At the hospice

I rolled into Lancaster, PA about 3:30 last night. I’m staying with my aunt for a while (see my sister’s post for why).

Road food for a six hour drive that commences at 9 pm? Three Cokes, a bag of peanut M&Ms, and a small bag of mixed nuts and fruit. And water to dilute the complex carbs.

My aunt is in good spirits, considering. I think the best way to describe where she is was her answers to the new nurse this morning: she hasn’t been out of bed since the end of April, and she’s been in two other care facilities in the interim before arriving at the hospice here. She has a certain amount of native orneriness that is standing her in good stead at the moment. Which is good: I feel very lucky that I got here in time to spend some time with her.

Blogaversary 7: by the numbers

Sometimes I think I should title this after the first real post on the blog: Quarterly Update (XXVIII). I was so optimistic back then, June 11, 2001, that I never promised anything more than occasional updates. Fortunately, I kept writing, and somehow the habit stuck, through seven years.

Right now the seven years of this blog represent the second longest time interval I’ve spent doing one thing in my adult life (the first would be, of course, being married to my wonderful wife). The blog has been through three different hosts and two different platforms, starting with Manila on UserLand’s, moving to my own Manila site and domain name at Weblogger, and then just a month or so ago migrating to WordPress. Along the way, there have been four major redesigns: a Bryan Bell theme, two scratch-built CSS themes, and the current tweaked theme from Excel.

Posts by Month to Jarrett House North
According to WordPress’s stats, the result has been around 4,100 posts, give or take, along with a handful of longer pieces and a bunch of images. The quantity per month, and per year, has fallen off since 2002, but hopefully the quality is increasing (see the chart below for details).

A few fine points on the chart:

  • As always, my blogaversary date is fungible. I began regular posting in June 2001, but there were a small handful of posts in 2000 as well. If I wanted to, I could say that the blog is older than the Tin Man, who began in January 2001, but that wouldn’t be fair.
  • The main sea change in my posting rate happened at the end of 2005, when I took on the Boycott Sony blog in addition to my posting here. There’s not likely to be an event like that to make me slow down here again.
  • My posting frequency was falling off a little this year, until I migrated to WordPress. Now there’s an uptick that I think will continue to go.
  • There’s an inverse relationship between periods in which I was happy with my work and posting frequency. I’m really glad to say that, since 2005, I haven’t been going crazy with the posting.

Of course, the post counts are easy to skew. I used to post two and three sentence posts, now I save that for the linkblog.

So why do I keep posting, anyway? I’ve always liked sharing things I found with people, and apparently people like to read it. Plus there’s my other, time-delayed audience: Google. It’s really rewarding to see what people have found useful in the blog, a long time after I wrote it. Now that the blog has comments again, I’m looking forward to having a more interactive relationship with you, my readers.

My hope is that I will keep doing this for the next seven years, and beyond, and that you’ll stay with me for the ride.

links for 2008-06-11

CSS fixin’: toward a vertical grid

It should be theoretically possible with CSS to design a page where the type falls on a vertical grid. In reality, you rarely see this happen because multi-column sites make matching the grid values across the columns difficult, and browsers, particularly IE, have awkward ways of inserting inconsistent space around some block elements.

But the basic theory is simple enough. Decide the base unit of height of the page, and go through your stylesheet, making sure that everything there is a multiple of the base unit of height. Your tools are line-height, padding-top and padding-bottom. For example, if your base measurement is 20 pixels between lines of type, and you want space between your paragraphs, you might define a style like p { line-height: 20px; padding-bottom: 20px;} or even p { line-height: 20px; padding: 10px 0;} (where the latter splits the padding above and below the paragraph).

Getting it to work right can be a real bitch, though. What if you have a heading that you want to set larger than 20 points? The naïve approach (which I just implemented) might be to implement a rule like this: h3 { font-size: 24px; line-height: 28px; padding: 8px 0 4px;} where the 28 pixels of line height are padded with a total of 12 pixels to make up 40, or two lines. But this only works if all your h3s are less than one line in height; a heading spanning two lines will take up 66 pixels, or a little more than three lines, messing up the grid. The recipe for success is to avoid setting multi-line headings too closely–or perhaps to use smaller font-sizes for headings.

Here, as in all things related to web typography, a valuable resource is The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web, the brilliant adaptation of Robert Bringhurst’s essential typography rulebook to CSS+HTML+ (occasionally) JavaScript. In this case, the sections on vertical motion (Choose a basic leading that suits the typeface, text and measure and Add and delete vertical space in measured intervals) are invaluable, and I’m going through this theme’s stylesheet and working on applying the principles now. So if things look odd, don’t worry, it’s not just you.

I should also point to 8 fonts you probably don’t use in CSS, but should as the inspiration to change my sidebar headers to Gill Sans (though I might pick a different sans in a day or two), and 10 Examples of Beautiful CSS Typography and How They Did It for the specific inspiration to use small, capitalized, letterspaced sans serif for the headings. Both are quite well written posts from the blog at 3.7 Designs.

Woody Allen at the clarinet

Via Matthew Guerrieri, who writes “sometimes a clarinet is just a clarinet,” in reference to Woody asking Dick Cavett to hold his clarinet and then saying, “Don’t hurt it, because it affirms my Freudian totality.” <audience titter> “Should be playing the harmonica.”

What I love about this clip is how the first part makes him look like a stork romancing a tree limb.

The bonus 1965 standup act is also hysterical, though it does make one contemplate a young Woody Allen who looks surprisingly like Peter Sellers.

WWDC Part III: iPhone 3G

Addressing the main challenges: 3G, more countries, more affordable. Camera still on the back (no live videoconferencing on the iPhone), but the headphone port is not recessed so that’s a plus.

I knew it: the speed test is back. Now we’re not benchmarking Mac Pro towers against Dells on Photoshop, we’re playing mobile web browsers against each other.

It’s got GPS!

It’s $199 for an 8 MB phone! $299 for a 16 MB one! Very very cool, he said weeping remembering how much I paid for mine. The cost of early adoption.

Keynote is over. There will be news about Snow Leopard later today, but that’s enough news for now.

WWDC Part II: MobileMe

Phil Schiller announces MobileMe: “Exchange for the rest of us.” This ties up a long standing question about the MobileMe trademark that’s been around since 2006. Cloud-based synching for email, calendar, addresses. With rich Ajaxy goodness on the browser experience. Looks great. It’s supposed to be on according to Phil, but that page shows that it used to be owned by a site that’s now called Snappville from where I’m accessing it. I think the DNS changes haven’t propagated to the East Coast yet.

MobileMe replaces .Mac. We hardly knew ye. Sniff.

WWDC Liveblogging the livebloggers

It’s hot here in Burlington, MA, pushing 98, but it must be even hotter in the Moscone Center with the liveblogging that’s going on right now. I’ve been looking at Engadget, CNet, Gizmodo, and TechCrunch for the updates. So far TechCrunch is up and down like a drunken sailor and Gizmodo is the fastest and most responsive.

News so far: there will be a 10.6 called “Snow Leopard,” and Steve’s gonna update him some iPhone.

iPhone points of interest: reiterating the enterprise features announced when the SDK was announced, including Exchange support, native Cisco integration. I note that all the liveblogging sources describe these as features of the iPhone 2.0 software, not the iPhone 2.0 itself; this holds out hope that my 1st gen model is good for at least one upgrade.

The SDK demo includes a feature called Core Location. I don’t even want to think how many business plans in my entrepreneurship class at Sloan back in 2001 imagined a similar feature for mobile phones, breathless with the knowledge that the government was going to require carriers to be able to triangulate handsets down to a few hundred meters to support 911 calls. Mobile dating service…on your handset! With…. contextually relevant ads!!!$! Maybe this iteration will give us some more imaginative apps for location technology.

I love that Sega is the first ISV to demo an app here. Again: iPhone is mobile gaming platform.

eBay mobile client: yawn. Facebook and Bloglines made more impressive mobile apps just by working in the browser, guys. You had 95 days on the SDK and this is all you could build?

Loopt demo. Regarding my note above… no, not really, unless you count integration with Google maps.

The TypePad client looks interesting. Wonder if it’ll work with WordPress?

The AP iPhone client is kind of brilliant in a way nothing else here is–because it not only sends down AP content, it allows you to send it up! Crowdsourcing the news at its finest.

I kind of like the piano simulator from Moo Cow Music. Their site is down but there’s a YouTube video of their demo (thanks, Google Cache).

(All these demos, btw, are called “demonstrating momentum.” I’m waiting for them to trot out that SalesForce demo again just to drive the point home to Wall Street.)

First new feature: central (Apple provided) push notification for all background apps. How well will that scale if Apple can’t even keep Webmail for .Mac running? Saying “it’ll scale” without details is a little sketchy in the post-Twitter world.

Free update for current iPhone owners = good.

Julie Powell liveblogs the James Beard Foundation awards

Along with the bloggers from The Paupered Chef, Dr. Vino, Savory Cities, and Snack, our intrepid heroine is out there right now, liveblogging the James Beard Foundation awards (and her search for a drink and some food) while the JBF awards are going on.

What’s the word for being absolutely riveted by liveblog coverage of something you’d never ever pay this much attention to if it were on TV? Blogsmacked, perhaps.

Grab bag: Hungry Mothers

Dollars for Deaver: Undergrad physics scholarship fund

Bascom Deaver was my first physics instructor at the University of Virginia, and he became my undergrad advisor a semester or two later. I met him when I toured the University in the spring of 1990, and was hooked by his clear description of his research into superconducting quantum interference devices, a field where he had done some of the key groundbreaking research. I’ll never forget his patience with me as I cheerfully declared my physics major, then later chafed against the curriculum and ultimately decided to finish the degree but pursue a different career path. At the time I graduated he was talking to quite a few of us about how the curriculum should be arranged for those who wanted the intellectual stimulation of physics to inform a non-traditional career path, and later translated those insights into a first-class BA degree program.

I was delighted to get a newsletter from the UVA physics department yesterday stating that the department will be naming its first undergrad scholarship fund after Dr. Deaver. That’s a worthy tribute to a dedicated educator, who cared less about creating PhDs than helping to shape minds and share the excitement of the physical sciences.

Radiohead on iTunes, five years on

Five years and almost a month ago, I wrote a post called Interesting absence(s) about the disappearance of Radiohead and Sigur Rós from the then-new iTunes Music Store. When I expanded it for Blogcritics, I laid a finger on one of the causes—friction between artists and labels over digital rights and reimbursement. At the time I thought it might take a few months or a year before the Radiohead catalog returned. It only took Sigur Rós until February of 2004 to return, but it took until this week for the Radiohead back catalog to reappear, and then only after In Rainbows proved such a hit on the service.

The Red Herring post makes a few points about the reasons bands hold out, but they don’t answer one question: why is Radiohead only dipping its toe in? There is only one EP on the service, meaning only two non-album tracks, compared to other artists like U2 and Sting who have been far more generous with posting digital rarities—which fans like myself would be motivated to shell out cash for. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time.

(Confidential to Matt F: Hey, Fish, see what you can do about getting Thom and the boys to post some more b-sides and exclusives, won’t you? Much love.)

links for 2008-06-05