August 2004

Album Cover: Black Holes and Revelations

"Come ride with me through the veins of history. I'll show you a god who falls asleep on the job."
Muse / Knights of Cydonia

Sea Change

August 28, 2004 3:20 PM

My blog will be undergoing a change in the very near future. It won't be monumental (like they usually are). I'm opting instead to change some of the auxillary features that you're used to seeing (if you've been here before) in the sidebar. I'm axing the guestbook altogether. No one ever signs it, and it contains some rather bizarre entries from back when I was like 15 years old and thought ICQ was cool. Well, I never thought it was cool...it probably has perpetually had the worst UI of any piece of software in existence, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, it has to go.

Secondly, I'll be removing a lot of the buttons in favor of textual links, and will probably replace them with a single button promoting Firefox. In addition, I may remove the Referrals section, instead opting for a list of either the most commented-on entries, or the most viewed.

I also would like to revisit my handling of the box model (see an earlier post) so that my CSS will actually validate.

And most important of all, I have decided to add something like Mark Pilgrim's b-links and Simon Willison's blogmarks. After reading a recent post from Simon saying:

...having blogmarks has eliminated the temptation to write a full blog entry (with quotation) just to share a link. This has dramatically reduced my posting rate, but has meant that when I do post an entry I usually have something moderately interesting to say.

I now realize that this would be a time saver for me as well, and I'd be able to post links to things I find interesting without having to comment on them, or bury them in big groups of interesting links.

More to come as this progresses.

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Visions of Hotmail

August 23, 2004 12:11 AM

Uh oh. Gmail just reminded me a lot of Hotmail:

Gmail is temporarily unavailable. Cross your fingers and try again in a few minutes. We're sorry for the inconvenience.

However, I'll take the half-full approach and hope that this is somehow related to them upgrading their servers and sending out more invites ;)

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Get On Up, It's Bobsled Time!

August 22, 2004 4:10 PM

Looks like the Jamaican Bobsled team has redesigned Asa Dotzler's blog. I've always wondered what they're up to these days.

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Google's Gmail Notifier

August 20, 2004 11:51 PM

While reading some tidbits on C|Net today, I came across a blurb that mentioned an official Gmail notifier released by Google. Unfortunately, the blurb didn't provide a link to download from, so I had to do some hunting. Eventually I found a comment over at the GTray site that had a link.

After installing Google's official Gmail Notifier, I was initially quite impressed. Its integration into the Windows operating system (via the systray) means that I no longer need to have Firefox running in order to get notified when new mail arrives in my Gmail inbox. Google's software developers also did a very good job of making the interface sleek and unobtrusive, with fade in popups similar to those found in Outlook 2003.

In my opinion, Google's Gmail Notifier isn't quite ready for primetime, though. As their disclaimer says, the application is still in beta and therefore has some kinks that need to be ironed out. Unfortunately, these kinks are rather annoying. The first thing I didn't like about the way Gmail Notifier works is that you have to login using the same authentication mechanism that Windows uses for network and domain authentication. As far as I'm concerned, they should be using a system that is tied to their app, much like AIM does. It also didn't help that even though I chose to save the login information, it was presented to me to verify immediately the next time I logged into my Windows XP account.

The most glaring problem I found, though, had to do with multiple Windows users. I was able to install Gmail Notifier just fine for my account, but when I logged into my girlfriend's Windows XP account to set it up for her, I noticed that it tried to start up but crashed. I then tried to start it manually and it crashed yet again. I don't know about you, but crashes make me queasy, and the chances of any crashing application hanging out on my computer (especially ones that I didn't code) for very long are slim to none. So, needless to say, Gmail Notifier no longer resides on my machine. It looks like I'll be going back to the other Gmail Notifier until the official one matures a bit.

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Rick Neuheisel

August 19, 2004 9:36 PM

I saw Rick Neuheisel walk in and out of Baja Fresh today as I was eating lunch with some co-workers. He was my favorite Huskies coach since Don James, so it was pretty cool to see him in person and still in the area.

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Being Smarter than the Box Model

August 19, 2004 2:40 PM

If you've worked on tableless website layouts before and have tested your code in Internet Explorer and Firefox (or some other Gecko-based browser), you've doubtless run into issues with different interpretations of the Box Model.

If you've spent as many years of your life designing with HTML tables as I have, you should quickly notice that the Box Model conflicts with the axioms of table-based design. In table-based design, if you set a table cell's width to be 100 pixels and set the cell's padding to be 5 pixels, you will end up with a cell that is 100 pixels wide with a content area that is 90 pixels wide (do the math). For a long time (even up until recently) this model made the most sense to me, hence my previous grievances in Box Model Enlightenment.

However, as I do more tableless design I am becoming more accustomed to the actual Box Model as outlined by the W3C. In this model, if you set an element's width to 100 pixels and set its padding to be 5 pixels, you will end up with an element that is actually 110 pixels wide (again, do the math). Additionally, setting the element's border width to 5 pixels and its margin to 5 pixels will give you an element whose overall width is 130 pixels.

When I last touched on this topic, Gecko-based browsers supported the Box Model approach, while Internet Explorer and Opera did not. The former still does not, but it may be that the latter now does (I haven't used Opera in quite some time).

Needless to say, this leads to many annoyances when you are trying to be a good little boy and avoid using tables for layout (tables are meant for displaying tabular data only). So how does one avoid these annoyances? The good news is that there are a few approaches one can take.

The first approach (and one I've actually used on this site) is to tell Gecko-based browsers that they need to behave like Internet Explorer. You can do so by adding -moz-box-sizing: border-box; to whatever element you choose. This approach feels dirty, though, since you're basically telling an overachiever to behave like a dunce.

The second approach is to pretend you are Michael J. Fox and just start using a CSS attribute that will kick butt in the future.

However, in case you're not quite coordinated enough to handle things like hoverboards and box-sizing, there is a really simple solution that I've been using more and more as of late. It looks something like this:

XHTML

<div class="box">
 <div class="pad">
  Content here.
 </div>
</div>

CSS

.box {
 width: 100px;
}
.pad {
 padding: 5px;
}

This approach will ensure that your element (in this case a div) has a fixed width of 100 pixels and has an inner padding of 5 pixels, allowing you 90 pixels in width to store any content.

I'd take playing with the Box Model over playing with a hoverboard any day, wouldn't you? ;)

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Random Observations

August 15, 2004 9:42 PM

If you're a Pearl Jam fan and you've got broadband, you should be listening to Do The Evolution Radio (you'll need Winamp). It rules.

Dave Shea has updated mezzoblue again, and he's back to his old tricks. I love the new design.

It's good to see that my favorite video game website, GameSpot, has chosen ESPN Football 2K5 over Madden 2005 in their comparison of this year's two top video game football titles. I haven't seen Sega's game, which is top-notch in my opinion, get much respect elsewhere.

I was meant to be a fighterpilot.

craigslist is awesome. I always seem to be the last one on the bus when it comes to this kind of stuff.

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PostgreSQL 8.0

August 15, 2004 11:33 AM

A brief look through the latest PostgreSQL changelog has me thinking I'm going to need to dive back into Postgres again sometime soon. It's been a while since I used that particular RDBMS, having spent most of my time over the last year using either MySQL or SQLite. However, with features like LIKE/ILIKE, sub-selects, transactions (and now savepoints within transactions) and reading and writing to CSV files, I'd be a fool not to go back and get familiar with Postgres again.

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Seahawks vs. Packers

August 14, 2004 10:40 PM

Wow. Can it be football season already? Could I be any more excited? And who better for the Seahawks to kick off their season against than the Packers, who I remember feeling very bitter about back at the turn of the new year.

Not only do I get to see one of my favorite (new) rivalries, but the showdown will take place on Monday night on none other than ESPN.

Prediction: Seahawks by 3.

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Technorati vs. Feedster

August 14, 2004 8:30 PM

Has anyone out there actually figured out what Technorati is or how you use it? I've gone back a few times hoping that I'd finally "get it." It hasn't happened yet. I've heard about Technorati at several places across the Web, and if I'm not mistaken they're getting a lot of interest from investors and the like. However, until I can figure out what they do, I plan on sticking with Feedster.

Why am I sticking with Feedster? Quick and dirty comparison. Let's say I'm interested in seeing who's blogging about Pearl Jam. If I type "Pearl Jam" in Technorati's search field, I get a list of search results back from the past 7 days (75 results, to be exact). The first five results point to the same site, and as far as I can tell the same exact content. Because I'm a smart enough Web user to know the difference between the validity of someone writing in their Blogger blog and someone writing an article in The Seattle Times (yes, they have blogs too, sorta), it is important to me to be able to tell from my search results which sources are probably valid (or conversely, off-the-wall, depending on the mood I'm in). Technorati's search results tell me nothing about the source until I hover over a link and check out the URL for myself.

Then there's Feedster. I type in "Pearl Jam" and I'm immediately presented with over 10,000 results listed in descending chronological order. It only takes a few seconds for me to realize that the icons next to each result actually mean something and can provide instant visual clues as to what sort of validity the corresponding link holds. For instance, the big pencil tells me the link points to someone's LiveJournal, and the big easily recognizable "B" points to someone's blog at Blogger. On top of all this, Feedster has done a great job of making their interface work (and feel) a lot like Google's, so that newcomers can very quickly identify with the site and how it works.

I'm not saying I won't give Technorati another chance. I'm pretty sure if I knew how to use it and why people use it, I could be a convert. For now, though, I'll stick with the feed search engine that doesn't make me think.

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Sonic the Hedgehog

August 14, 2004 4:54 PM

Sonic the Hedgehog

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Holy Buttsmoke Cello Spiderman

August 13, 2004 12:48 AM

Sometimes it's good to look back in time and have a nice long laugh at yourself. I have a feeling I might have mentioned this here in the past, but it's worth posting about again. Back in 1995 (almost 10 years ago...wow) after being asked why I linked to Avoiding Corn from my personal website, I emailed the site's owner the following response:

Date: Fri, 8 Dec 1995 19:14:49 -0500
From: KLNA91B@prodigy.com (BERNIE G ZIMMERMANN)
X-Mailer: PRODIGY Services Company Internet mailer [PIM 3.2-334.50]
To: ephraim
Subject: hOLY bUTTSMOKE CELLO SPIDERMAN

Thanks for writing! The reason we send the "English Bloke go here" link to your page is because your page is our favorite of all the pages on the WWW. It makes us laugh every time (Jonathan). English Bloke is this dude who keeps E-mailing and harassing us with the pistrad pirates rugby stats for 1995 and questions like, "Can you please send some nude pictures of your Grandma?". That is why we send him to your page (he sounds like he should start avoiding corn). Thanks for the errors on my page. Nobody's sled is perfect.

Thanks. THANKS. CHONG WILL BE BACK.

ESSAY.

I'm not sure what's funnier, the contents of the email or the fact that my email address was actually KLNA91B@prodigy.com. Oh, and the part about English Bloke is true. I don't think I'll ever know why he felt the need to keep me up-to-date with those rugby scores.

Blathery | Post Comments | View Comments (0) | Permalink

BBClone

August 12, 2004 10:22 PM

While sifting through some of my recent site referrals earlier tonight, I came across someone else's list of referrals (funny how that happens). Their list stood out, though, because they had installed BBClone. I could spend some time here trying to come up with a good description of what BBClone is, but how could I top the developers' own description, "A PHP based Web Counter on Steroids?"

The thing that impressed me most about BBClone is that not only does it tell you what browser a visitor was using, but it tells you right down to what Mozilla calls the "release" number. So, in the report I saw things like "Mozilla Firefox 0.9.3." While some might consider this overkill, I consider it downright cool – especially since my personal referral log reports simply Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox or "who cares?" Even my favorite log file analyzer, AWStats, doesn't provide that level of detail (yet).

If you're looking for a good referral tracking solution, it looks like BBClone is worth its weight in gold.

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Recent Changes in Firefox

August 11, 2004 4:07 PM

While playing around with a nightly build of Firefox today, I happened to notice some of the UI changes that have taken place in preparation for the long awaited 1.0 release. The feature that immediately caught my eye, Firefox's new popup blocking notification, is shown below:

New Popup Blocking Notification in Firefox Nightly Builds

As you can see, notification is now much more prominent, with a yellow bar appearing just above the rendering of the website you are visiting. Clicking on the bar brings up a dialog that allows you to perform different operations related to popup blocking.

Another thing I noticed is that the small icons that frequently appear in the status bar are now grouped together in 4 slots at the bottom right. At the time of writing, they include (in order) security status notification, popup notification (helpful when you've disabled the yellow bar), the stylesheet switcher, and the new Live Bookmarks manager for adding a site's feed to your bookmark collection. You can read more about the latter at redemption in a blog.

All in all the changes I see all seem to be for the better, so needless to say I'm really looking forward to the release of Firefox 1.0.

Browsers | Post Comments | View Comments (2) | Permalink

The Internet Explorer Onslaught

August 10, 2004 3:55 PM

I took a considerable break from reading my blog subscriptions (yes, two days does qualify as a considerable break), only to find, when I returned, an onslaught across the Web concerning Internet Explorer, its changes in SP2, and the possibility of version 7 showing up before Longhorn does.

As I've mentioned here before, the IE development team has been ramping up as of late, and it comes as no surprise now that Firefox is starting to chew away at Microsoft's browser's bloated market share. However, rumors are buzzing now, thanks to an article at InternetNews.com and subsequent echoing from sites like Slashdot.

The fact that Microsoft has decided to listen is a big deal. I almost feel a bit sorry for them, since they doubtless hear the same four things over and over, more or less: "give us support for PNG," "give us better support for CSS," "give us tabbed browsing," and "help us read our feeds." The thing about Microsoft is, though, that when they start paying attention (something they haven't done since back in the Netscape days) they actually do come to play ball. They design to spec and they find creative ways to make Web browsing useful. This is why I'm most excited about what is currently going on.

Another thing that excites me about this is how people are seeing it all from the right perspective (at least the people I pay attention to). Rafael Ebron, one of The Mozilla Foundation's lead marketers, said the following about the prospect of IE developments:

...it's good to see that Microsoft is continuing its work in browser development.

Clearly, there's more work to be done in the browser space. There are many features yet to come like CSS 3 columns, DOM Load and Save, SVG, lots of cool stuff. The Web needs to continue to move forward, so it's good to see.

Even cooler, though, was reading "go competition!" in the post on Slashdot, since, as I've stated here before, end users are the ones who stand to benefit from all of this hooplah. I personally don't care who wins this browser war, or even if it ever ends. As long as there's competition, we can move out of the stagnancy and watch as the Web as we know it evolves and becomes even more usable.

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Microsoft's New Web Messenger

August 08, 2004 9:51 PM

While reading News.com tonight I found an article about Microsoft's new Web Messenger, so I decided to mosey on over and check out their site for it. I found something there that I think is pretty darn cool:

You must have the following to use MSN Web Messenger:

  • A web browser: Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 or later, Netscape 7.0 or later, or Mozilla 1.6 or later, running in Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft writing web software that works in Mozilla? Whoa...

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Web Design Marvels

August 07, 2004 1:33 AM

I added the Stopdesign Atom feed to my blog subscriptions today, and I already stumbled upon a crown jewel.

In Doug Bowman's entry, A CSS Mosaic, he has compiled a whole slew of CSS-based designs that are drool-worthy. Choose from the following list to see some of my favorites:

The best part is, there are more, but those should be enough to at least whet your appetite.

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Gmail Notifier Problems

August 06, 2004 5:09 PM

I've noticed that I'm no longer able to connect to my Gmail account using Doron's Gmail Notifier. At first I worried that someone had guessed my secret question, since that is one of the first issues I read about when researching Gmail (if you don't make your secret question difficult to answer, just about anyone can look up the information on Google and hijack your account). However, I don't think I could even answer my secret question, and I was able to login fine using the regular web login.

Since I've run into this problem at home and at work, using two different versions of the extension (the one at home being the latest), I'm guessing Google has changed something about the way they process logins. It will be interesting to see if this becomes something like the issues between Trillian and Microsoft, or if Google, instead, decides to play nice with these types of 3rd party apps.

Update: As DJ V pointed out in a comment, this problem has been addressed in the latest version of Gmail Notifier. Thanks, DJ V!

Computers | Post Comments | View Comments (11) | Permalink

Oscar on His Deathbed

August 04, 2004 10:49 PM

Oscar Wilde's last words were:

Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.

Oscar was the man, and I'm not just saying that because we share the same birthday.

Blathery | Post Comments | View Comments (3) | Permalink

Double-Clicking Folders in Thunderbird

August 02, 2004 11:11 PM

I just realized that when you double-click on a folder in Thunderbird, it opens a completely new instance of the application. How bizarre is that?

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so, as there's even an extension you can download to keep it from happening.

Computers | Post Comments | View Comments (1) | Permalink

Using SQLite in PHP 5

August 02, 2004 12:37 PM

I wanted to give PHP 5's built-in SQLite support a whirl today, so I spent about 10 minutes writing up the following script:

<?
/************************************
* SQLite Testing *
* By Bernie Zimmermann *
************************************/

/* open new database */
$connect = sqlite_open("badmusic");

/* build an SQL statement */
$sql = "create table songs(title char)";

/* run the query */
sqlite_query($sql, $connect);

/* build an SQL statement */
$sql = "insert into songs values ('I Want It That Way')";

/* run the query */
sqlite_query($sql, $connect);

/* build an SQL statement */
$sql = "select title from songs";

/* run the query */
$res = sqlite_single_query($sql, $connect);

/* print the result */
print($res);
?>

The beautiful thing is, it worked. It just worked. You don't have to spend time setting up databases and granting user permissions like you would in MySQL. You just write the script and run it.

The above script produces the following output, thanks to the sqlite_single_query() function, which looks like a nifty little function:

I Want It That Way

If you have access to PHP 5, you should definitely give the new SQLite functionality a try.

Web Development | Post Comments | View Comments (3) | Permalink

Counter-Strike and the Swedes

August 01, 2004 8:50 PM

Slashdot is running a piece today on the Swedes and their domination at the Counter-Strike championship. They point to an article at Gotfrag that contains details on the final matches and poses the following question:

With another all Sweden final at this CPL, one has to ask themselves what makes these teams so special. What do they do that makes them one plateau higher than the rest?

The answer? They eat, drink, and breathe Counter-Strike. When I was a member of the Choir of the West (excuse the terrible website design) we travelled to Scandenavia on tour, and I remember quite vividly walking to the Internet cafes in Sweden at all hours of the night and finding a packed room full of CS addicts. They took it seriously too. Being the kind of guy who shoots his own teammates more often than he does the enemy, I wouldn't have been able to hang with those guys, and I knew it. So I just sat down at the other end of the room where the geeks go to instant message their girlfriends half a world away.

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Constants in CSS

August 01, 2004 5:40 PM

I'm going to cut straight to the chase. Why are there no constants in CSS? It makes no sense. One of the most touted benefits of utilizing CSS is savings in bandwidth. When you talk about the big picture (like I have before), adding constants to CSS makes nothing but sense.

Okay, so some of you are wondering what in God's name I'm talking about. Well, if you've done any C++ coding before, you might have run across something like this:

#define ON_A_COP 187

Or in PHP, you might have used something like this:

define("ON_A_COP", "187");

In either case, a constant has been defined that can be referenced throughout the remaining code. By setting up a constant in such a way, you only need to change the actual value in once place (where you defined it) and that change is reflected throughout the code.

So why does this make perfect sense for CSS? Because by defining a constant or constants at the top of your stylesheet (or in a separate one) you can dramatically decrease the size of your .css file.

So given that the benefit of allowing constants in CSS is blatantly obvious, I'll ask again. Why is there no support for constants?

While trying to find the answer a few nights ago, I was amazed at how desolate the web seems to be when it comes to discussions on the topic, even when it boils down to people asking the same question as me. Usenet seems to be the only area where the topic is being discussed at length, and even in those instances it usually boils down to something like:

Q: Is defining constants in my stylesheet possible?

A: Not in CSS. Use some other language to "fake" it.

So, okay, there are workarounds. However, it makes no sense to me that there needs to be. Constants should be available in CSS. Period.

I had no luck finding anything in the specs, and even though I sent an email to Eric Meyer asking him about the lack of support, the chances of him responding are about as good as Cindy Crawford dropping by to play Xbox.

Needless to say, I'll be posting again as soon as I can find any sort of rhyme or reason to the absence of constants in CSS. For now, the issue remains simply mind-boggling.

Update: I did one better than Eric Meyer and actually managed to get the "father of CSS," Håkon Wium Lie, to answer my question. See Constants in CSS Revisited for his reply.

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