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30 December 2002

[7 pm | 2 pm | 10 am]

Book writing continues apace.

Avast, ye lubbers

Pirated Sites, the People’s Court of creative design infringement, has outdone itself with the current spotlight featuring Netymolology and three shameless imitators. Must be seen to be appreciated. :::

ICON views

Yesterday we said that if you sort OS X ICON views by date modified, the window shows your oldest files first, and you have to scroll down to find recent files. Many readers wrote in to tell us how to change the sort order of List views. We know how to do that. List views are not the problem. It’s ICON views that are stuck with an unusable default (oldest to newest). We can’t imagine any situation where you’d need instant access to your oldest files. What was Apple thinking? They weren’t thinking about the way people use computers.

It’s a pity, because ICON views in OS X are otherwise pretty amazing. You can tell ICON views to generate previews of all your image files (and you can make those previews as large as 128 x 128 px). You can have ICON views list information about your files and folders. And you can sort ICON views by name, size, kind, date created, or date modified. Great stuff. But if you sort ICON views by date, they show your oldest files first. Useless. If you switch a window to List view and change its sort order, then switch back to ICON view, does that fix the problem? No. The two views are unrelated. ICON view is exciting, but it needs more work. :::

Georgia on our mind

Well, we liked the American Typewriter font, but apparently many readers didn’t, so we’ve switched back to Georgia. You know the drill: refresh and reload. :::

A plethora of permalinks

Bookmark this day. :::

29 December 2002

[1 pm]

Design Changes Considered Harmful

In Mac OS X, this site’s body text is now rendered in American Typewriter. (’Most everybody else will continue to see Georgia.) In Gecko-based browsers, refresh this page. In IE5.x/Mac, reload these style sheets (1, 2, 3), then refresh this page. [Update.] :::

Book Writing Considered Harmful

While Dean Allen noshes Brie and pretends to be heterosexual, and while Christendom lurches from eggnog to champagne, we slog through the muck of writing and revising our next book. It beats building the Pyramids. Our only consolation is that Carrie is similarly burdened with book writing chores, and hence is unlikely to blame us for the soul-crushing isolation and misery with which this holiday season has been festooned. :::

Death Considered Harmful

When they kick at your front door, how you gonna come? Joe Strummer, singer/guitarist of The Clash, has died at 50. Also dead at 50, celebrity photographer Herb Ritts.

The Clash showed that aggressive, politically engaged punk rock could be melodic, artful, and even hummable, and that the audience for punk rock could fill arenas. Ritts, like no photographer since the Hollywood stylists of the 1940s, made icons of his subjects, and helped create a culture of celebrity worship that was the antithesis of punk. “Some photographers embalm their subjects, but he enlivened them,” said Richard Gere. Not any more. Rest in peace, fine gentlemen. :::

Classic Considered Harmful

We’ve switched to OS X and we’ll never go back. The cause of our quasi-religious conversion? Memory management and UNIX stability. Because of the way OS X manages memory, you never have to quit your most-used programs. Photoshop, Illustrator, Eudora, Flash, Fetch, PageSpinner, Word, Explorer, Navigator, Suitcase, DragThing, Tex-Edit Plus, Default Folder X, System Preferences, Quicktime Player, and Snapz Pro X can all stay open 24 hours a day. Put the Mac to sleep with all programs open. Touch the mouse and you’re ready to start working again. :::

ICON VIEW: View by Date Modified Considered Harmful

View by date modified.

OS X is exciting but it’s not perfect. In some ways it’s still unrefined and somewhat user-hostile. For instance.

Just as you could in OS 9, in OS X you can tell one window or all windows to sort ICON Views by date modified, but with one dumb and puzzling difference. In OS 9, “date modified” usefully sorted files from newest to oldest: Open a folder full of Photoshop files, and the ones you’d been working on most recently appeared at the top of the window, ready for further tweaking.

In OS X, the window sorts files from oldest to newest. Open a window, and files you may not have touched in years appear at the top. To access the file you most recently saved (and are still working on), you must scroll to the bottom of the window.

This is not only contrary to the way OS 9 worked, it’s contrary to the way human beings work: we don’t need instant access to last year’s files, we need access to the ones we’re still working on. If there is a way to change the view-by-date sort order in ICON Views from the useless default, we haven’t discovered it yet, and apparently neither have David Pogue or Scott Kelby.

PLEASE NOTE: These comments concern OS X ICON Views only. List Views are an entirely different story. A primordial creature, rising from the swamp of Creation covered in its own excrement would know how to use OS X’s List views. To sort by any criteria, click the header. To toggle the sort order, click again. It’s simple, intuitive, and elegant (in other words, good design). :::

Special Menu Considered Harmful

In every Mac since the dawn of time, you could erase a disk by choosing Erase Disk from the Special menu. In OS X there is no Special Menu. Nor can you erase disks from the OS X Apple menu. Nor can you erase disks from the Finder’s Go menu. Nor can you erase disks from the Finder’s File menu. Nor can you erase disks from the Finder’s Finder menu. In short, you cannot erase disks via the Finder.

Instead, you must open Hard Drive: Applications: Utilities: Disk Utility, choose a disk or volume in the left-hand pane, click on the Erase tab, read the options, check a radio button, push a push button, beat yourself across the nose with a small truncheon, and wake up pantsless in a foreign capital whose gracefully domed architecture betrays a Moorish influence. It was easier with the Special menu. :::

Permalinks Considered Harmful

Bookmark all today’s entries with the handy permalink at right, or bookmark them individually. :::

27 December 2002

[8 pm]

Joy. :::

22 December 2002

[8 pm]

In Issue No. 156 of A List Apart, for people who make websites: “Cross-Browser Variable Opacity with PNG,” by Michael Lovitt. The PNG format offers lossless compression and true, alpha transparency, but PNG support in IE/Win leaves a lot to be desired. (For instance, it leaves true alpha transparency to be desired.) Are you stuck with GIFs forever? Michael Lovitt thinks not. His workarounds may work for you, too. This ALA issue was produced by Tanya Rabourn and edited by Erin Kissane.

Stuff and nonsense

Mac tip of the week: If you own Aladdin’s Stuffit Deluxe 6, don’t download and install the free Stuffit Expander 7 plugin. If you do, it will break Stuffit Deluxe 6 beyond recognition. Since Stuffit Expander is a single-purpose plugin while Stuffit Deluxe is a full-featured program, it’s like trading last year’s car for this year’s tires. (If you don’t own Stuffit Deluxe, feel free to download the plugin. But be sure to manually edit your browser’s File Helpers preferences after doing so. Otherwise, the browser may continue to use Expander 6, and you may continue to get annoying dialog boxes asking if you want to download Expander 7.) :::

20 December 2002

[5 pm | 10 am]

That’s a switch

For your pleasure, we present Part One of our OS X Switcher’s Guide. In this one, we share utilities we’re using to make OS X feel more like home (and to manage fonts).

Jump at the chance

The Toboggan Jump game, our favorite entry in the eighth annual Communication Arts Interactive Festival, is now available for your pleasure at Wedü Design. See the pretty snowflakes. See the happy little tobogganers. Make them crash and burn.

Deja vu all over again

This week we discussed the redesign of HotBot, which uses web standards but blocks Mozilla and suffers from easily correctable errors. Oprah’s newly launched Oxygen Media site doesn’t strive for standards compliance, but it too blocks Mozilla—and, while doing so, asks users to download a modern browser such as IE6/PC, IE5/Mac, or Netscape 7—which of course is Mozilla in corporate drag. (Hat tip: Bill Mason.) As with HotBot, Oxygen’s problem seems to be one of poorly authored detection scripts. For folks building complex sites, here’s a tip: if you must sniff, sniff for features instead of user agent strings. (And whenever possible, don’t sniff at all.)

Obviously, HotBot and Oxygen are different in many ways, from their look and feel to their user base to the type of service they provide. It should be noted that HotBot’s builders were striving for full standards compliance, and that even conscientious designers and developers continually smack into the brick wall of reality.

We hit that brick wall ourselves all the time. The template’s perfect until a third-party content management system louses it up. Or an advertiser’s iframe inserts broken links to JavaScript files. Or the client insists on an invalid fudge for the sake of pixel-perfect rendering in Netscape 4. It happens to builders with the best of intentions. The imperfections of the HotBot site were probably beyond the developers’s control and are likely to be fixed in the new year.

Ask for it by name!

www.Ican’ “What should have been a good news announcement for Health Minister Elvy Robichaud left him on the defensive Wednesday, after the site was criticized for not having a user-friendly web address.” That's putting it mildly. The site’s URL: Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? (Hat tip: Brian Cassidy.)

U.S. out of NYC

The good news for NYC is that the transit strike was averted. The bad news is, job loss here exceeds job loss in the rest of the U.S. Things are so bad, some of our friends have been forced to move away, leaving a trail of creditors behind them. And then there’s Jason Kottke, publisher of an obscure so-called “weblog.” San Francisco wasn’t good enough for him. Paris wasn’t good enough for him. Kottke had to move to NYC. Before unpacking, he had already snagged a primo gig: designing Gawker, the magazine of “radical Manhattanism.” Kottke must be stopped. :::

19 December 2002

[10 am]

Our new Titanium PowerBook arrived yesterday. Enough said.

Not just another XHTML/CSS site launch

Creative Commons hopes to bring sanity to the marketplace of ideas—a marketplace hobbled by intellectual property laws that discourage sharing and collaboration, reward corporations rather than artists, and chiefly exist to insure that no lawyer will ever go hungry in America. Creative Commons offers licenses that let you “share with the world while protecting yourself.” An animated short explains why the group exists and how its licenses can help creative people publish securely. Oh, yeah, and the simple yet attractive site was created in XHTML and CSS, like any smart new site ought to be. :::

18 December 2002

[2 pm | 11 am]

My Glamorous Life Number 76 has generated heaps of reader mail, probably because it explicitly requested “no mail.”

Design this: the W3C Remix

WThRemix challenges designers, coders, and IAs to create a redesign for the W3C homepage that is appropriately branded, intuitively navigable, organizes its content with the user in mind, and looks great—in other words, a W3C that will inspire people who create websites. We urge you to read about and support this contest (and maybe even submit an entry).

Case of the missing banner

A W3C Remix banner has been added to the right-hand column of this site. To see it in most modern browsers, refresh this page. To see it in IE5.x/Mac, either delete your cache and restart the browser, or reload this style sheet and then refresh this page. (The cache file is called IE Cache.waf. In Preferences, you can tell the browser to store it in an easy-to-access location, such as your desktop. Make a habit of quitting IE, dragging the cache to the trash, emptying the trash, and restarting the browser, and you’ll find it easier to test your designs in IE5/Mac. You’ll also be able to tell when sites you visit often have changed their CSS. If you don’t do this, IE will continue to use outdated CSS files from your cache instead of downloading new ones.)

Last exit before Stupidville

Required reading: “A Touch of Class” at Tantek’s log concisely explains how structured markup and CSS minimization can work together to create smarter web pages that are semantically rich, easier to maintain, and lower in fat and calories than the usual “this may be incoherent and wasteful but it kind of gets the job done” approach.

Opera hits high note

Based on the notion that the web is for everyone, Opera’s “Open the Web” project hopes to address browser blocking, cockeyed scripting, and other common problems, and to help site builders and web users talk to each other.

15 million page views

The Daily Report has had over 15 million page views since we last re-set the counter in 1999. Not bad for a site that doesn’t sell products or run auctions, doesn’t provide a community forum, isn’t a search engine, doesn’t post humorous Flash cartoons, and doesn’t sell sex (it rents it). Thanks for your support. :::

17 December 2002

[8 pm | 3 pm | 2 pm]

My Glamorous Life Number 76: Smoke Out.

A penny for your thought balloons

This navigation widget gives us a special feeling.

Not so HotBot

Look before you leap forward: HotBot’s CSS/XHTML makeover, mentioned earlier today, may not be quite as well-thought-out as we or HotBot hoped. The site’s heavily promoted style sheet switcher doesn’t work in Mozilla. In fact, Mozilla users are told to download “a browser that supports web standards.” Like, um, Mozilla, for instance? Deepening the absurdity and baking it to a rich, golden brown, HotBot’s error message links to a WaSP page that recommends Mozilla. We suspect that badly written browser detection scripts, rather than Pure Evil, are responsible for the snafu. Hat tips: Andreas Bovens and Matt Pusey.

Disappearing image bug

Dave Linabury has discovered an IE6/Win bug worth knowing about. Go look and know.

Blocked image bug

Today’s header graphic originally overlapped the transparent images above it, using CSS1 “negative margin” techniques dating back to 1996. The effect on this page was subtle and nice in every browser but IE6/Win, which filled the GIF images’s transparent channel with color, thereby wrecking the presentation. So we changed our layout. Such is the power of market dominance.

Elsewhere in our sad and beautiful world

Following in the footsteps of AllTheWeb and Lycos, search engine HotBot has retooled in XHTML and CSS. Nothing is wrong with your browser: the site’s strangely off-balance design is intentional. ::: Good reading at Webreference: “Making Headlines with CSS,” by Christopher Schmitt, founder of the Babble list and author of Designing CSS Web Pages. ::: Short, punchy testimonials at Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture extoll the importance of IA. ::: “Nine Lives for Mac OS 9” explains a shift in Apple’s OS X rollout policy, and a discussion at MacCentral forum sheds light on the policy shift. (Many creatives in publishing, and many in the educational market, are not ready to adopt OS X, and many bean counters would love to foist lower-cost Wintel products on these Mac users. Thus it makes business sense for Apple to preserve OS 9 a bit longer.) ::: needs 15 seconds of your time. ::: Some people dislike the “editorial we” and one did something about it, with occasionally bizarre side-effects. We wonder how this ASP-based transformer will handle “We the people of the United States.” ::: Last but not least (may not be safe for office viewing). :::

13–15 December 2002

[various updates]

Each of us today must make one vital decision: should Barbie be a librarian, an architect, or a policewoman? The correct answer, of course, is “librarian.” Vote early and often. (Be sure to vote in the Parents Poll as well, where “architect” is now winning by a large margin. Parents Poll hat tip: Dave Rutledge.)


Ever download the low-res “comp” version of a stock photo, get the client to approve the design, and then purchase a high-res version of the photo only to discover that it isn’t quite right after all? Smart royalty-free photo/illustration house Veer may have the solution. Veer’s new Zoom feature lets you see grain, f0cal points, and “blemishes on models” in high-res detail before you buy. Even if you’re not an art director and you never buy stock photos, you’ll want to check out Veer’s new Zoom feature simply to see the way it’s been implemented—an intuitive and reliable Flash MX interface communicating with a database. There are other ways of doing this (some Java-based, some proprietary), but Veer’s method is clean and works well. You may need to sign in to see the feature in action, and you’ll need Flash Player 6.

Exploring Apple’s exciting new OS 9

You’re designing a site, and you need to insert an image, but you can’t remember its dimensions and you don’t want to go to the trouble of opening Photoshop. The OS 9 QuickViewer contextual menu item (part of Riccisoft’s ImageUtilities) saves the day. In the OS 9 Finder, select the file, click and hold. From the handy contextual menu, choose “View Picture.” Voila! The image floats above your desktop, along with its dimensions (screenshot). We use this technique a dozen times a day.

Some will point out that XHTML editors like PageSpinner and WYSIWYG tools like Dreamweaver will automatically fill in the file name and dimensions of an image, and ask why anyone would need to manually check image sizes in the Finder. We do it when spinning out variations on a template—for instance, when creating a quick, mini-site containing multiple logos for client review, each of which has slightly different dimensions. Copy the original XHTML file as many times as needed, change the image reference (1.gif, 2.gif), and use the contextual menu to quickly determine the appropriate height and width values. There are of course ways to automate this process, but they are overkill for many projects that can be completed in a few minutes using the power of OS 9’s contextual menus.

(According to Dominey, there is now a free contextual menu plug-in for OS X that does the same thing or close to it. Also, in OS X 10.2, you can turn on an option in the Finder that shows image size dimensions without the need for any contextual menu or other tool.)

Standards, id, and ColdFusion

Signals vs. Noise has remodeled in XHTML and CSS. It’s clean, good-looking, and usable, like all 37signals’s work, but currently suffers from a few errors that are easy to fix. We mention them here not to embarrass our pals at 37signals, for whom we have great respect, but because they are common problems that affect many sites—maybe even yours.

The site’s CMS seems to generate numerically named ids, which are illegal in XHTML, and those invalid ids are throwing off the W3C’s markup and CSS validation services when they attempt to parse the site. The quick ’n easy fix: insert one or more letters at the beginning of each id attribute. id="000010" is not kosher, but id="s000010" or id="svn000010" are valid and would fix most of the site’s woes.

The other validation error is caused by unescaped ampersands (&), which are another (X)HTML no-no. In HTML and XHTML, ampersands are reserved for escaping high ASCII characters. For instance, “ is the Unicode entity for an opening quotation mark. When raw ampersands are included in strings, a markup validator assumes they’re being used correctly as part of an escaped character sequence. If no such sequence exists, the validator rightly states that the page contains an error.

Macromedia ColdFusion generates URLs that contain unescaped ampersands. This can be fixed by using a ColdFusion function called URLEncodedFormat(). ASP has a similar function called HTMLEncode. In both cases, developers can avoid the problem by passing their URLs through the function before outputting them. (Hat tips: Kym Kovan, Mark Stanton, and Marcus Tucker.)

We’ve worked with several ColdFusion developers in the private and public sectors, not one of whom knew how to escape the illegal characters ColdFusion generated. Possibly some did know but didn’t want to deal with what they considered an annoying request by a front-end guy.

Update: Signals vs. Noise now validates. 37signals was able to fix the errors mentioned above in less time than it took to describe them. Beauty.

Bugs in the belfry

It seems the new Relevant Externals feature in our right-hand column displays incorrectly in one or more recent versions of Navigator in OS X. We don’t know which version or why, and we also don’t know if it’s a genuine browser bug or a fluke on one reader’s machine. In our tests, the list displayed correctly in all the usual suspects in OS 9, OS X, and Windows XP. We receive over 2,000 email messages a day and have configured Eudora to place attachments in a separate folder. Email messages retain links to their attachments, but sometimes messages disappear because their subject lines, return addresses, or other headers trigger the spam filters we’ve created over the years. For that matter, in cleaning up viral attachments (harmless to our Mac) we sometimes accidentally delete harmless attachments. C’est la vie. Somewhere out there, at least one reader is seeing a retarded version of a basic definition list to which primitive CSS1 rules have been applied. The more CSS rules you write, the more interdependencies you generate, and the greater the chance that some browser or other may drop the ball. We tested in Mozilla 1.1, Netscape 6.2, Opera 7 beta, IE6/Win, and IE5/Mac (OS 9 and OS X), and in every one of them, the list behaved itself.

Update: The browser in question was apparently a nightly build of Chimera, a Gecko-based beta browser for Mac OS X. According to Hivelogic’s Dan Benjamin, today’s build of the Chimera beta browser displays the page correctly. (Dan did not submit the initial bug report. He simply knew which browser was experiencing the problem, having seen it himself in last night’s Chimera build.)

If you send us bug reports with screenshots, please state which browser and OS you’re using (including version numbers). And if our site looks odd in a nightly build of an unfinished browser, please don’t tell us. Tell the engineers whose product you’re beta testing. Thanks. :::

Default text style.Alternate text style.Watch this space.Watch this space.
A List Apart
Happy Cog Studios

Current ALA: Cross-Browser Variable Opacity with PNG—A Real Solution

Current Glamor: Smoke Out

Recent launch: Fox Searchlight Pictures (with Hillman Curtis)

Recent interview: SXSW Tech Report

The independent content producer refuses to die.

Hide/Show Relevant Externals.

Relevant Externals:
20 things
Access @ ALA
Available Domain Name of the Week
Box Model Hack
Boxes and Arrows
Brainstorms and Raves
Browser Specs
Browsers @ ALA
Building Accessible Websites (serialization)
CSS Panic Guide
Creative Commons
Daring Fireball
Design is Kinky
Design Not Found
Digital Web
Dive Into Mark
Dodge Magazine
Flash @ ALA
Government Requirements re: Web Access
Historical Present
Hivelogic Narrative
Icon Factory
Joe Clark Slashdot interview
Layout Reservoir
Little Boxes
Lost America Night Photography
Meyer Web
Morning News, The
Net Diver
NYPL Style Guide
One Point Zero
OS X Refugee Utilities
Pirated Sites
Reading Ed
Real World Style
Rogue Librarian
Scripting News
Stop Design
Taken on the Road: American Mile Markers
Tantek’s log
Using Lists for DHTML Menus
Web Building Tips
Web Graphics
Web Standards Project, The
Web Writing Apple Scripts
What Do I Know?
Where There’s Smoke
Young Pup
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