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Monthly Archives: September 2008

I’ve got my email addy on the site, and I wanted to put a form out also, for those who don’t want to use email. So I find some free forms code, and I added it to the contact page. Well, forms don’t live in HTML land by themselves do they … they come with a server side part! Cue ominous music. That would be CGI, ASP or PHP.

Never say never (as in “I’ll never need to use/learn PHP”). I found a form that had a simple PHP program that you just plop onto the server with little fuss. I wasn’t happy with the HTML part, because it had a table, so I converted it all to CSS. After that I wasn’t happy with the PHP output to the email, so I fiddled with it. That’s when the form started behaving funny, so I had to go and undo all my changes. History repeats itself, flashback to college programs exploding after I commented them. I put three exclamation points, and it burped up on them. Took me a half hour to figure out what I did wrong.

Now I’ve got this great form, all ready to go. Wait! Now I’m reading about how spammers find forms on pages, and fill in forms to spam. Holy moly, what more do I need to do to get a simple form out on my page? I’m looking for code to protect from bot spammers, and I discover some more PHP snippets that I can add to my existing PHP. The snippets are not working, so I have to (cue more ominous music) LEARN PHP! Ay, what a ride.

I found a great tutorial site, gotta give credit to the British and their generous tutorials: http://www.homeandlearn.co.uk/php/php4p1.html

Great site. I haven’t seen a real high level language since I don’t know how long. No more HTML. This is almost real programming (“Real programmers code in machine code”), and it’s all coming back. I haven’t forgotten how to ride the bicycle after all! Love it!!! It’s like a new tool that I can start taking things apart with.

I followed tutorial for my first pass at the header photo,  There was point in the tutorial where the author switched from Photoshop to Illustrator. At the time, I’d never used Illustrator, and I got clammy fingers just thinking about cracking open the program.  So, I chickened out and grabbed a Photoshop brush instead, and just tossed the brush onto the picture. It looked fairly decent, so I left the picture as is.

I figured, sure, I’ll remember what brush I used … NOT! Four weeks later, as I’m remaking the photo, with a cleaner image, I’m digging into the my brushes and I can’t find it! Aaargh! Okay, don’t panic, let’s go back to the internet to find it. I have searched on most every permutation of criteria, and every good brush site, and for the life of me, it’s nowhere!

Out of desperation, I now look through every brush file, even if the brushpack name (like “LINES”) does not describe the swirly brush I’m looking for.  As it happens, the brush was in a file at the very bottom of the brushes list, under “VECTOR” pack.  Now,  why would a swirly brush be hidden under a Vector pack, instead of a more appropriately named “swirls” pack? I will not say how much time I spend looking for that mis-placed brush. Like a set of lost car keys, the brush was in the “last place I looked.”

Lesson learned. For every design, write down what I did with which tools!

I should check the etymology of the statement “put your money where your mouth is.” It’s a pretty bad visual, and probably none too tasty either.

There’s a scene in an old Robin Williams movie “Moscow on the Hudson”. Robin plays a Russian immigrant who goes into a grocery store looking to buy toilet paper, an item which was apparently a scare resource in his home country. He comes upon the toilet paper Aisle, and becomes so overwhelmed by the variety and quantity that he swoons to a faint. That’s pretty much how I feel when shopping for a web host and registrar. My head is spinning.

First I had to choose a site name. The one name I cannot choose is the celebrity’s firstnamelastname, out of respect. I don’t feel right about buying it. I made a list of twenty possibilities. They started sounding pretty silly as I went along. I chose a short and easy to remember name. That was one of the advantages of a South African name attached to a .com qualifier. It’s usually available for sale.

After reading umpteen articles and flip flopping between full service organizations like Geocities, and do it yourself hosts, I went with popular choice: godaddy.com. It was cheap, and I used a coupon code. Bottom line of about $160.00 for three years, which is a pretty good deal. And I paid for it out of my Paypal money, which is sort of like phony money anyway. At checkout, godaddy flooded me with upsell “do you want that in a .net .org, .info”. boy, they’re pushy.

After all the virtual signing on the dotted lines, and all agreements were agreed to, I am now the proud parent of: a real website name, a ludicrous amount of gig and bandwidth, and some other whatnots I’ll never use. My first real piece of ad-free space. Wow. Breathe in, out. I ought to celebrate … or sleep.

I wouldn’t recommend godaddy for the novice. It’s not entirely intuitive what has to be done, after the money transfers. I was sitting there with a login i.d., looking for how to park the site. Found that. Then I went to search for the ftp screen to upload my site. Couldn’t find it. Discovered I had to set the account up first, then wait 24 hours for them to send me an introductory email regarding site upload. Unless you choose the “make a site” option for more bucks, godaddy is not too user friendly.

Up to this point, I was just playing. Now that I’ve forked over money, I’ve got to cut the apron strings and let the kid toddle off.

First, sleep.

I think it was a lyric from a Cinderella film (the “rainbow Cinderella” starring Brandy).

“Impossible things are happening every day.”

I always thought it impossible for me to to a pullup. As hard as I try, I can’t get past that first inch of “pull”. I was watching the infomercial for P90X. I went in search of reviews. This site by Maggie Wang: Is p90x Right For You Requirements and Overview, very thorough. Her whole site is an inspiration. I passed all the minimum fitness tests to start the P90X program, except for one. I can’t do a pullup if my life depended on it. I can do reverse pullups — pulldowns at a slow 4-count, which my kids find mildly amusing when I do them.

Maggie linked to another site, which in turn linked to the experiencelifemag article: Clear The Bar. The article suggested several methods to build up the muscles needed to do a pullup. I don’t have a Smith machine, nor a lat pulldown setup. I do, however own Spri exercise bands. One of the suggestions was to loop a band over the bar, and stick a knee in the loop hanging down. Yeehaw, I accomplished my first self-assisted pullups today! Will wonders never cease.

Impossible things are happening today!

I’m not the type to anthropomorphize food or animals or inanimate objects, but I have come to despise a web browser. Is that the most ridiculous thing?

Internet Explorer takes my shiny site and turns it into shite. It doesn’t know how to center things, it doesn’t know anchored images should inherit colours from the text. Blast and damnation. Firefox and all the other browsers can do it fine, why not I.E.? I know, I have to outsmart it. I don’t like the way it behaves and I’m not going to stand for it or bend to that browser’s quirkiness.

I’m just sticking a little music player on a page, and I.E.’s security popup gagged on it and spit it as if I were trying to poison it. I got a “restricted this file from showing active content” message. Restricted, my foot!  Or maybe it didn’t like my javascript for an image lightbox.  Blethering foolish I.E.

Onto other matters.

If CSS is an improvement , then why does it take this piece of CSS…

img.floatCenter {
padding: 0px;
border: 1px dotted #ffffff;
display:block;
margin-left:auto;
margin-right:auto;
}

to accomplish what this piece of HTML does?

<center>

Some things are better left, unimproved. I may be tad tired, again.

Other, other things. I was reading an article in a South African online newspaper, and I was amused by the subtle differences. For example: “the band was a success” becomes “the band were a success.” Band is plural in S.A.! Colour me a language geek, I think it’s cool.

Yes.

The latest sample of the website is done (“Bug’s Life”). At least that’s what I keep telling myself these past three days. But I keep going back. It’s like a bad haircut. I color it, I trim it. I fluff it. One more manipulation, and the poor thing will be bald. I gotta leave it alone. I’ll return to it a few weeks later.

Viewing a dark website on occasion is one thing. Staring at it for several hours at a sitting, is making me go blind! That’s another reason to back off of the site for a while. I’ll have to get a new eyeglass prescription once this is done. That’s an accepted hazard of this job.

I have one last dark site in mind, and then I’m going to two entirely different concepts. Neither are dark or monochromatic. One is a “break out of the mold” type of sites. Hopefully I can massage a free template around the idea. The other will be based on Björk covers. Not sure about that one. It will be a visual challenge, to say the least. She has a style and choice of designers than cannot be readily duplicated.

I just found a cool site to convert a character to html, to hide an email addy from spambots. This is the ascii conversion table.

This is a digression into the same language divided by more than an ocean.

When I find an article written in Afrikaans, I throw it at the translator and interpret what it spits out. Computerized translators are notorious for translating by the word, rather than the meaning. The double “nie” even confuses it. Some translations are straightforward, and the rest are pretty strange.

My translator dislikes compound Afrikaans words, so I guess at it, by dissecting the word. Sometimes I google it, and translate those phrases to glean some context. It choked on “maanligsonate”. I stared really hard, and had an epiphany: it’s three little words “maan” “lig” and “sonate” –> “Moonlight Sonata.” What is simple for an Afrikaner, is a linguistic exercise for a Latin student. See colored samples below for what I mean.

If you see whole untranslated chunks of Afrikaans on site, I left it in the original language so you can figure it out yourself, rather than me translating incorrectly for you.

I write in American English (as opposed to Canadian English or British English). You may sometimes see English words spelt/spelled “wrong.” That’s my attempt at bridging the divide between American English and South African English. I really know the difference between color/colour, and defense/defence. 😉

Date and number format – Dates are shown the European way: ddmmyy or 5 September 2008, as opposed to the American of mmddyy or September 5, 2008. Fractions are expressed with comma, not periods. 1,5 = 1.5.

Original Afrikaans text: Die wenners van die ATKV se kompetisie vir nuwe talent in ligte Afrikaanse musiek, ATKV-Crescendo, is Saterdagaand luisterryk aangekondig. Hulle is die briljante HI-5 van Tshwane (Pretoria).

HI-5, ‘n groep met zoemph! wat bestaan uit vyf talentvolle jongmanne wat sedert Februarie vanjaar in die tipiese boyband-styl heerlike musiek maak. Hulle het tydens die finale konsert die gehoor gaande gehad met ‘n liedjie genaamd “Soebat”, uit die penne van Fanie Fouché (ook ‘n Crescendo-finalis) en Niël Schoombee (een van die lede van HI-5).

Met hierdie liedjie pleit dié troebadoers vergifnis en aanvaarding by die skoner geslag. HI-5 voel dat daar tans ‘n behoefte is na ‘n Afrikaanse groep wat met internasionaal-bekende groepe soos Westlife en Backstreet Boys kan skouers skuur.

Translation by interpret.co.za. My comments are in blue. And this is one of the least contorted translations! Ack. I gotta catch some zzs now.

the winners of the atkv’s competition for new talent in light afrikaans music , atkv-crescendo , is saterdagaand luisterryk announced . they are the brilliant hi-5 of tshwane ( pretoria ).

hi-5, a group with zoemph! [is that a real word?]

that/what consist of five talentvolle jongmanne [full of talent young men]

that/what since february vanjaar [of this year] in the typical boyband- style delicious music make . they have during the final concert the audience gaande had with a liedjie named “soebat”[plead] , out the pens of [written by] fanie fouché ( also a crescendo-finalis) and niël schoombee ( one of the members of hi-5).
(oddly the translator knows liedjies=songs but not the singular form liedjie).
with this liedjie [song] plea this troebadoers forgiveness and acceptance at the skoner gender [skoner geslag=female?] . hi-5 feel that there at present a need is after a afrikaans group that/what with internasional – known groups like westlife and backstreet boys can shoulders skuur.

When I’m “in the coding zone”, I develop a tunnel vision for the page in front of me. I’m cobbling together different elements from my favorite sites. By the end of the day, that pile of bits that I’ve been massaging is looking pretty darn good.

It’s because I’ve gone into a sleep and food-deprived stupor.

In the light of a new morning, I get an eyeful of my index.html file and — gawd almighty — What Was I Thinking? The colors are bad, the pictures are bad, the format is bad, the font is bad. There is not one redeeming characteristic on the page. I’m back to square one, to tweak another template. Then the cycle starts all over again. This happens a lot. I don’t know if I’m particularly hard on my own work, or this is what every real designer goes through.

While a dark layout is appropriate for a fan site, there is inherent challenge in designing a mostly black ground with white text. It can be minimalist, evocative, mysterious, and artsy, but it can also be stressful on the eyes, when executed poorly.

Here are some websites from which I’ve drawn inspiration:

http://abduzeedo.com/web-design-black-layouts

The whole abduzeedo site is a source of great ideas and techniques. I’m spending way too much time there.

I’ve completed another splash page. Tomorrow, I’ll surely hate this one, crumple it up and start afresh. Sigh.

To warp a saying, “You can give a canvas to a programmer, but you can’t get her to create a Picasso.”

I’ve read dozens of pages geared towards design professionals, about color, content, form, and shape. I understand the theory, but when it comes time to put pen to paper, or keyboard to monitor, I simply cannot make it happen. God knows, I’m just hammering my head against that concrete design wall.

I struggled with a visual design for a day, and created a big black blob with a non-descript background, and some white blob text logo on it. For the tenth time, I’ve resigned myself to the fact, that I cannot design worth a dime. I’ll stick with established designs by template, with my own tweaks.

The coding is a much easier challenge. It’s finally getting into my thick skull. If CSS is the way to go, don’t code tables into the HTML. Slap my hand whenever I type “table.” I have to resist the temptation to just let Photoshop slice the image and autocreate the HTML table. I have to take the longer and bramble-covered path, and follow some CSS tutorials.

The pivotal tutorial that broke me out of the tables mind-set was this one: http://tutorials.alsacreations.com/tutocss/. Viewing the web page in terms of “zones” or “blocks” makes it easier to understand how to build the CSS. Raphael’s site also offers some beautiful navigation solutions. There are excellent examples of two-image navigation CSS coding. No need for javascript mouseovers, no second hover images, and no carving of images! Compact code, and compact imaging.

A lot of this stuff I will never incorporate into the site, but I never miss the opportunity to learn improved ways of doing things.

Onward.