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February 27
After my tirade this afternoon, I stand thoroughly confused. This morning was directing me to Getty Images, no mention of Agfa Monotype/, the old Eyewire chrome and the rest of the site still being available. This afternoon when I had to buy my photos, was completely shut down with a message directing me to Getty, again no mention of A/F, and all the chrome missing. Now, the Eyewire chrome is back, and I’m being directed to, with a small note saying that if I want images, the main reason I’ve ever visited, I should check out Getty. I’m dangerously close to using the word “crackheads”. Type was a small portion of what Eyewire had to offer, and never took much focus. Sure, let me know that you’re changing things. I can even understand jumping me over to a new site, despite it costing me time to re–locate the products I’m ponying up cash for. I’m a reasonable guy, I understand that these things happen. But let’s put a little thinking into this before–hand, guys, mm–kay? Tell me what happened, and show me where to go to get what I need. I’m not coming to Eyewire for fonts, and that will be true for most everyone else. Don’t pretend otherwise.

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Dear Getty Images

February 27
Dear Getty Images, Thank you so much for shutting down Eyewire halfway through today. I got the message when you added your blurb to the home page, despite being able to browse the rest of the site. Where you really screwed me over was when you ditched the temporary home page and added the new one, cutting off access to the rest of the site, and breaking my bookmarks in the process. The bookmarks that were linking me to the images I had to buy. Today. For a client. So now I’ve wasted the past half hour surfing your new site, trying to find the images I need to pay you for, wondering if this is really progress. The least you could have done was made the switch on the weekend. Please don’t do this again or I might become very cross. Dave. (8pm update — it gets better.)

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A Horror Story

February 26
Picture if you will, one peaceful Friday afternoon at work. A conversation with the boss about a new client, Thomson Widgets, Inc., who is a customer of marketing firm Catchy Marketing. A URL is given where you can view a few JPGs of Thomson’s new site that were comped by Catchy. How long will it take you to convert to XHTML and implement content? A fairly simple job, you ask for about 20 hours. It was wanted for the Friday of the following week, so that affords you plenty of time. What could possibly go wrong? Seemingly, plenty. For starters, you aren’t contacted until Monday afternoon. A meeting is arranged with Catchy for Tuesday. It goes well, things are discussed, and the result of the meeting is that Catchy will send content and Photoshop source to begin work that afternoon. This being Tuesday. Wednesday at 4:30pm, the source arrives. Being the diligent web designer you are, you start work that evening and continue Thursday morning. All day Thursday you spend converting the template to xhtml and testing in the major browsers. Naturally, Catchy is a marketing firm, so they don’t need to understand browser–compatibility issues. They view everything on Netscape 4/Mac. They expect pixel–perfect code. Your insides scream. You curse the monitor and smash your head against your desk every time your fix for NS4/Mac breaks IE5/Win. You’re damn good though, and you eventually get it just so. This is good, this is very good. Now for the content. You receive a half–completed PowerPoint presentation to work from that cross–references information that isn’t there, and you start hearing rumour that Thomson Widgets wants to see something for Friday afternoon. Being but a subcontractor, you redouble your efforts and make Catchy look good if you ever want work from them again. By Friday afternoon, you have fleshed out the 2 major content sections that were at the top of the priority queue, and Catchy is able to show Thomson the work–in–progress. By Monday morning you complete the rest of the content according to the PowerPoint document and inform Catchy who then, theoretically, get back in touch with Thomson for the content. Monday PM, no content. Tuesday AM, no content. Tuesday at 5 minutes to noon, you receive a few short pages of content from Catchy, and appended to the same e–mail is a note telling you that Thomson has a conference that day, and needs to have the site launched at 4pm. This is the first you’ve heard of this conference, or this requirement. A mad rush during the afternoon to get everything in place, while Catchy keeps calling with additional design changes because “this item should be up a little higher” or “we need a bit more white space here.” Eventually things are ready to go, as incomplete as they are (you even spend the time removing the bold, red text that specifically points out missing content areas that Thomson was supposed to provide) and so now you need login information to do your thang. 3:30pm — You call Catchy and request the login needed to connect to Thomson’s server and upload your files. 3:40pm — You try logging in using your FTP program of choice… and… no such luck. 3:42pm — You try again. Nothing. The server is not responding. 3:45pm — You call Catchy back and ask for a port number. They say it should be standard. You tell them there is no FTP server responding. They ask what that means. You swear. But only in your head. The information they’ve given you is great, provided there’s FTP software running on the server, but it doesn’t look like there is, so you can’t do a bloody thing, and you tell them so. 4:10pm — After asking Thomson what’s up, they call back. It turns out Thomson uses some obscure copying program that works on the same principle as FTP, but is obviously more “secure.” This would have been handy information to have ahead of the fact, and you tell them that. Not a note of sarcasm or malice in your voice. You’re a professional. 4:48pm — After grabbing the new software, you login, things are looking good. You make a backup of their existing site (why the hell is that your job?) and upload your files. You refresh your browser and… nothing. 4:49pm — Nothing? What the… oh. Oh. OH CRAP. Your shop is Microsoft–based. You run everything on IIS, and that’s what you’re used to developing for. Up until Monday morning, you had no idea where the site would eventually end up, and just assumed you’d be hosting it. That’s standard procedure around your office. Well, funny thing, Thomson runs their own web server, and surprise surprise, it’s Unix–based. 4:55pm — 5 minutes before you should be leaving, you realize that all your scripts, all your include files, and all your links have to be changed in order to get this site live today. You panic. You calm down. You panic again. You refrain from authorizing The Destruction of All Life, Everywhere, but it’s a close call. 5:55pm — After madly copying and pasting include file content into the .asp files themselves, then renaming them as .html files, you thank your choice of gods for Find & Replace. That takes care of links. The scripts? You drop ’em and static–ize everything that was dynamic. Screw it, You’re not re–writing your random image and date/time scripts in PHP, a language you don’t even know, they will live with that till Wednesday. You finally get the site uploaded, live, tested, and by 6, you have put out all the major fires. Screw those guys, you’re going home. Let’s summarize what this project required of you, shall we?

  • Knowledge of XHTML
  • Ability to work with Photoshop and convert .psd files to .gif/.jpg
  • Ability to tell a non–web designer why his ideas won’t work on the web, and suggest alternatives that he’ll be happy with
  • Knowledge of W3C standards, the quirks of the major browsers, and how to fix them
  • Javascript
  • ASP scripting
  • Ability to diagnose why you can’t connect in a standard way to someone else’s screwy network, and how to fix the problem.
  • Why uploading an ASP file to a Unix server doesn’t work
  • How to fix an ASP file so that it works on a Unix server
  • The ability to keep your cool while having to put up with horse manure from not one, but two seperate parties

…and you know what the kicker is? You’re the company’s designer. Taken from the Real Life Horror Stories file. It’s all true. But you knew that. You’ve lived it too.

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Click Here

February 21
‘Click here to continue.’ ‘For more information, Click Here.’ ‘'50% off your favourite gizmo. Click Here!’ Click below for more. The paradigm continues today. Every good web design book/site will tell you that using the words ‘click here’ should be avoided at all costs, and they have been since the beginning of the web. The hyperlink interface is well–established and easy to use: if you hover your mouse over a link, the cursor will change, indicating that this can indeed be clicked. This is a simple, yet effective system that rarely needs to be improved. Why then do many designers continue to direct users to click on these links? The simple reason is that the call to action appeals to marketing types. A simple stand–alone image that isn’t an obvious link will get overlooked. Anything not garnering traffic is bad; we can’t rely on people to find what they want, we must tell them what they should have. Haven’t we been here though? Didn't we learn anything from the ‘push’ technology experiment? The web is not TV; we do not tell people where to go. The web is interactive, and its users dictate their own path. The beautiful thing is that if we don’t like something, we go somewhere else. Instead of spending all our time finding new ways to direct our users to information we want them to see, we should instead be providing them content that they truly want. ‘Click Here’ is a sure sign that the information we can expect to find behind the link is something an advertiser wants us to see, and is rarely worth our time.

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Stats Quest

February 20
On Paul’s recommendation, I checked out Re_Invigorate. I also found HotStats in my referrers, so I’m running them both on top of SiteMeter right now. I’ll post an analysis once I’ve used them for a week or two. Right now it looks like SiteMeter is still giving me the most useful information, but I probably haven’t explored the other two enough yet. I shouldn’t care so much about this, but I just can’t help it. In other news — clearer access to the archives, a more bandwidth–friendly version of this site, and the RDF generated by Movable Type are now accessible through the shiny new icons in the right.

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What the?

February 19
What the Font? — it guesses which typeface was used in an image if you cannot. A great utility from a pretty handy, albeit kind of ugly font site. Hacking my own work from a few years back, I tried calling in for some extra help. What I got in return was a pretty clear example of why there’s no substitute for the human eye. I didn’t give it a great source image, to be fair. bad matches: why software still can't hold a candle to the human mind.

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Headaches, grumblings, and laziness

February 18
Having the same problem as Meg, my host doesn’t give me stats on who you guys are and when you’re coming by. I’m curious, just like you. I enlisted the help of SiteMeter, a cheesy hit counter that actually goes a lot further and breaks down actually useful things like domain, OS, time zone, language, etc. Problem being: while the javascript it spits out is more or less okay by the W3, Mozilla seems to think it doesn’t close a comment field properly. Hence, anything following it graciously vanishes without a trace until the next --> shows up. In this case, my entire right sidebar went AWOL, and broke a few more things on its way out the door. Closing an extra comment that IE doesn’t think is open, of course, means we get the extra --> showing up on the page. No sweat: I’m being subversive and using a blocking DIV to cover up the meter anyway. If you look way down to the bottom of the page, about 2 lines below the space in “See all...”, hover your mouse until you get a link. See? Sneaky. Now you know my dirty little secret. Netscape 7 now gives my site the thumbs up, IE remains happy, and even the W3C is playing along. I could take the easy way out and shift blame to the meter itself being the culprit, but it’s embarrassingly obvious that I didn’t test this redesign last week in anything other than IE6. Which goes to show that although a standard is a standard, you still have to check your work. Lesson learned.

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February 17
After linking a few items on, my XHTML has been broken for who–knows–how–long. It popped up as I redesigned, but I didn’t bother investigating. Chalk one up to silly validation rules and laziness. Today however, thanks to a helpful ALA post, I’m back to W3C–coated goodness. The problem as I see it is such: XHTML doesn’t like ampersands on their own. Period. You must use the & code in every spot you need a regular ampersand, aside from standard use in HTML character/escape codes. You’re linking to a page that contains a few query–string arguments, delimited by ampersands? Tough. Convert ’em. This seems a bit severe to me, but I’ve been willing to play with the W3 so far, so a bit of tweaking in Blue Spark (which, incidentally, has its own problems with ampersands that I thought I fixed but still it chooses to destroy character codes so I’m getting a bit frustrated and hope no one else is using it for much other than playing yet) and I’m back in the saddle. Notes to self: graphics–lite alternative, clearer link to archives, and throw in the .rdf since it’s being generated anyway — some readers might want it. Addendum to self: site is busted in Mozilla/NS. 3 out of 10 for style. See me in my office after class.

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Lucida Sans

February 13
Lucida Sans: it’s the new Verdana. I’ve been noticing more and more sites making use of this typeface. It has been around as long as any other in Microsoft’s now–discontinued Web fonts pack but use on the web seems to have been limited until now, possibly due to poor rendering at smaller sizes. The latest advances in Windows (ClearType) and the MacOS (Quartz) allow for better display of text on–screen, so that problem has been cleared right up. I’ve taken a liking to it myself, as you may notice in the current design. The headers and most text in the right hand sidebar are set in Lucida. I still have concerns about legibility on screens that aren’t using either of the afore–mentioned smoothing techniques, so for now the body text will remain using Verdana. Though I have to wonder at the state of affairs on the web if one new font in my arsenal is cause for so much elation. Font embedding has been an idea for years, but to see it happening in the wild? A rare occurance. I suppose it could always be worse. We’re not in 1996 anymore, at least we have choices beyond Times New Roman. But a hundred fonts would make me far happier than the ten we’re stuck with for now.

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Channeling Quality

February 12
Proving once again that there’s something new to learn about this amazing program every day, I just discovered that Photoshop allows you to tinker with the quality of specific areas of an image when saving as a GIF or JPG. This shouldn’t be news for long–time users, as it has been possible in the past to select areas that required higher quality with selection tools like the marquee or lasso. With the latest versions re–tooling the way an image is saved for the web, this functionality looked to have all but disappeared. However, today I realized that it was, again, my own ignorance rather than any fault of the programmers that led me to this assumption. Adobe has elected to use channels instead of straight selections for quality and dither settings, which can be found in the “Save for Web” dialogue as illustrated below.

channel selection button

This makes a lot of sense, too. Instead of having to create a new selection either from scratch or from a channel each time you went to save for the web, this new method allows you to save your selection in the channel and just call it straight from that. A tiny improvement since selections and channels are so similar, but a good one.

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Redesign Soft Launch

February 9
Anything look different? The old default is still available here, if you’re curious. Text is finally dark on a light background. I was even having trouble reading the white–on–blue text of the last design, and that was one of the main driving forces behind this one. Let this be a word of advice: if you’re designing for large areas of text, always always always use a light background and dark type. Always. You might notice a horizontal scrollbar. I’ve scrapped any semblance of catering to 800x600, so this is now a ‘best viewed at 1024’ site. I think designing for 800x600 is pointless anyway, since most people run their browser windowed rather than full–screen even at that small size. Since I’m not selling anything and I don’t have quotas to hit, I can afford to stop catering to the absolute lowest common denominator and take a step or two up the ladder. I’ve also abandoned CSS positioning for now and went back to tables. The main reason for it isn’t a lack of faith in the former, more a sense of familiarity with the latter. This was a really complex design to build, and I made the decision from the start to just skip the headache. Mezzoblue now has a logo of sorts. It’s more effective as displayed in the bottom right corner, but I’m still not entirely sure about this particular pattern. I’ve been playing around with a variant which may find their way up here. “evil octopus” is what I’m calling the idea, if that helps any. Regrettably, I’ve had to change from .html to .asp extensions on archive files. Any links to existing archives are now broken, but this shouldn’t be a huge problem because I haven’t seen any referrals to them yet anyway. Anyway, there isn’t really any new content yet, but I think the organization of existing content is going to be far easier to manage. I’m also using Blue Spark for smaller content updates, so it will most likely start improving as I work out the kinks.

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New Pocket

February 5
The Economics of Hockey Cards” — the latest edition of A Pocket full of Rye is now available for your reading pleasure. I’m doing a decent job keeping up at this one–a–month pace. Ten points for me.

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