Archive for 2004

Realities of Self-Employment: Part 1

I have emerged from a temperature of 102° with a certain realization. When you get sick the world doesn’t stop. Email doesn’t get put on hold. Deadlines don’t get sick. Granted, I was only down and out for maybe 48 hours — but it’s enough to throw a wrench in the works.
thermometerIt goes without saying that it sucks to get sick. It happens. This is magnified significantly when you work for yourself, and your company is comprised of one employee. Those that work for businesses that have greater than one employee have the benefit of the company not completely shutting down should they call in sick.
Simply an observation, as well as another learning experience.

CSS Centering 101

The following is documented in order to provide a neat and tidy way of responding to a frequently asked question here at SimpleBits:

How do I center a fixed-width layout using CSS?

For those that know, it’s simple. For those that don’t, finding the two necessary rules to complete the job can be frustrating. So here it goes.

centering diagramIn the markup, we’ll need a container to hold everything. In this container will sit the entire layout that we’d like to center on the page. We’ll suspiciously name this container: “container”:

  <div id="container">
    ...entire layout goes here...

Using CSS, the following two rules force whatever is contained within #container to be centered:

body {
  text-align: center;

#container {
  margin: 0 auto;
  width: xxxpx;

We’re aligning everything within body to be centered, while giving the #container a specific width (whatever you’d like). The margin: 0 auto; is the second piece which makes it all work. We’re specifying 0 pixels on top and bottom, with auto margins on the left and right.

That’s it. The only problem we’ll run into now is that, because we haven’t specfied otherwise, everything on the page will be centered. We’ll want to override that from the container level down with the addition of the following rule:

#container {
  margin: 0 auto;
  width: xxxpx;
  text-align: left;

With that single declaration, everything within #container will be left-aligned, yet leaving our centered layout unhindered. The same principle could be applied not only in centering entire layouts, but other block-level elements and page components.

Now I’ll just need to keep the URL for this entry handy the next time the question is posed, helping me respond to emails that inquire about this seemingly simple goal. And these days, anything that helps me respond to email is a true asset, as I’ve been absolutely terrible at the task lately.

Update: Several people have written in, either to ask why text-align: center; is necessary, or that using that rule is plain wrong. The reason it’s used, is for the benefit of IE5/Win users. Without the rule, most browsers will still center the layout just fine using auto left and right margins — but not IE5/Win.

Regarding the Porta-Poti in Maine

Porta-PotiThe highlight of a relaxing weekend in Maine is best illustrated by a photo I took just outside a Porta-Poti in downtown Damariscotta. By clicking the thumbnail, you’ll notice the large sign in front of a pair of portable toilets which reads, “Porta-Poti Contributions”. I got more than a mild juvenile chuckle after reading this, figuring that after I used the Damariscotta Porta-Poti, perhaps my name should be added to the list.
I felt honored that alongside Barnswallow Bed & Breakfast, Narragansett Leathers, and even McDonald’s (perhaps a catch-all for the entire family?), I too have used these convenient public restrooms.
This also reminded my how clever the naming is for these foul places. “Porta-Poti”, “Porta-John”, etc. — it’s as if the goofy name will somehow lessen the terrible experience of having to use one.
DamariscottaBut to say this was the highlight would be actually far from the truth, as we had a wonderful time just north of Portland, hiking and checking out small-town Maine. A nice way to say an early good bye to summer.

Sluggish Mail, Unsatisfying FTP

For awhile now, I’ve been using Apple’s own Mail app for all my electronic mail tasks. Overall, I’m happy with the features — but lately I’ve noticed an annoying sluggishness.

letterIt appears that the longer I keep the application open, the slower and more unresponsive it becomes. The problem is solved by quitting, then restarting. After a restart, it’s back to its peppy self. But aside from the annoyance of having to quit, it just seems like something must be wrong. I store a lot of mail in sub folders on my Mac. It’s a POP account, and not IMAP. So I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced the same performance?

I had been watching Jon Hicks’ comments regarding similar issues with Safari, which turned out to be a third-party plugin. No plugins involved here, but I’m guessing there’s a fix out there somewhere.


In other Apple application-related thoughts, I’ve been a long-time user of RBrowser for all of my FTP and SFTP needs. I love many features, but am continually frustrated with the performance and lackluster updates.

I’ve briefly given Transmit a spin and found it to be much snappier, but it (seemed to) lack the things I like about RBRowser the most:

  • OS X “column view” for navigating directories.
  • Double-click to open files in BBEdit.

So I’m asking you, the highly esteemed readership of SimpleBits, to prove me wrong: does Transmit make you smile — or are there better alternatives out there for FTP on a Mac?

Boston Geek Tea Party 2

The last one was a success, so Ethan and I thought it was time to organize another web standards, geek, tea lovers gathering once again in Boston.
This Thursday, September 2nd at 7:00pm (coincidentally International Web Standards Meetup Day) at the Cassava Lounge on Boylston St. (see Sidesh0w for all the details. DEE-tails or duh-TAILS?).
Plenty of boba tea will be available, as well as (hopefully) interesting conversation on all things web, design, code and perhaps other things. Hope to see you there.

Ode to the Breast Pocket

There are but a select few shirts in my wardrobe that sport them, but the ones that do are quickly becoming favorites. For I am here today, in the year 2004, to salute the single most groundbreaking development in garment history — the breast pocket.
shirtMy first shirt with a BP (people “in the know” will call it this) came at a young age, I’m sure. Perhaps the necessity of dressing up for a wedding called for a special shirt with a tiny, extra piece of the fabric sewn on three sides (sewing present on four sides is referred to as a “patch”).
Over the years the BP was always there, overlooked, its potential never fully realized. It was just forgotten decoration. Heck, most of the time there was a BP on the sport jacket itself. In which I’d also place nothing. It would never dawn on me to use this narrow, shallow receptacle for anything. Until recently.
The convenience of the BP is staggering. Take this scenario for instance: I needed to carry a beer, a bowl of popcorn and the TV remote to the couch. A quick examination of the items proved that the TV remote was the best candidate. I slid it in the BP, and made the journey in one trip. Brilliant. And just last week, after filling my car’s gas tank, I took the receipt from the pump and got back in car. Rather than the awkward motion of grabbing my wallet from my back pocket (a pain in the arse), I instead just slipped it into the BP and off I went. Now imagine plane tickets, toll-booth receipts, credit cards, business cards, Pop Tarts (?), hotel card keys and more.
After having realized the brillance of having a shirt with a BP, I now realize that I need more of them. During the warmer months, short-sleeved, collared shirts will work–albeit, they project a sometimes unwanted “dressy” appearance. I now need to invest in some “pocket tees”. A simple t-shirt, with a BP added.
For reasons I won’t go into, the BP has less of a popularity on women’s clothing.
So perhaps you too, may have overlooked the value of the breast pocket. If so, the next time you need to carry something small, flat, light and approximately 2 1/2 inches wide by no more than say, 6 inches tall–look no further than your own shirt. I have started to, and it’s paying off. Bigtime.
Next week’s fashion commentary: Does Anyone Really Use That Tiny Pocket Watch Pocket on a Pair of Five-Pocket Jeans?

Shuffle Theory

Way back in March of last year, I wrote a Notebook entry entitled My iPod Loves to Play Fugazi. And boy did it. I was convinced that the iPod (an original 5GB model) was playing me rather than the reverse. Fugazi (of which I have two albums in full on the iPod) would appear more often than any other artist–some of whom I have 5 or 6 albums worth of songs.

For instance, I have maybe 6 albums by the band Guided by Voices on there. A typical GBV album has approximately 3,267 songs on it. OK, maybe 20-30. They’re usually short, quick masterpieces. Anyhow, you’d think I’d hear GBV more often than Fugazi. But it was not so.

As a continuation of the theory, through the aforementioned Notebook entry, I was briefly quoted in today’s New York Times article, Tunes, a Hard Drive and (Just Maybe) a Brain (registration required). Turns out I’m not the only one who believes that shuffle mode may be possessed.

There are two corrections I’d like to point out from the article:

  • It’s Cederholm, not Cedarholm. (very common)
  • I still do like Fugazi. I believe I said I got tired of hearing them so often–but listen to anything in excess and it starts losing its charm.

I will say this, however. Just a few weeks ago, I purchased a new 4th generation click-wheel iPod–and I haven’t heard Fugazi once. Shuffling appears far more random, although maybe it just seems that way. And as the NYT article also points out, a “Shuffle Songs” option is now placed right in the main menu of the iPod’s interface, making it much easier to click once and go.

Unrelated to shuffling, sound quality seems to have been improved on the new models, and although I haven’t drained the battery yet, I’m sure hoping it’ll last as long as advertised.

Anatomy of an Icon

Since releasing some icons of my own, I’ve received quite a few messages asking “how do you create an icon?”. Well, I can’t tell you how to create an icon — but I can tell you the steps I take to create an icon. There may be easier ways. There may be better ways. Here’s a quick look at the methods and techniques I used to create an icon from the Overcast set.


the goalOur goal is to create an icon in two standard sizes: 16×16 and 32×32 (pictured, right). I choose to create the smaller version first, then double the size and clean it up (more on that later).


Accessibility Progress

Chip Adams was kind enough to point me (along with several other colleagues) to some pretty interesting (and positive) news.

Reported in an article at Excite News, titled Web Sites Agree to Be Accessible to Blind: Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and have agreed to make significant changes to their sites specifically for those browsing with screen reading software and other assistive technology.

That’s of course great news. And I also found this quote rather interesting:

We hope it’s going to be influencing other companies throughout the United States so that the 10 million blind and visually impaired people can fully participate in our society at all levels. —Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind.

10 million. For anyone who wonders if the accessibility of a site is important, or whether or not people browse your site with screen reading software–it’s an awfully large number of people to ignore. And that’s just in the U.S. alone.

Without extra effort, building on a foundation of lean, structured markup can do wonders for a site’s accessibility, and it appears that with Priceline and Ramada publicly acknowledging the importance–things are headed in the right direction.

The Motivator

Lately, there’s been music. I’ve been listening more, caring more, even buying a new, larger-capacity iPod to hold more of it. And it seems like it operates on a cycle. There will be stretches where everything I hear, I love. Alternatively, there will be stretches where everything sounds horrible.
But lately, music has been the motivator. It gets me from point A to point B while struggling with a design or CSS issue. Thank goodness for “shuffle” mode.
It’s been asked repeatedly elsewhere, but what music motivates you these days?
Recently for me, it’s been recent offerings from The Killers, The Hives, The Autumn Defense (thank you, Jeff), and “shuffle standouts” Wire. Although I have a confession that is likely to have me pelted with deprecated HTML elements: anything I’ve heard on MTV from Ashlee Simpson has been downright catchy as heck. Is this completely uncool? Most definitely, but there… I said it. And I feel better now.