Slight Interruption in Service | February 26, 2004

A few of you may have noticed my site was down much of Tuesday and Wednesday. This was due to my host changing their ip address without informing me. Because my domain is managed by a separate company, my DNS setting got out of whack, hence the temporary blip in service.

I was a little annoyed about the lack of notification. I was lucky as I check my site regularly and a few people contacted me to let me know it was down. However many site owners rarely check their sites and could have found themselves unavailable for some time before the problem was spotted.

Apart from this last blip, I've been pretty happy with my hosts. Their prices are reasonable (for the UK) and their support pretty good. However I'd be interested to find out what people think of their hosts. Do you have a host that is super cheap and super reliable, or maybe you've got a hosting scare story to tell?

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Community Minded | February 23, 2004

Brighton is a good place to be if you’re a web designer. We have a fairly active local community, due in a large part to our local mailing list, the BNM. We also have an organisation called Wired Sussex whose aim is to support and promote the local New Media cluster. Last week Wired Sussex asked me to a meeting to discuss how they could improve their relations with the local freelancer/micro business community.

In the past, they have been seen as being more interested in high profile web companies, than in small web companies and freelancers. This is probably due in part to the fact that their events tend to focus on networking, and their offerings are very business oriented. They are also seen as being part of the establishment and closely tied with local government.

To get round this image, I felt they needed to update their brand. To move away from the business oriented, local government image that they had been saddled with. Part of this suggestion involved updating their website.

Their current website is actually very good. It’s semantically structured, laid out using CSS and highly accessible. However, design-wise I though the site looked like a good government site, rather than a site promoting cutting edge new media. This is not to say that the site isn’t designed well. Just that it reflects how they currently perceive themselves (and how they are currently perceived) rather than how they want too be perceived.

Asked on my local mailing list how the meeting went, the site design was one of the many things I mentioned we’d talked about. I’d previously asked for input, but as I got very little back, most of the stuff I talked with them about were personal impressions. However most people disagreed with my feeling that their current site looked a little institutional and didn’t reflect current trends in design.

I’d just finished a big dev project at work, so over the weekend decided to do something cathartic. Partly to illustrate my thoughts, and partly as a bit of fun, I decided to produce my own version of the Wired Sussex site. A version that I felt reflected where they wanted to be, rather than where they were coming from.

This morning I posted my design to the BNM list to see what people thought. I’d thought there would be a mixture of opinion, but I wasn’t prepared for the tirade of insults and negative comments that followed.

Here is a selection of some of the more colourful comments.

“AB’s arrogance is incredible. If he did that with one of my sites, I’d be slightly less diplomatic and smack him in the gob.”

“You clearly have way too much time on your hands.”

“I’d be delighted to hear any more constructive comments about the site, rather than a fairly immature ‘I could do that better’ response, which is at best unhelpful, and at worst fairly insulting.”

“a) He didn’t do anything worth blowing his own trumpet about.
b) What he did was pretty rubbish anyway.
c) It’s a sad way to celebrate finishing a major project.”

“… he didn’t redesign the whole thing, he just futzed around with the style and came up with something that was markedly inferior and said ‘look at me, aren’t I good’. This is a poor way of doing business.”

“I do think it is a little egotistical to spend the weekend redesigning other peoples sites.”

So I’m interested in what other people think. Is my design “pretty rubbish” and “markedly inferior” to the original? Is it an “egotistical” way to spend a weekend and a “sad way to celebrate finishing a major project”? Do I really deserve a “smack in the gob” for creating my Wired Sussex theme? I’d really like to know, because at the moment I’m feeling pretty dejected and very negative towards the local web design community :-(

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Google NonSense | February 20, 2004

Like many bloggers, I was interested when Google launched their AdSense program. For those of you unaware of this program, a content provider such as myself, will agree to serve ads on their site, and Google will pay the site owners on a per click basis. Lots of bloggers signed up to this program as a means of covering their hosting costs, and from the people I’ve spoken to, this seems to be working out quite well.

One of the nice things about the AdSense ads, is the fact they they are text based rather than images based. This makes them much less intrusive than regular ads and fits more with the content based approach of blogging. Another nice touch is the relevancy of the ads. Google spiders your site to get an idea of it’s content and attempts to serve ads your visitors will find useful. This makes sense an a number of levels. Obviously both Google and the site owner want more click through, so relevancy helps this. Relevancy is also very important to bloggers who don’t want to be seen as selling out and would definitely not endorse the irrelevant advertising you get on most sites.

Considering my monthly bandwidth charges are pretty big, when the program launched, I decided to sign up. Unfortunately at the time I was told that my blog went against their inclusion policy as it sat in a sub folder and not at the root of my domain. I had a quick look at said policy, but couldn’t find any mention of this. Still, Google are seen as pretty trustworthy, so I took this on face value.

However over the last few months I’ve noticed a score of bloggers carrying AdSense ads on their blogs, but not on their main domain (which is often their business site). I tried to register with AdSense again, but because I’d tried and had been rejected once before, they wouldn’t let me try again. I decided to email them to see if they would reconsider and this was what I was told.

“Google’s targeting technology is not optimised to serve ads on pages with dynamic content such as flash movies. As www.andybudd.com contains predominantly dynamic content, we have found that it is not a good fit for the AdSense programme at this time.”

I’ve tried to explain a number of times that there is only one Flash page on my site and that all the other pages are static pages produced by Movabletype. I explained that I had no desire to serve ads on the flash page and it was my blog I was planning to server ads on. However each email elicited the same response about dynamic content, not complying with their policies and reserving the right not to decline sites from the program.

I have to say that after this cycle of emails, I’m feeling distinctly less impressed with Google and their AdSense program. I had thought my blog would have been exactly the kind of site they’d have wanted to include, but they seem to have dug there heals in. I’ve though about moving everything up a level, so my blog resides on the root of my domain. That way the site may seem less “flash based”. However, that would be a monumental pain in the arse, mostly to do with setting up htaccess to rewrite all the changed links. I still may do this, but to be honest, Google’s less than helpful attitude in this whole matter has put me right off the idea.

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Internet Explorers Expression Property | February 15, 2004

Ever heard of Internet Explorers expression property? Me neither. That was until I read this article.

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Safari Friendly CSS and Accessibility Favelets | February 15, 2004

I came across this handy user stylesheet and associated favelet the other day. The stylesheet basically outlines and names all the page elements with an ID or class.

There are a few favelets out there that do a similar thing (see my bookmarklets page), but they mostly use the border property. The thing that’s nice about this stylesheet is that it uses the outline property. Unlike borders, outlines take up no space, so using them for testing can be really useful as they don’t disrupt the layout of your page. Outline doesn’t work in the “usual suspect” browsers, but does work in Safari. As such, if your a OS X based web developer, this stylesheet and the associated stylesheet toggle favelet could come in useful.

I recently had a play with custom stylesheets myself and came up with a nice little, Betsie inspired one for people with visual impairments. Unfortunately, it only works if the site you visit have doctypes that don’t throw the browser into quirks mode. I’m sure there is probably a way around this, but haven’t had time t look into it more. If anybody has any suggestions, please drop me a comment.

In the meantime, I though my Betsie user stylesheet would make a neat little favelet, so tweaked the above favelet to create a Toggle Betsie Favelet

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Travel | February 14, 2004

One of my big passions in life is travel. It started during my first summer break at university while living in a small surfing village in Devon. Lots of the other surfers were also travellers. They would work the summer season then head off to tropical climes, following the endless summer. At the time I wasn’t that adventurous, but wanted to do something more than another summer season in the west country. So I bought an interail ticket and trained it all the way through Europe to Morocco. Morocco was amazing and sparked an interest in both travel and travel photography, that I’ve been pursuing ever since.

When I left university I spent 6 months travelling around Asia. On my return all I could think of was going away again. I worked loads of bum jobs and saved up for what would become a year and a half trip around Asia and Australia. During this time I spent 6 months travelling around India, and it was on a trip to the India Andaman Islands that I learnt to dive. Several months later, I ended up in the beautiful Thai Island of Koh Tao where I spent the next six months learning to be, and then working as, a Dive master.

I then went on to Australia where, amongst other things, I worked on a Great Barrier Reef liveaboard boat doing shark encounters in the Coral Sea. Running out of money I headed back to Thailand for a few months, and then back to Blighty. I’d caught the diving bug so, after another year of saving, I went back to Thailand to sit my Dive Instructor course. I spent the next 12 month travelling around SEA working as a Dive Isntructor.

Returning to the UK, I started working on the web. At the time, the web was big business. If you knew HTML you were in huge demand and I figures I could work 6 months of the year and travel the rest. Unfortunately the bubble quickly burst and I never managed to secure that idea lifestyle. However travel is still hugely important to me. Unlike many of my friends who spend all their money of gadgets, I save up my money and manage to get in one big trip every 9 months. Last Oct I was lucky enough to visit Vietnam/Cambodia and In April I’m planning my second big dive trip to Borneo.

Map of the world outlining all the countries I've been to

While surfing the web, I came across this cool site. You can put in all the countries you’ve visited and it produces a map outlining all the places you’ve been. It also tells you how much of the world you’ve seen. Putting in my details it turns out that I’ve visited 19 countries, and have seen 8% of the world. I was quite impressed, however my girlfriend did the same and got a stunning 11%.

I have to admit that I’m a person of habit. I’ll find a place and go back several times. Here is a quick run down of the interesting places I’ve been and the number of times I’ve been there

As you can see I keep going back to Thailand. This is where I trained as a professional diver and somewhere I keep being drawn back to. The diving’s good, the food is great and it’s got an amazing combination of culture, beaches and lifestyle. I’ve been to Malaysia a bunch of times, although often it’s been to renew my Thai visa. I went to Borneo a few years back to visit friends who run an underwater filming company out there, the same people I’m going out to see in April. They do documentaries for the BBC and Discovery Channel but are probably best known for filming the in water scenes on the Survivor TV series.

Australia is cool and Sydney is one of the few places in the world I’d like to live. NZ is also great as you’ll see from the pics in my gallery. Truly a landscape photographers paradise. Another place I’d quite like to live is Hong Kong. I love Asia and you can’t get much more Asian than the bustle of Kowloon. However many visitors completely miss the beaches and islands of Hong Kong, which there are many. If you have money in HK, you live in the mountains or by the beach and only go downtown to work.

India, Indonesia and Morocco are probably the most “exotic” places I’ve been to. Culturally they are just so different from any thing I’ve ever seen and I’d love to go back at some stage. I was lucky enough to work on a dive boat in the north of Indonesia for a few months where I dived pristine reefs and even an active underwater volcano (which was way cool).

I love the diving in the Red Sea, Egypt. It’s the closets reef to the UK at a little over 4hrs and you can get some great deals year round. However the best places I’ve dived have to be Manado in Indonesia, Layang-Layang and Sipadan in East Malaysia (Borneo) and Richelieu Rock in Thailand. I’m getting stoked about this next trip though, as not only will we be visiting Sipadan, but we’ll also be heading into Indo to visit a place called Sangalaki. This island is extremely difficult to get to, but boast some amazing diving including schools of resident Manta rays and a fresh water jellyfish lake, only two of it’s kind in the world. It’s probably been 2 years since my last diving trips so I”m looking forward to getting back in the water.

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Valentines Game | February 13, 2004

3 years ago I made a Valentines game called Love Invaders, a seasonal twist on space invaders. It’s quite a fun little game so I though I’d post it here for your Valentines pleasure.

Enjoy

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Web Standards Awards | February 10, 2004

wsa.jpg

As you’re probably aware, I post a lot of links to nice looking CSS sites. I’d been thinking about creating a CSS links site for some time, but never got round to it. Then in Sep 2003, a chap called Johan emailed me ask my opinion about a personal project he was working on.

The project was called the Web Standards Awards and the concept was simple. Each month, a group of judges would give awards to their favourite CSS sites. Most of the hard work had already been done. The design was set, the stylesheets were built and the most significant thing was the need for a “Backend”. I was looking forward to seeing this site launched, so spent the next few months emailing Johan to see how things were going. However Johan was snowed under at work and having difficulty finding the time to finish the project.

At the same time, Cameron from The Man In Blue started talking about the need for a web standards award site, so the three of us decided to join forces. Johan finished tweaking the design, Cameron supplied the copy and I set up MT. As we’ve all been busy, it’s taken a few months for the site to be ready. However as of this moment I’m pleased to say…

The Web Standards Awards are now open.

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A Fresh Bunch of CSS Goodness | February 9, 2004

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Referrer Logs Are a Wonderful Thing | February 7, 2004

I love looking through my referrer logs. You always end up finding the most interesting things. Just don't blink, as you may not realise you've left this site.

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Deja-Vu | February 5, 2004

Scrivs posted a lovely Chech website on the CSSVault today. However I've a nagging feeling I've seen it somewhere before.

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Blog Changes | February 4, 2004

Unlike most bloggers who are constantly tweaking their blogs, my site has remained largely unchanged since it started. As such, I decided it was about time to do some tweaking.

Firstly, I though my old Hicksesque flower icon had started to look a little plain, so replaced it with a slightly more candy like version. This has also been reflected in my favicon, although if you’re on Safari you’ll have to delete your icon cache to see any difference.

Quite liking this new icon, I created a little arrow icon as well. I’m using this in the archive section on the right hand side of my homepage. I thought all the links were starting to blend in too much, so am using these icons to distinguish the archive sub nav from the other links.

Also on the right hand side, I’ve slightly tightened up some of the spacing between links, and have moved some of the items around to better reflect their importance. I’d quite like to delete some of them as there is far too much happening in this area. However I can’t really decide which bits to remove.

My images were also looking a little flat and lifeless, so have added a Dunstanesque image style to pretty them up a bit.

Next I started reorganising my files/MT templates. Everything was a bit of a mess as essentially I grafted my blog on-top of the default MT templates and never got round to changing them. Most of the changes won’t be noticeable, although I have changed my archive page so it’s broken down by month or by category. Originally it was a full list of posts, which was fast becoming unusably long.

I then added a few MT plugins including MT-textile and SmartyPants. I also added an MT plugin called Amputator in order to control those pesky unencoded &’s.

Lastly I installed the extremely useful MTW3CValidator plug-in. This little fella automatically validates my homepage when I make new posts, and if the page is valid, displays a button. Now I no longer have to worry about people moaning about having a validation button on a page with improperly encoded &’s.

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CSS Crib sheet #3 - Centering a Div | February 4, 2004

I often see people posting on CSS discussion lists to ask how to centre a div. It's actually very simple, although you need to use a few hacks for unruly browsers.

body {
	text-align: center;
	min-width: 600px;
}

#wrapper {
	margin:0 auto;
	width:600px;
	text-align: left;
}

To centre the div, simply set its width and then use margin auto on the right and left hand sides. Unfortunately this doesn't work in IE. However luckily for us, IE also misinterprets text-align: center. Applying this to the body centres the div in IE. However it also centres the body text in all the other browsers as well. To get round this you need to use text-align: left; on the div that you're centering.

This gets IE up to scratch. However this is the step I always forget. In Mozilla, if you reduce the size of the browser window, half of your centred div hangs off the left of the page. This is an odd one, but I've been reliably informed that it's the correct behaviour. To prevent this, just set a min-width on the body tag.

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Another Big Site Gets a CSS Makeover | February 2, 2004

The AOL site has been given a CSS makeover and I have to say, it looks pretty good.

New AOL site banner and nav

Like most big site makeovers, the first thing people notice are the sites problems. In the case of AOL, the site doesn’t validate, a lot of the text is image based, the text is a little small and overlaps its containers when resized.

The site also uses Javascript to show/hide layers of content. However instead of using a method like this, when Javascript is turned off, some of the content is inaccessible.

All that being said, the site looks great. It’s got a very macromedia.com/Windows XP feel about it. It’s good to know that the old idea about CSS sites looking square and ugly is well and truly out of the window.

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