding my brain against a problem in Photoshop CS for the last few months—no, not continuously—and I’ve given up.  Now I turn to the PSD experts in the crowd for help.

What I want to do seems simple enough.  The goal here is to have a PNG where the alpha channel coincides precisely with a visible pieces of the image.  In other words, if the visible image is a large black diamond, then I want the alpha channel to be in the same shape and intensity as the diamond.  That way, in IE/Win, there will be a big black diamond.  In other, more capable browsers, there will be a transparent diamond with a white mask, so I can set whatever background color I want.

Here are two images that, I hope, illustrate what I’m aiming to do.  The first image is what IE/Win would render, and the second is a representation of what another browser would render (the gray checkerboard pattern representing the transparent parts of the PNG).

I’ve fiddled with combinations of masks, layers, alpha channels, and more until my head feels ready to explode.  No matter what I do, I can get either an image that’s opaque (read: no alpha channel) in all browsers, or an image with a full alpha channel, where the alpha portion is filled with a light silver-gray in IE/Win.

It seems like there has to be a way to do this, and that someone out there knows what it is.  So how in the name of the sweet Virgin Mary do I get this to work?

Update: I sense that people aren’t getting what I want to do.  What I effectively want to do is take an image of the diamond—a GIF, a TIFF, whatever—and, in turning it into a PNG, add an alpha channel such that the diamond gets “knocked out” in programs that understand the alpha channel.  In those that don’t, like IE/Win, the regular image should just appear, with no alpha-channel effects.  Just the black diamond.

And I want to know how to do it in Photoshop, which is the tool I use.  Telling me how to do it in GIMP would be incredibly useful if I hadn’t thoroughly hated GIMP’s UI, and thus uninstalled it about ten minutes after installing it, back when I did.  (To be fair, it might have been the X11 UI that I hated, but since GIMP was the only X11 application I’ve run… you see where I’m headed with that, I hope.)

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