Archive for August, 2003

The Conversion

After playing with Movable Type for the first time last week, I was sold. It’s a fantastic piece of software, and after installing and configuring it for a project at work — seeing how easy it was, there was no reason not to use it here. The volume of features that are automatic make converting a no-brainer.
For a few years, I had been building this site myself, in the end using a homegrown Perl/XSLT app that was fun to build, but didn’t do everything I wanted it to. I’m excited to learn everything that MT can do.
So, I broke a few links. Actually, all old permalinks are currently dead ends. That’s a huge no no, I realize. I’m working on a mod_rewrite solution. There are also many entries still to be imported. For the past year and a half data was stored in XML — which came in very handy for importing these into MT. But going back a ways, posts were basically handcoded. I’ll have to enter these one by one I’m afraid.
This site now sports comments, search and bunch of other features that I probably don’t even know about yet. All hail, Movable Type. I also rewrote SimplePost and am using the new, streamlined version exclusively for the QuickBits mini-blog in the right column. This’ll give me a place to continue to play with Perl and XSLT. I could’ve easily used MT for this, but it’s hard to part with old friends. The QuickBits RSS feed now lists only the most recent 10 entries, rather than the entire archive. Much better.
The reason for the sudden switch happens to be the fact that we (just today) launched a weblog at Fast Company. FC Now will feature entries and comments from writers that grace the pages of the magazine, as well as a host of other web team members. Should be very interesting. Oh, and it’s powered by MT. The whole thing took less than a week to get up and running.
Now it’s time to talk about things other than boring site news. Please bear with me as I work out the kinks around here.

The Silence is Deafening

It’s just occurred to me that since the redesign of Fast Company (April) and Inc.com (July), we’ve received zero complaints from Netscape 4.x users (or any other non-standards-compliant browser user). This could mean several things:

  • They like reading the un-styled version of the sites.
  • After being startled and disgusted by the undesign of it all, they can’t be bothered to find a feedback link.
  • There are very few users of Netscape 4.x that come to Inc. and Fast Company, and of those, none are the type to send feedback.
  • They hate it, yet don’t care to tell us.

Now, I’d like to think it’s the top reason :). Regardless of why, I’m extremely happy that we’ve received not even one email scourning the move to standards-based design. It’s brings a sense of relief and reinforces the reasons to build web sites this way — showing that there are real world benefits that are being proved everyday.

The way I like to view it is that using web standards is not a religion whereby there is one golden set of “rules” to live and die by. They are guidelines to building better, more accessible sites — and the sooner that companies start understanding that by using even some of these methods, business can be improved and information can be more widely be distributed, the better.

I am also excited that I used the word “whereby” in a sentence.

Magic Icons: Image-less Markup Version

I posted last week about Magic Icons that can change color with a simple CSS update using transparent images. That method required the image to be inline within the markup when attached to a heading (or similar) tag. Ben de Groot wrote in with a clever method using background-image and effectively setting the height and width to the size of the icon. Excellent, because not only are the colors of the icons changeable at a moments notice with CSS — but the images themselves would be swappable and out of the markup completely:


h3 {
background: #696 url(icon.gif) no-repeat;
font-size: 0;
height: 13px;
width: 13px;
margin: 0;
padding: 0;
}

By Ben setting the font-size to 0, and setting the height and width to the exact dimensions of the icon used, he insures the backgound color will only show through the transparency of the image. Bravo.

But now we need to get the text within the h3 to show up next to it again. So, I added a second step and wrapped the text in a span tag (controversial yes, but this is just for demonstration) so that we could set a proper font-size on it. I also add the following CSS rule:


h3 span {
font-size: 11px;
font-family: verdana;
position: absolute;
padding-left: 18px;
color: #696;
}

The font-size could whatever you’d like, of course, and position: absolute; was what I found to work as far as pulling the text out of the height and width restrictions of previous h3 rules.

Here’s an example (using inline styles):

This is a Heading

I’ve only tested in Safari, Camino and IE/Mac so far and I’d be interested in hearing how others fare. Interestingly, Safari is the reason for the margin: 0; padding: 0; on the h3. It wanted to center the entire heading without this. Odd, but padding and margins could be adjusted to something other than 0. Thanks to Ben for the clever idea!

Image-less Markup Version: Part II

Thanks to all that sent in results and screenshots of the test below. The news was not good though, as it broke in just about every other browser (including IE6/Win) that I didn’t have a chance to test last night. Using position: absolute; was the major culprit here, and in IE6/Win placed the text miles away from the icon. Oh well, not great.

It’s an idea I’d like to play around with some more, just for fun. If you’re replacing the text with a transparent image of some kind — then it appears that Ben’s original idea works fine. Of the screenshots I received, the icon seems to show up properly. This could possibly be used like a variant of the background-replacing-text trick that Douglas Bowman has explained. But getting an icon and text to work requires more experimentation. Onward.

Rushmore to the Rescue

I’ve learned an annoying flaw with the NetFlix system — the hard way.

I’ve been looking forward to watching Gangs of New York for a little over a week. It’s 2 discs. See where this is headed? Yup, I received two copies of “Disc 2″. Great. Both sleeves were marked correctly, but had duplicate discs in each.

I imagine this happens a lot, because reporting the problem was extremely simple. It’s just that the solution is to send them both back, put the movie in my cue again (at the top) and wait. If this had happened at the local video store, I could’ve high-tailed it back there and exchanged.

I guess this is the price you pay for the convienence of NetFlix — a service which is amazingly great, otherwise. I highly recommend it, regardless of the occassional hiccup.

Luckily though, we had Rushmore as backup. One of my favorite films — and the Criterion Collection has some great bonus stuff on it like extra film shorts from the Max Fischer Players, the usual making-of documentary and some pretty funny audition footage. The night was saved.