Can’t keep a good entrepreneur down

I confess: I’ve been playing on Orkut. So far there appear to be three differences between this latest social networking app and its predecessors, Friendster, Ryze, etc.:

  1. Lots more blogerati are on Orkut.
  2. Slightly faster and easier to use.
  3. Did I mention it was backed by Google?

But I have been inviting friends on anyway, and in the process reopened communications with Paul Colton, whom I continue to touch base with about every other year. For those of you just tuning in, Paul was my high school friend who spent so much time in the high school computer graphics lab and at his afterschool job that we feared he wouldn’t graduate. He went on to found Live Software and write its flagship product, JRun, and to sell the company to Allaire, about a year and a half before its acquisition by Macromedia.

It turns out that he’s been working on not one but two new products. PhotoPeer is a photo-sharing peer to peer application, which is either the best way ever to get grandparents to use their computers or the best porn application ever. The other, Xamlon, is a runtime that will allow creating XAML-like applications that will run on the current .NET Runtime under Windows XP. (Jeremy Allaire pointed to this a while back but I missed it.)

I wonder if Scoble has seen this?

A singer once more

After last year’s time with the Cascadian Chorale, I took the fall off from singing. I had started to realize during my therapy last year that part of the reason I kept looking to singing groups was to feel needed, and I had to break myself of that cycle.

But this fall I really missed being in a choir. And I realized I also wanted to explore my faith more, and to be in a position where my singing meant more than just applause.

So I’ve joined the Cathedral Choir at University Presbyterian Church. It looks like it will be a good group, both vocally and spiritually.

Just got my copy of the Guardian

True to their word, the folks at the Guardian sent me the paper copy of the story they did about the mobile phone art exhibition. To my delight, not only did they use the picture from the Tacoma art museum exhibit, but it was the keynote graphic for the article. It’s too bad they didn’t use the picture in the online version, but it looks great in print.

Getting the newspaper in the mail made a bad day much better. Good timing.

Update: Here’s the news item where I published the original photo album containing the photo that the Guardian used. The thumbnail photo to the right of this news item is the one they published.

Keeping yourself informed about viruses

A quick follow up to yesterday’s report about the Mydoom virus: You can stay informed of security updates from Microsoft via the security mailing lists available on the Microsoft Security web site. There are two lists, one for general users and one for technical folks, so you can choose the level of information you want to get about security issues. These are good resources if you want to make sure your machine is secure against viruses that exploit Microsoft vulnerabilities—though it doesn’t look like they will help much in the case of Mydoom.

Incidentally, why does offer email alerts and not RSS feeds for advisories? Good question. As Scoble has said, it will take a lot of effort before is fully RSS-enabled. Also, there are some users, like my dad, for whom an RSS feed isn’t the right answer for notification, at least not now. There are still a lot of problems to be solved in RSS before we can assume that everyone understands and uses the technology.

In the meantime, for those who do use RSS, there are scraped RSS feeds of security bulletins, hotfix announcements, and patches available from NewsIsFree, PatchDayReview (with evaluations of each patch), and KBAlertz (by product).

Minor stylesheet fix

Anita was kind enough to point out that I hadn’t bothered to set background or text colors in my new lean mean stylesheet, which makes the page look kind of funny in Netscape 4 or in any browser where you can set your own background color.

This is an easy mistake to make when you’re moving away from deprecated HTML attributes. In my case, I changed my style sheet to use a plain old <body> tag instead of Manila’s [Macro error: Can't evaluate the expression because the name "body" hasn't been defined.]
macro, which automatically inserts deprecated attributes for background color, text color, link color, and so forth. The way to handle it is either to set the attributes background (for the background color) and color (for the default text color), or else not to use any colored elements in your design at all and make the user responsible for his or her own bad taste.

At any rate, I’ve made the fix; shift-reload to get the change (very minor).

The IE Factor?

Interesting article at StopDesign describing real work experience in getting CSS layouts to work across platforms. As those who have been reading the Web Design department through my last redesign will attest, this is a non-trivial challenge; some apparently easy CSS styles will work well in one browser while not working at all in another.

But why is it the IE Factor? That is, why does IE get the blame for non-conformant behavior? That’s the question some of my coworkers might ask. After all, it has CSS support; after all, it’s the minority browser. And after all, other browsers have their own quirks. Why single out IE?

Based on my experience and StopDesign’s article (and Bryan Bell’s Designers Against Stagnant Internet Explorer (DASIE) manifesto), I think IE is getting heat for the following reasons:

  1. IE 6 was released in 2001. The most recent major revisions of the competing browsers, Mozilla/Firebird and Opera (as well as other significant browsers like Safari and OmniWeb) were all released in the last six months. That’s two solid years of designers actually using CSS and documenting their problems.
  2. Mozilla is open source; Safari is developed by a guy with a weblog where he responds to customer comments. The IE team has so far kept a very low profile about the future of their products; in fact, they’ve committed publicly to infrequent releases of new features, in line with the Windows software development cycle.
  3. Adding insult to injury, not only does IE not incorporate two-plus years of real world customer feedback, it’s the dominant platform. So it’s held to a higher standard—any flaw gets dramatically magnified.

Why are we in this boat? I think, after Netscape imploded, a lot of people thought that innovation and change was gone from the HTML space and attention shifted to the web services space, where presentation isn’t as important as XML, namespaces, and actual programming languages.

But I think IE has competition again. More importantly, I think the various campaigns to get people to upgrade to modern browsers have led more designers to push the envelope of what can be done with (X)HTML+CSS. And I think that’s a good thing.

Mod +1 obvious: Judge rules part of Patriot Act unconstitutional

Caught yesterday, but not posted as I couldn’t see over the creeping crud in my system: Part of Patriot Act Ruled Unconstitutional. US District Judge Audrey Collins ruled that a portion of the act, which criminalized providing “expert advice or assistance” to terrorist groups, was “impermissibly vague.”

(I’m not clear what part of the Constitution that violates, other than the part about our not acting like Winston Smith’s boss, but I’m sure someone can fill me in.)

Anyway: all who were surprised that any part of the Patriot Act was ruled unconstitutional, raise your hands. Higher. I can’t see you. Oh, put your hand down, Mr. Cheney; you know better.

Viruses (mine and others’)

Ironic timing… As I’m working from home today between vigorous attempts to clear the sinus infection from my head, I get a new virus alert in my mail about Mydoom.

Microsoft Consumer Virus Alert

Why We Are Issuing This Alert

W32/Mydoom@MM spreads through e-mail. This worm can disguise the sender’s address, a tactic known as spoofing, and may generate e-mails that appear to have been sent by Microsoft. Many of the addresses Mydoom uses are valid addresses that are being spoofed for malicious purposes.

Mydoom Virus Alert: What to Do

Treat all e-mail attachments with caution, particularly .zip files in the case of this virus, even if they appear to be from a trusted source. Learn what to do about virus infections.

Complete Information:

To which I can only add: be careful out there.

Putting my main content first, finally, with CSS

I wanted to fix the new design so that it read well in Lynx (and by extension in other non-graphical browsers, for instance screen readers). After all, Day 10 of Dive Into Accessibility is to present your main content first, and one of the virtues of my previous design was that it did just that. (Mostly; it did have the calendar links before the content, and they were a mess in Lynx.)

So, no problem, right? My main design was two columns, a content column to the left and a navigation column floated to the right. I should just be able to put the content div first and put the navigation div after. Right?

Except that the order in which floats occur, relative to non-floated content, actually matters. To get things working right, I would either have to float the content div instead or find another approach. But as it turns out, floating the content div was a non-starter because it meant I would have to fix the width of the content div—and even if I set the width to a percentage, I would still run into some ugly layout problems in narrow browser windows.

So I waited. Which turns out to be the correct move, since a solution was posted in the comments at MezzoBlue on Friday that explained exactly how to do what I was looking for. There’s a negative margin the width of the sidebar on the main content div, with a right margin set to the same width. That gets the content div out of the way and leaves enough room for the sidebar.

It’s a tricky little hack, and it scared me sufficiently that I changed the name of the stylesheet to ensure that new browsers would download it so the page wouldn’t look broken. The good news is that means that old pages that haven’t been re-rendered on the static site should still look OK, though they won’t get the correct content order until they’re fixed.

Thanks to Dave Shea at MezzoBlue for asking the question, and to Ryan Brill for providing the solution.

Growing out of puppyhood

We had a surprise yesterday: our little girl puppy, Joy, is now too big to fit comfortably inside her fashionista doggie bag. Our little guys are growing up…

We decided that it’s time to take down some of the gates that we’ve used to keep them out of parts of the house, in the process opening up a hallway they’ve never been in. They were doing running yesterday through the hallway and barking once each time they turned the corner, like a lap counter. It feels more like our house again with the gates down.

Closer to automatic feed updating

Unanticipated side effect of my subscription list went from 124 feeds to 164 in about two weeks. (And the number of folks subscribing to my feeds went from 10 to 20. Thanks, all!)

I finally got around to replacing my feed list, which I had previously done as a static upload, with a link to a location on my site. I haven’t been able to get it to render in the opmlBlogroll macro for some reason (I keep getting [Macro error: Could not open the url, “”, because it could not be converted to an outline.]), but we’ll get there eventually.

And I’ve figured a way that I can automatically update the file, despite the fact that I can’t automate exporting OPML from NetNewsWire with AppleScript. More on that once I implement it.

Joys of collapsing margins, and custom 404s

I made some minor changes to the main stylesheet today to improve the readability of the site. In keeping with some of my recent reading, I kept the changes simple and almost entirely typographical. I had already increased the leading between text lines; to break up the flow and call out the post titles a little more (which were drowning in a sea of grey), I indented the post text under the headlines by 24 pixels, also known as two ems (since the text is specified at 12 pixels). Shift-refresh any page on the site (to force the stylesheet to reload) to get the changes.

Incidentally, why pixels and not points or ems? There’s a long history of discussion on that point but it basically comes down to browser compatibility issues; IE3/Win renders ems as pixels, and points vary from browser to browser and platform to platform. There are ways to work around the problem, and someday I’ll tackle resetting everything to use them, but not today.

So, implementing 24 pixels of white space to the left of the news item text should have been simple, and it mostly was. I already had a class for the news item description, fortuitously, though I never defined any style attributes for it, and my news items were automatically wrapped in a div of that class. So it’s easy, right? Just set margin-left: 24px; and you’re good to go.

Except: margins collapse. This is a factor in the CSS box model that I keep forgetting. If you have margins in two blocks that touch each other, the margin sizes collapse to zero. CSS 2 amends this to say horizontal margins should never collapse, but IE6 collapsed the margins anyway. So, setting padding-left: 24px; solves the problem. Padding never collapses.

I’m also finding other minor problems throughout the site with the display. This time it’s in the content markup, which means it will be harder to fix. NetNewsWire correctly wraps both opening and closing <p> marks around paragraphs (though it sometimes gets overanxious and wraps them around list markup, which is technically a no-no). But Manila’s in-browser editor, by default, only places a <p> mark at the end of each paragraph, as though it were a glorified <br>. The net result is that many of my posts that were made from the browser do not have paragraph styles applied to the first paragraph of the post, since Manila doesn’t insert a paragraph mark, and the post title ends up touching the first paragraph instead of being offset by 12 pixels. The fix is simple: going forward, I’m manually inserting paragraph markup, and as I touch old entries I fix the paragraphing. But I’m not going to go through all umpty-thousand news items and fix them one by one, at least not right away. So be nice and ignore any inconsistency, won’t you?

One last thing: Based on the guidance in last week’s A List Apart, I implemented a custom 404 page on the static site that provides links back to the home page and the site map. It also customizes the message according to whether you’ve come from inside the site, from a bookmark, or from an external referrer. You will only hit it if you try to find a page where the URL starts with www, not discuss.

Watergate 2004 = old news?

Geez. I did a Google News search that turned up a two week old story in the Nation that cites the GOP snooping, and indicates that it’s been public knowledge since the Wall Street Journal published the leaked memos in November. (And the article quotes Orrin Hatch as saying, “there is no excuse that can justify these improper actions.” I guess his staff weren’t listening, or they wouldn’t have offered the defenses quoted in the Globe article.)

Apparently what’s new today in the Globe article is the scope and duration of the intrusions.

Watergate 2004? Maybe not

Via Josh Marshall and the Boston Globe, “Senate’s GOP staff pried on Democrats.” Sounds eerily familiar, except this time (thirty years later) it’s the Senate, not the White House staff, being accused of illegally eavesdropping on the other party. Apparently, for almost a year, GOP staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee were accessing what the Globe article calls “restricted Democratic communications” and leaking the information, including sensitive documents about Democratic positions and tactics on judicial nominees.

On the technology level, there is a claim in the article that the GOP’s computer technician told his Democratic counterpart of the problem but that nothing was fixed. Hmm. So if I happen to notice that your office is unlocked, that means it’s OK to come inside, read your mail, and leak all the juicy parts to your co-workers?

On the political level, it’s interesting that only the Republicans chose to take advantage of the glitch, though it appears to have granted equal access to both sides’ documents. It’s also interesting to speculate how high up there was awareness that these files were being accessed.

It’s no executive level cover up. But it is interesting to hear GOP spinmasters say things like “There appears to have been no hacking, no stealing, and no violation of any Senate rule.” That sets an interesting precedent for prosecuting computer crime going forward.