Stretchy = Bad… OK maybe not

Stretchy layouts are not good, yet every über techie who has a 20 inch or larger monitor wants web sites to stretch when they open their browser to the width of the monitor. Well maybe not every über techie wants stretchy layouts, but enough that comment on design related message boards that it really irks me. Why is it bad, because paragraphs that span exceedingly long widths are difficult to read. This is of course assuming they are long enough to still take several lines. A single line of text is not hard to read. And, of course, if the site is only images or video, then it is not as much an issue if at all.

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HCI 445: Inquiry Methods and Use Analysis

I finally completed the last of the core courses for the HCI program. Now I only need to take two more electives and do the capstone. This last class was definitely one of the better courses I have taken. While it was similar to the HCI 460 course it is different in that it focused more on the the initial user observations whereas 460 was about usability testing methods and reporting. The class started out with us doing our own user observation. This involved finding a task to study a user performing. Then finding a user and arranging a time to observe them.

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CSS hacks/unhacks: using IE conditional code to solve CSS problems

Working on a recent layout, I was finally confronted with the need to have an IE CSS hack. I hate hacks, because they often break with browser updates and aren’t easily remembered. So I avoid them as much as possible. However, I finally succumbed to having to use a hack… except the method I use is not a hack so much as relying on IE functionality. My designs typically can be made to work in Opera, Mozilla/Firefox and Safari browsers very easily, and then occasionally take some head pounding to get to work for IE (first windows then mac). While some might suggest designing for IE first, that is not desirable as I use a mac to develop on, although I do use a PC at work. Also, when resolving a design for IE first, it is tempting to not check the others, as IE is still the browser of the masses. Working with Safari, Mozilla first gets the less numerous browsers out of the way. The additional nightmare of IE is that you have to deal with the subversions, 5.0 does not work the same as 5.5, which is not the same as 6.x (don’t mention 4.x browsers).

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Site Update

The code behind the site has been updated. If you notice anything looking out of whack let me know. The update involved mostly scripting updates and a change to the database schema, but there were also some tweaks to layouts and entries. Just send a comment to any message to let me know if something is wrong. All comments are reviewed before posting (because I don’t get that many posters… and I will never let the poker spam get posted) so don’t worry about it being seen by the world. You can click on the “more” link to get some of the boring details… otherwise, thanks for visiting.


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In Search of a Better Editor

I have used Windows for my work system (it is required) for over 8 years now. I have migrated through a number of code editors as my abilities and needs have changed over time. I have used WebEdit, HomeSite/ColdFusion, and now UltraEdit. On the Mac it has been BBEdit all the way. Yet, especially in the last year or so, I have been looking for something on the Mac that would work more like UltraEdit on windows. Specifically, something that would allow opening more than 1 file via FTP at a time. And didn’t require pallettes to access common code snippets (I like keyboard shortcuts). Simply, the macro features of BBEdit just don’t cut it for me. I should mention the version of BBEdit I have is v6.0… and it is a great editor. So perhaps if I weren’t too cheap to upgrade, I may find some of these features added in the most current version.

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Why, Oh Why, IE

[Edit: Life is getting much better these days with IE 9 beginning to support standards and be consistent as Firefox and Safari (and now Chrome and there is always someone on Opera)]

Usually, I start out creating my designs for this site by testing them in Safari (yes, I am a Mac user… so consider this my first contribution to the holy war of mac vs pc). I also test Mozilla on the Mac/Windows and feel that if it looks good in those two I am generally on track. Eventually, I get around to checking in IE on Windows and then IE on the Mac (although, I don’t know why anyone would still use IE on a Mac). Here, I typically find some fatal flaw that IE just craps on. If it were not for the fact that Windows forces users to use IE (software update with Moz, I don’t think so), most everybody would have chucked it a long time ago. Now, only due to the security lapses in IE, has Firefox (Mozilla’s light and fast version) begun to claim some users back from IE… but you still have to use IE. And most users still do…

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The Power of CSS

Since wordpress layout is based on css, I wanted to do something similar to the CSS Zen Garden. I hope to create a new designs every now and then… None of the code in the theme file is changed when switching between designs (although I did modify the code from the original WP install). I was going to write my own feature to handle allowing visitors to switch the theme for themselves. Instead, I used a plug-in to provide this feature… There are so many plugins for wordpress, which is one of the strengths of the platform. So why reinvent the wheel, well except when you don’t like the options that exist. I added a facebook like plugin and really do not care for how it is working so I may bake my own shortly here. Besides the CSSzengarden, there are hundreds of designs/themes for wordpress, so the challenge is for me, to try and do something fresh (or personal, which should be fresh).

Japan 1
This is the default that loads when you first visit the site. It features a rotating head image using jQuery. The photos and image are all taken by me in my travels.

This is a plain layout stripped of most images. Great starting point for new designs as well as for anyone visiting on a slow connection.

These are old designs that have been retired due to the upgrades. I may bring them back sometime when I can convert and test them fully;

This was the old default. It uses a picture I took of Mt Fuji covered with snow for the banner.

This one uses a Macromedia Fireworks pattern with a shot of the Pacific ocean. I took the picture of the Pacific from the hotel in Ito city Japan. Sorry you can’t see much more, the full image has a little island that is offshore about 1500 meters.

Ok, so it took a couple weeks to get this one up… having a couple of kids, a full time job and going to grad school takes some time. Well this one is not finished, but I wanted to get something out. It is kind of inspired by early 20th century typography… but it doesn’t do justice to what I was thinking of… Jan Tschichold, El Lissitzky… et al.

Splotch or blocks, something bright and colorful. This was created using some filters in Fireworks. I wanted to create something that looked a little like water color painted blocks.

Used a photo taken from inside the Denny’s in the city of Ito, Japan for the head (taken in 2003). The concept basically was to have the water fade into the page content.