2003 12 08

Base | Rant


Is there truly no depth towards which the media will not dig?

If I hadn't already cancelled the subscription to my newspaper, I would have done so this morning.

Other than a relentless buildup ever since we got that paper of news that I can only assume is worthy to people who are not aware of streets other than the one they live in, the entire front page was dedicated to the apparently miraculous birth of yet another member of the Dutch Royal Family. (for those who are in the fortunate circumstances to not have been subjected to any reports to this end: Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxma got a baby girl around 17:00 on Sunday)

I would like to point out that dedicating an entire front page is what any serious newspaper only does in cases of war obviously starting for the country in question, or otherwise national disasters on Pompeijan scale. Not--I would seriously have thought--for the birth of a child. (which, however miraculous it is for the parents and immediate participants, happens thousands of times every single day)

Actually, the driving force for this rant started on the apparently special day itself, with regular Sunday shows being interrupted for live news bulletins (I kid you not) reporting that the Princess had been taken to hospital, dead obviously to give birth. This is a message that one could possible deliver in well under 30 seconds and have time to spare.

Trust the Dutch television (all channels, not one even trying to be sane or even civil about it) to fill the rest of the 30 minute interruption of otherwise perfectly adequate programming with mindless drivel, with the reporter in the freezing cold speculating on whether or not there would be a caesarian involved.

I hereby declare to be utterly ashamed to belong to a nation where this is deemed news worthy of national attention.

Actually, if it weren't for Buffy, ER and DVD, I would sell my TV to the first idiot who would be willing to take it of my hands.

2003 12 01



New mobile

Since my previous mobile did not actually belong to me, but to my previous employer, I was in need of a new one. Having suffered from having to use the corporately dictated Philips Fisio 620 for the last 12 months, I figured I could do with some more stylish gear, such as this.

This also means I have a new mobile number. Email me if I haven't told you about it already.

2003 11 30

Base | Media | Books


Impressed into insignificance

Atonement (Ian McEwan)

Atonement (Ian McEwan) - cover

Reading this book, I couldn't help but feel that whatever I will ever write myself will never amount to more than an exercise in futility.

It is a surprising read on many levels: the story is dark, but gripping. Several times, drastic turns of the narrative happen in the middle of a paragraph, tripping me up and having a truly exhilarating effect: it is anything but predictable and thus extremely compelling to keep turning those pages.

Then there is the self-referential structure and the overlapping viewpoints (the same events told more than once, but from different characters' points of view): highly technical, yet not obtrusive in the least.

As the back cover says: "By the end of that day the lives of all three [main characters] will have been changed for ever." Very true. You never see the changing event coming until it hits you square in the face. The rest of the book I spent reading in a single, drawn out gasp of shock. Shock at what happened and the ever increasing magnitude of the impact it is bound to have on the lives of all involved.

On another level, it gave me a glimpse of what life in England was like just before and during the start of the Second World War. There is enough material to give even the most reluctant history student reason to reconsider.

I picked this book up at a whim, but I can heartily reccommend it.

2003 11 26

Base | Home


Why I love Ikea

I just realised this evening why I love Ikea (we recently made some sizeable deposits towards the Royal Bank of Ikea): it aides enourmously in maintaining the illusion that I actually know how to work a screwdriver and end up with useable, nay, even nice-looking stuff.

In reality, the stuff is so cleverly designed and instructions are written (or drawn, rather) for an audience so incredibly handicraftically challenged that it would be an achievement in itself not to be able to put together this furniture. That has never stopped me from claiming some of credit before, though, and I ain't about to start today.

Base | Home


A new office

I just finished putting together the last drawer in my new office, as shown on the picture here. my office

Before this, I had a permanent claim on the dining room table. I got that at the time I got my ADSL and wireless networking setup installed, because before that, it was dial-up only, hooked on the only phone wire in the house, which is in the attic. There is a bigger office up there, which will remain in use for storage of books, computer gear and assorted junk which I plainly refuse to throw away.

demonstration of the desk units on wheels Anyway, this is the new setup. Note the ergonomic setup of desk and laptop. Plus ample storage space. Not much in it at the moment, but I will be filling up those cabinets quickly enough, I suspect.

Those two smaller cabinets are on wheels, so they can be arranged for extra desk space. One of them has a seating cover on it, so it could even be used by a visitor.

2003 11 25

Base | Career


Compufficient is now a registered company

Audrey drove me to the local Chamber of Commerce for me to register my new company. Filling out the details with the lady there was quick and easy enough (I knew what to expect in terms of administration, which helped) so about 20 minutes later I became the proud owner of a one-man company: Compufficient.

The business I intend to get is to provide consulting and training with regards to efficient use of computers. The target audience is mainly small businesses (that can't afford permanent IT specialists on staff) in the high-value services sector, where knowledge of IT is not inherent to the line of business.

Examples would be the legal profession, real estate agents, recruitment agencies and many types of consultancy.

Much more work to do, about which I am bound to write here more often, but for now I am just enjoying the feeling that I am officially my own boss as of today.

2003 11 02

Base | Navelstaring


Toolbox section

I have just added a section to the sidebar that is to hold references to my entire toolbox: there will be a list in alphabetical order of every single tool (mostly to mean 'piece of software') I currently use.

I am going about adding items to the list pretty much as I go along, so it may be some time before it is really complete. Nevertheless, it ought to grow substantially over the next few days.

As it is, I am not ordering the items in any other way besides alphabetical. In future, I might add subsections, such as for Firebird extensions.

2003 10 26

Base | Career


My own business

Up until now, I have been looking for new employment. I had several leads, that all petered out (no pun intended) in one way or another, barring the one that actually seemed liked the best job between the few of them.

Just now, I found out that that position has been put on hold for yet another time, putting the time I have been holding out for it at a good six weeks.

I had said before (publicly since last week or so) that I would wait for the further outcome of this particular lead before deciding to let go of paid employment as the next option and instead concentrate on setting up a (one man) business of my own.

Not known for backtracking on my own statements, I have now made this decision: barring practical issues (such as the idea I am working on not being even remotely good enough to provide adequate income for my family) I will shortly be setting up my own business.

2003 10 22

Base | Navelstaring


Incoming section

I have set up an 'incoming' section in the sidebar. For the moment, it only holds the books I am reading (which I might just classify and limit to two or three per category any day now) and (just now) the comics. This also means the end of the 'comics' page. The latter was a relic of the first two days I had this site up anyway, so I don't feel bad at all to get rid of it.

Further content to be added to this section will be the blogs that I read on a daily basis. Writing truthfully, however, that will not be a long list.

2003 10 05

Base | Navelstaring


Sidebar upgrade

The contents of the sidebar have been upgraded. On the main page, they now include what was the top-of-page leader. Also, behind the scenes I have cut up one file kept seperately into smaller chunks, so that the seperate sections in the sidebar can be manipulated differently for different pages. The most immediate impact was that I can now easily keep the navigation at the top of the sidebar, regardless of what else is in it.

Furthermore, I can do this without having to duplicate code for different index pages.

Base | Navelstaring


Subtle permalinkage

I have added permalinks to the posts in this blog. They are, however, fairly subtle, because I did not want a big 'permalink' word with every single post. Also, making the whole title into a link (which was the next thing I though of) would make the page light up like a Christmas tree whenever some poor soul would innocently move their mouse pointer over it. I wanted something useable, yet subtle.

The solution I chose is a small symbol at the beginning of the title. At first, I tried to be clever and used the 'paragraph' symbol, aka the pilcrow sign: '¶'.

At the enlarged font size for the H1 post title, it was less than pretty. Moving it into another place was not really an option either, so after trying a few variations of interpunction characters, I settled on two colons: '::'.

2003 10 03

Base | WebDev


Jobhunt administration using a Blog

I am in the middle of looking for a new job. This creates a need for me to keep a fairly decent log of emails and phone calls, to keep track of the dozens of responses I sent based on ads on (mainly) Monster and the handful of leads that actually go somewhere. It occured to me that each lead can be seen as a convenient data entity, with the more or less standard format for a blog (some static text, plus short, dated sections in reverse chronological order, categorised to 2 or 3 levels deep) being a useful way of expressing the relevant data.

The data is laid out as follows, using the same style sheet as the main site, with the 'base' URL being a non-disclosed subdirectory of this Blog. It is non-disclsed, because it could be unfortunate if some of the information recorded fell into the wrong hands. (such as those of any of the people currently considering to hire me). At the same time, I am lucky to have access to the services of an employment coach, who needs to be kept in the loop in a convenient way. In fact, the mechanism I have devised may mean a wholly novel way of communicating between him and his clients.

That said, most of his clients will not have the skills and/or technology that allow me to do this in a particularly easy way: shell access to a blogging site, a blogging site set up with fine-tuned data structure and style and a preference for using vi as a word processor.

As said, a lead is considered to be the fundamental data unit. There are a number of things that are related to the lead, which can be considered static: they do not change over the natural course of the lead. Then there are communications of various nature, such as emails, phone calls and meetings.

The categorisation is in two levels: 'status' and 'company', the latter being the company that would become my employer should this lead follow through completely. When leads change status, I just move the entire directory for a company (containing the full data set) from the 'status' directory it is in now to the most appropriate other one. This invalidates the use of permanent links based on categories, but for this purpose, that does not matter too much.

The alternative (given a pretty unintelligent directory-to-website categorisation scheme) would be to keep the company names as the top level category, with some sort of status indication as a static data element. However, this would make it impossible (within the limits of the tools I use right now) to get an easy overview of 'all the leads that are, for example, currently 'In Progress'.

Per 'lead' page, the top section is reserved for static data. This includes contact information for all people and organisations involved, the job specification, relevant meta-data (such as the reference number for the vacancy such as the agent in question uses) and any other notes or todos.

I have created a style for a 'data' section, with a 'contacts' subsection that lists pure data elements in a compact form, which is floated to the left, so that it does not eat up vertical screen space.

The other big static element is the job spec. I had it as normal text, but it would easily take up more than a screenful, which means the top of the page is wasted. To get around this, I moved the text to the sidebar, which runs down the right of the place, past half a dozen posts. I found that for reading or browsing (parts of) the job spec, this format is no problem at all, whereas it puts the first place for a post quite far towards the top of the page.

The posts (stories, entries, take your pick of terminology) are mostly a record of a communication, such as an email or a phone conversation. Emails are pasted in almost verbatim, with adjustments to cut of repeats of previous messages and excessive headers and footers. In some cases, I have removed social niceties as well, unless they actually represent a bit of data worth recording and preserving. Date of the post is obviously the one on the email.

The title of such a post consists of a marker '[e]' and the email subject. The first paragraph denotes who it was to or from, with myself the unmentioned other party. By putting the email body text in a specially styled blockquote section, I can add comments about the communication to the same post. This takes away the need to also include the emails I sent about leads to my employment coach.

Phone calls are denoted by a capital P with either a right or left arrow, for outgoing or incoming phone calls, respectively, with the rest of the title being the other party.

The last communication type I have identified is a meeting. These have an '[m]' marker at the beginning, with the other parties named in the title. Thus, '[m] John Doe' can be read as 'meeting with John Doe'. I tend to use the date/time to plan as well as report: a meeting with only a one line agenda summary (the first paragraph) is a planned meeting and will have a date in the (near) future. Past meetings will have more comments added.

2003 09 27

Base | Navelstaring


Bloxsom powered

This site is now powered by Bloxsom. It has taken me a fair bit of work (of which more reports will be added later) but I have all the pieces fitting together good enough for this hand carved prototype to be replaced by a statically generated site, with only small bits of text and data to manipulate.

2003 09 14

Base | Tripping


Chaos in a bottle

I got a lava lamp for a birthday years ago and when we moved into this house, it was unpacked, only to be placed on a windowsill and to be tested briefly. I put it in a different place a few days ago, restoring it to actual use.

My fascination with those things comes from watching the bubbles form, rise, cool, join and all possible combinations of those actions. I look at it and observe all the different processes happening at once: heat being applied from below, hotter substance rising to the surface of the wax, a blob escaping, cooling off again, with material flow in both directions, being constricted by the cooling effect of the surrounding water, observing air bubbles trapped in the wax slowly moving and eventually disappearing.

All the while I try to get a grasp on all the effects at work, but I never achieve anything more than realising that what I am seeing is nothing less than chaos theory at work: one might think that it is possible to calculate all these different effects and predict what shapes will form, but the amount of information to process is just too much to be practical. Yet, at the same time you can readily see similar shapes (patterns, if you will) appearing.

I have no doubt that I am misinterpreting the finer points of chaos theory here, but the complexity is no less beatiful because of it.

2003 09 11

Base | Tripping


Stealth Force Beta

No, not the latest Hollywood drivel starring Schwarznegger or Snipes, but 4 accounts of frankly ludicrous missions and some background information about some students left unchecked too long. This had me laughing out loud; enjoy.

Base | Recruitment


Misrepresentation and the job market

I had a meeting today with a headhunter, during which we discussed, amongst other things, our mutual frustrations with the rat race that the job market in the UK and The Netherlands (the only two I have actual experience with) can be called these days. I would like to share the point I made in that meeting.

My statement is that all three major parties that actively use the job markets (candidates, employers and recruitment agencies) have fundamental compelling reasons to misrepresent themselves, their 'product', or both. This misrepresentation causes massive frustrations for all three parties involved.

First of all, I assume that candidates want the best possible job (with 'best' being a rather subjective measure). Furthermore, I assume that employers want the best possible candidate (same caveat with regards to measuring this). Recruiters sit inbetween: depending on their business model and prefered way of working, they might please either the one or the other party. I have personally come across way too many who try to please both—unfortunately, they rarely employ brutal honesty to that end.

Candidates and employers alike are hindered by the relatively small bandwith between them: they both have to convey large amounts of knowledge about each other over a very small line, be that a job add, a few pages on a corporate web site or a CV. On average, one can find out much more about a prospective employer than one can about a prospective employee, at least by using publicly available information. Nevertheless, the few things a company will say about itself rarely cover stuff that really matters, such as what the people that work there are really like to work with. (note: I do not have any decent answers on how such information might actually be conveyed at all, short of allowing for a six month trial period before commencing any further negotiation).

The same applies to the candidate: with a CV as pretty much the only way in which to convey information about themselves, and the acceptable limit of such a document being around 3 pages, even saying that 'I am a nice guy' is a waste of precious bandwith. Employers' HR/recruitment staff (let alone recruitment specialists) typically review dozens, if not hundreds of CVs per day. A halfway decent psychological profile (which I am using as an example of information about what kind of person a candidate would be to work with, regardless of skills) is a dozen pages. The obvious gap illustrates that even a bare minimum of information about a candidate might not be reviewed with any sort of attention.

In short: all parties involved are constricted by the available bandwith, so they have to make choices about what information to convey and how to convey it. The main driving factor is for candidates to appear to be the best candidate to an employer and for the employer to present themselves (or the role) as one that attracts the best candidates. Neither party can tell with even a fairly low degree of certainty how trustworthy the information supplied by the other party is.

More later on how I have observed all three parties involved in the job market to react to these drivers.

2003 09 10

Base | Navelstaring



I was just trying to validate another site and to get to the HTML validation service, I used the button on my own page. This button links to the validation page, using an argument 'referer', which is a clever way in which the W3C determines which URL to parse.

Rather than the usual congratulations, I was slightly shocked that there were reported errors. (which I obviously fixed immediately). Now, I don't suppose the W3C is busy sending out a posse to my front door to beat me up for claiming to have a validated page, whereas it had 4 whole errors (gasp!) on it for at least a few days.

Nevertheless, the lesson learned is that until I reach the point where I just add content (and even then, actually) I should run the validator at least once a day. Or after every major edit, but that might become unwieldy very quickly.

2003 09 09

Base | Products


A testlab service

When I was working at a company building websites (sorry—marketing instruments :) being, amongst other things, the guy in charge of a small test lab, my brief was to test sites under development in a small range of browsers and OSes. The range was somewhat limited by available time and hardware resources, even though I was using VMWare.

This service could have helped out there: Browsercam. Not to be used throughout the development cycle, but definitely at those points where the cross-browser clause would be put to the test, this is an excellent alternative to having a battery of machines or some fancy Virtual Machine setup. At their monthly subscription rate, it is a steal.

Base | Products


Virtual Machinery dilemma

Whilst on the subject of Virtual Machines, I came accross this Open Source one: Bochs. This puts me in a dilemma.

I have always been very supportive of VMWare, on account of them being absolute pioneers in this arena. Having said that, although the price tag of USD299.00 is readily justifiable by any business that knows what to do with the product, it is a little steep for the hordes of personal users. It still is a lot cheaper than buying another PC, but most people I know are merely using it to avoid dual booting unpleasantries.

An Open Source alternative like Bochs might be just the thing to fill that particular gap. Big question is: how does it perform with regards to usability, stability and speed? Also, VMWare has some killer networking helper applications that Just Make Things Work. From the looks of it (I haven't studied the documentation in great detail yet) Bochs is depending quite heavily on the capabilities of the host OS. Fine on Linux, not necessarily so fine on Windows.

I can't readily think of another time when I had difficulty choosing between taking the freebie (to put it mildy disrespectfully) or pay for the quite possibly better product.

Base | Products


Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

Our friends in Redmond are developing a Virtual Machine product. They have bought it by gobbling up Connectix. Since MS have a habit of throwing their weight either behind or on top of any technology that threatens their monopoly, I fear that the Wonderful People (tm) of VMWare might be in for a rough ride.

Something to note: The quoted reason Microsoft are not releasing Virtual PC for some time:

Development work takes time, and we want to ensure a quality product for customers. Much of our development focus is on improving the security of the product so that it meets stringent Microsoft standards.

I'm sorry, but I will have to go and lie down for a bit now, while I try to think of even more possible jokes about what 'stringent Microsoft standards' would be for security. :)

2003 09 08

Base | Navelstaring


General cleanup

Now that most of my design gripes have been put to bed, I spent some time cleaning up the content, because the use of different classes and divisions was showing three generations of the style sheet within one document. A side effect of prototyping in place, I guess. :)

In a concessive moment of the kind that I would like to keep to an absolute minimum, I have added a bit of invisible space in the header section, so that IE sizes the section properly. Sort of. In any case, I am now confident enough that the page will look decent with the settings with which IE ships by default. (read: settings which are suitable for reading 15 feet away from your monitor. Font control is not one of IE's strong points, is it?)

Base | WebDev | CSS


Loose heading problem solved

The problem with headings flowing downstream when they get too wide for the containing box turned out to be unsolvable in the way I envisaged. In fact, the specification actually explains why it happened:

Here are the precise rules that govern the behavior of floats:


7. A left-floating box that has another left-floating box to its left may not have its right outer edge to the right of its containing block's right edge. (Loosely: a left float may not stick out at the right edge, unless it is already as far to the left as possible.) An analogous rule holds for right-floating elements.

(CSS2 specification, section 9.5.1)

In other words: as long as the heading is not the outer left element, its width can not extend beyond the space left over by the float for the right sidebar. I actually tried making the heading the far left element, but aside from aesthetic issues (the date stamp still needs to go somewhere and I really like the way it is set up now) that didn't work either. In itself, that problem might have to do with the fact that we are inside a nested DIV, which is floated itself, but I haven't pursued that strategy any further.

Instead, I have removed all unnecessary float and clear tags and just set a max-width of a percentage of the window width. In doing this, I had to change the width of the sidebar to a percentage as well, but that was overdue anyway.

2003 09 07

Base | Navelstaring


Future proof site design

This site is to become a full-featured blogging site, including posts by hierarchical topic, posts appearing in more than one topic (or maybe category is a better word), articles, stuff about the technology I used for the site itself, tutorials to rehash what I have learned myself, book and other media reviews, stuff about programming projects that I am working on and maybe more.

To be able to do all this, I will need a site design that is future proof to some extent. The current design looks like where I want to be going, but it is very much a prototype: hand-coded (I belong to the sub-species of human that uses vi and enjoys it), changing without notice, coded in-situ (my ISP offers shell access as standard).

Something I just thought of is that with all my tweaking of the three elements currently present (date/time stamp, heading and text), I am forgetting about the other elements that make up a blog. Here's a quick stab at how they could be integrated into the current design:

I am the only author here, so this is not relevant.
I take this to mean the path of the hierarchy in which a certain post belongs, such as '[Technology] - [Internet] - [Web design] - [Browsers]'. These categories might go fairly deep, although I don't think it should go beyond about 6 levels. In any case, even 4 or 5 levels make for a decent amount of text, even if the seperator is something minimalistic like a vertical bar or a slash. Or setting up the trail as a list with its items as inline elements with a 1px border on the left and just a dash of margin.
The position of this text, in the same size font as the date stamp, could be atop the date stamp and heading, as paragraph: wrappable and block level. The bottom border can carry the line that now is the top border of the date stamp and heading.
Date trail
For viewing a any (sub)set of posts through a calendar based archive, I think there should be a trail displayed such as '[this year] - [this month] - [this day]'. These links can be hidden, however, in the datestamp itself. That elements consists of 5 parts (year, month, day, hour, minute) of which the first three could be links to pages with posts for that period. My first idea about categories in this context is to maintain the category for this page, since that will be the majority of browsing use.
I do not want a special piece of text representing the permanent link, current practice on many blogging sites notwithstanding. Rather, I will use the heading (posting title), the first word of that or maybe a small symbol on the left or right of the heading to hold that link.

2003 09 06

Base | WebDev | CSS


Preventing headings floating downstream

I am quite happy with the new design, but at large font sizes, small window sizes or a mild combination of both, the posting headings seem to have a tendency to float downstream. The primary problem seems to be that they do not wrap. Actually, they do, but when they do, they also try to take as much space as possible and thus end up below the timestamp block preceding it, instead of floating around it.

The next thing I will try as a solution for this is to create another level of divs, which will break down the already defined DIV.post into smaller bits, i.e. DIV.post DIV.heading and DIV.post DIV.content. The heading will be set to float left as a whole. Within it, the timestamp might need its own DIV, but will in any case be floated left.

That is for tomorrow—I promised my wife that I would put an end to pulling very late nights and I am already 10 minutes past the agreed shutdown time.

Base | Navelstaring


You have a bad browser

In IE6/win, this site looks sort of similar to the proper version now, but there will be plenty of visitors wondering why this site looks so, well, crap. For the benefit of these dimbulbs, I have put a link in the main navigation to a page that now merely contains a few harsh words and will shortly contain a rich set of resources to places of good reputation in the standards arena.

Base | WebDev | CSS


Stable design

Whole days of work have now gone into researching, learning, collecting bookmarks and a lot of fiddling with CSS. It is a learning high such as I have not had for a while. The symptoms are dead obvious: I have been sitting behind my screen for just about every available minute for the last three days. The amount of available minutes was drastically increased by me sleeping only the bare minimum of 5 or 6 hours a night. I feel a cold coming on, I have a mild headache and I am running out of coffee at an alarming rate. And I utterly do not care, for the dual rewards of learning stuff that is actually marketable and creating a site design that is orders of magnitude better than anything I have done before make it all worthwhile.

The highlights:

  • Introduction of detailed tree of DIVs.
  • Cleaned up style sheet to take advantage of the clean structure.
  • A fairly novel way of displaying the date stamp for a post: broken up in sets of 2 digits, arranged in a stack of 5.
  • Adjusted colors to be subtle, yet distinctive.
  • Header section with advanced floating arrangement. (try changing the font and/or window size)
  • Site still looks crap in IE, but it sort of looks similar, rather than nothing like the intention.

2003 09 04

Base | Navelstaring


Now reading section

Also started last night, but continuing for some time to come, is my new 'Now Reading' section, placed in the side bar on the right.I looked at some other sites that had a similar thing to see if there is any obvious standard for referencing books, outside of becoming an Amazon Associate, but I couldn't determine one quickly. The alternative: roll my own; the result is on the right hand side.

There is currently a stack of books on my desk for inclusion in this list. It did occur to me that I might consider finishing one or two books before picking up another one. On the other hand, I have always been reading dozens of books in parallel and I have never suffered any serious negative side effects, so why bother changing an established pattern?

Base | WebDev | CSS


More CSS

I spent until way late last night updating the style sheet for this site. The previous one had a top navigation bar that would stay in one place, in a frame-like way. It worked, provided a standards-compliant browser was used. The problem, however, is that simple scrolling up and down would make my CPU rev up to 100%, which is probably caused by the browser having to overlay layers with different z-index values and having to redraw the screen for large sections very often. It might also have something to do with the fact that I have smooth scrolling enabled. Weighing the value of the two features (cool tricks on site vs smooth scrolling experience), decided against the tricks.

While cleaning up the remainder, I sought inspiration on this site. I ended up taking more than just the column layout, but also colour and fonts. There will be more tweaking later.

2003 09 03

Base | Navelstaring


O, what a sucky browser IE is

I just had a look at my own site using IE. Does not work as advertised... Oh, well. From my point of view it is yet another argument to upgrade one's web experience and get a real browser. Or Firebird, rather.

Base | WebDev | CSS


New basic layout

I have been playing around with this CSS stuff for hours now and decided that the way to go for me is to have a nav bar on top, to be filled with smallish buttons. This nav bar will stay in place, while the rest of the page will scroll. Then a link well on the right hand side, which may very well grow beyond one page length, so it needs to be able to scroll as well. Main content is kept in the content well on the left, with a column width that is roughly twothirds of the page. (but not quite).

If you would like to see of use this layout and the associated CSS, be my guest. See if I care. Don't ask me to support it, though.

Base | WebDev | CSS


CSS trickery

I finally figured out how to make a section on a page stay where it is, regardless of scrolling. It took me hours of reading through designer pages, getting sidetracked in dozens of very interesting issues, before I decided on mild theft.

The Thunderbird help page has this nifty menu on the left, which can be locked. I do not need the on/off switch; I just wanted to find out how it worked. There is a message in the CSS file warning to not steal the code. I like to think that finding out which of the three possible options for position is the one to use is not quite the same as stealing the whole thing, but in recognition of my inspiration I would like to thank David Tenser.

The trick is to do this in CSS:

#topnav { position: fixed }

and then this in HTML:

<div id="leftnav"> [your stuff here] </div>

2003 09 01

Base | Navelstaring



As of now, I will be retrofitting entries into this blog. It occured to me that this would be the same thing as writing a diary and a memoir at the same time. I will figure out later how to organise backdated entries; there are interesting issues regarding any future RSS feed. At minimum, I would have to maintain two feeds: 'actually new' as in 'I just wrote this' and 'chronologically new' as in 'this is dated later than the last time you read my feed'. Comments and suggestions are welcome; this can't be a new problem.

Base | Navelstaring


Daily comics

No sensible online individual should be without a daily dose of comics. I got tired of abusing my bookmarks (and exercising both Firebird and comics.com by opening the lot in tabs) so I stuck 'em all on page. Select the entire paragraph and then put the fantastic Linky extension to work. Get coffee. Read comics. Start day.

2003 08 27

Base | Research


A better Monster

Monsterboard is a great site, because it really has tons of job opportunities listed. Their business model ensures that the signal to noise ratio stays very low. (putting noise on Monsterboard is a very expensive hobby).

That said, I find that its usability lacks some features. Specifically, I find that I do searches, also do the related searches and then spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the same job ads, because it is impossible to automatically detect that I have already seen (an in most cases rejected) the ad. Especially when doing broad searches, going back over a good two months, this gets tedious pretty quickly, fast ADSL notwithstanding.

The model I am looking for is rather simple: do one or more searches, uniquefy the result set, filter it through a list of already rejected ads and present the remainder for evaluation. If this had to be built into the site, there could arguably be some logistical problems. For one thing, every user would have to have an entry in the database (easy) with associated status for every possible job ad available (not too difficult either, but a lot of work for probably not very much gain). And that is just the datamodel. Implementation, taking into account multiple simultaneous connections, a sizeable data set to work with and a user interface that is not geared towards this is a pretty hairy beast.

Not that I have any other option, but I will shortly have a go at solving this problem client side: do one or more searches, parse the output and repeat the process going forward. It will involve some scraping, but it looks easy enough.

2003 08 26

Base | Research


Monstrous URLs deconstructed

Monsterboard uses a dreadful system of URLs, in which they encode enourmous amounts of information about the path a user has taken to get to a certain page. This relates to the bulk of useful pages on their sites: the ones with job ads on them. An example:


As a rule, I include URLs like this one in emails I send as a response to such a job. (not this one, mind you). I got fed up with having to include an apology for the fact that most likely, the email recipient would have to manually paste the URL back together again. Going through URL shortening services like the ones listed here seems like overkill for this one-time usage. In addition to that, I am reasonably afraid it may confuse some recipients that are not necessarily well versed in modern technology. Thus, I had to try to come up with a better idea.

The fact that you can easily run into the same job ad again and again through different searches, where the colour of the link on the page indicated that my browser thinks it has not visited the page before put me onto the idea that there might be search-dependant information buried in the URL itself. A cut-n-paste later confirmed that. For entertainment value, here is an overview of the parts of the URL that I could identify.


This obviously is the host and base URL.


This looks to me like a unique identifier of a job ad. (yeah, yeah, very few points for figuring that out.)


This looks a lot easier when de-URL-encoded:

AVSDM=2003/09/01 11:24:00

I am guessing this is the date a job ad was posted. Interestingly, this is not something that can be determined from the page itself. For any given working link to a job ad, however, you can usually navigate away from it and then back, for instance through 'click here to see all [blah] opportunities', then back to the one you came from. The URL in your address bar will have changed and will now at least contain this information.


It seems obvious that it has something to do with a logo, but I have yet to find out which one. Leaving it out of the URL makes no visible difference to the resulting page.

col=dltci cy=US brd=1

Three items that might be 'column', 'currency' and 'border', but their meaning and effects elude me so far.

lid=157%2C184 lid=157,184

These are locale identifiers. To find the ones that are good for you, do a manual search, pick the first job of the list and grab the numbers. I have found that repeating the lid argument works fine.


An argument I have only ever seen empty.


This should obviously be your query.

Some trial and error showed that to refer to a page with a job ad, really the only thing that you need is the Job ID. Thus, this will suffice:


2003 08 21

Base | Navelstaring


Britt's page is up

Obviously, when just mucking about with a new site, the first thing one does is stick up pictures of one's newborn child. Here is a page about Britt.

Base | Navelstaring


And now for a blog

The main purpose for this site is to hold my (as of yet non-existent) blog. I am thinking or using Blosxom, but I haven't decided yet whether to host dynamically or to batch produce and upload. I am leaning towards the latter, but the deafult operation and hence all the support and tooling is geared towards dynamic serving.

Base | WebDev | CSS


Stylesheet uploaded

I happened to have written not just a ton of documentation for my current employer, but I also did a stylesheet for it. For lack of a quicker alternative, this at least looks somewhat decent.

Base | Navelstaring


Page here but not quite finished...

The page is here, but as you can see it is not quite finished. I really do not approve of big black-and-yellow 'under construction' banners, so a bit of text will have to do in explaining that I am really in the very early stages of setting this thing up.

2003 06 21

Base | Home | Britt


The most beautiful sight imagineable

Our daughter is about an hour into this world and has found peace with it already. World leaders take note: this is the sight of innocence and peace.

Base | Home | Britt


Letting the world know

A non-edited (besides translation) transcript of the phone conversation between me and my brother-in-law:

- What's the gender?
- A girl.
- I'll be right there--CLICK.

He must have seen from caller ID that it was a call from our house; the exchange of words literally took less than ten seconds. Sure enough (he lives pretty much around the corner); within five minutes he was at the door. Let in, he barged right through, only to be diverted at the bedroom door, because my wife was still being stitched back up. (and no brother, no matter how close they are with their sisters, should be subjected to that image. :)

I called my parents, the other brother-in-law, my brother and let the grapevine take care of the rest for the time being.

Base | Home | Britt



Unbelievable. Overwhelming. Fantastic. Majestic. Beatiful. Exhausting.

Just a few words that are almost by definition a feeble attempt to describe what just happened to my wife and me: we became parents.

The feeling is impossible to describe to non-parents and pointless to describe to the rest of the human population, because they know exactly what I am talking about.

In the confusion (trust me, there is always enough of that around at times like this), my wife completely forgot to ask about the gender. I had determined it at first visual contact, but I had not spoken out because I wanted her to see for herself. Only, she never did and just hugged the baby. It took a full 20 seconds (it can't have been much longer, but it easily felt as two days' worth of emotions) before she realised this herself.

It is a girl and we are calling her Britt. (derived, I believe, from Brittany, but in our case not short for anything.) We are not religious in any organised way, so this will be her only name. (Come to think of it, I never did figure out why God can't refer to His creations by singular nomenclature :).

Base | Home | Britt


Final stretch

The final stretch is here: it has been over 40 minutes of bearing down, which is only ten-odd minutes away from the default limit at which the ambulance is called for a late transition to the hospital.

Sitting beside my wife, I leave her immediate side to move closer to the actual drop zone. At this point, more with every push, I can see the top of a head, covered in black hair.

Minutes creep by, our only-just unborn baby is advancing millimeters at a time towards the exit and I am watching it from up close. Really up close.

There is a relative lull in the proceedings and then the big push comes. The midwife edges some skin under high tension out of the way and it is all a free fall from here: T minus seconds until we are parents.

Base | Home | Britt


More help is here

In addition to the midwife, there is another assistive person involved.

I am not sure if this is normal in other places in the world, but here it works like this: when you choose to deliver your baby at home (given that there are no medical reasons why you should not), part of the social services framework provides you with 7 or 8 days of home care, if at all possible provided by one and the same nurse.

Such a nurse will come to your house 8 hours per day and take care of the household (whatever needs to be done, within reasonable limits) so that the new parents are able to recover from what just happened to them. She (the profession is 99.9% a female one) is also an invaluable resource for practical advice. I personally do not think any amount of books or other written information is worth the help these people provide in that first week. The time they stay can, depending on health insurance particulars, be extended to 10 days. We do that, hence I am not sure if the normal term is 7 or 8 days.

Our nurse has arrived around 06:00 and has been busy preparing for the baby's arrival (hot water, towels, etc). Good thing too, because although I rate myself capable of working of a detailed instruction list (in the case we would have such a thing) I am nearly out of my mind from the heat, sleep deprivation and sheer emotional exhaustion. Also, having someone knowledgeable and experienced running around, taking care of the necessary things leaves me free to stay with my wife and hold her hand.

Gran (now officially given the title) is sitting at the end of the bed, which is easily the best seat in the house if you want to catch this show sitting upright.

Base | Home | Britt


Make the ^&*( call!

The midwife has not returned yet. It has been a few more hours. The pain is getting on towards the unbearable point. The dam does not feel too far away from bursting. My wife instructs me to go and make the call. Let hassle be hassle; we need assistance.

I make the call, only to find out to our collective relief that the midwife is just now pulling up to the house. Not a moment too soon, as far as my wife is concerned.

From this point on, things start happening faster and faster. The membranes are manually broken and the final stage of labour (delivery) sets in. Pretty soon now, she will have to start bearing down, which is supposed to be the final 30 minutes.

Base | Home | Britt


To break or not to break

The midwife visited again. The dillemma is that near-mom's cervix is fully dilated, but her water hasn't broken yet. The midwife could break it, but she would then have to stay around to assist in the delivery, which might still be some hours. At the same time, she is assisting another delivery, where she has to visit next and where she might need to do the delivery first. She makes the call that rupturing the membrane manually is too much of a risk now, because it would mean that the other delivery going on in the next few hours might require calling out a second midwife to back up the shift of the one on duty: a lot of hassle worth avoiding.

So she goes away, but we can and should call if anything drastic happens.

So we bed down to more waiting. I should probably point out that we are experiencing a heat wave of sorts: it is past 03:00 in the morning and I would happily walk outside in my underwear. Normal in Florida Summer, but not in The Netherlands. Where normal people are allowed to open all windows and doors and utilise some sort of airflow device, we can not, because she might very well wind up with breast infections.

Base | Home | Britt


Call for help

The contractions and associated pain have become worse. This is enough of a signal for us to call in the professional help. Doing things this way is normal procedure: except in medically exceptional cases, the midwife only visits about an hour before the ETA of the baby, with one or more short check-ups at several hours' interval before that.

She came around and told us plainly that all was well and she would be back around 03:00. Oh, er ... ok. So far for any lingering notions of getting any sleep that night.

By this time, only my wife's mother is still with us; the youngest brother has left us less than an hour ago, slightly swaying on his feet dus to the pre-festive consumption of a respectable number of beers.

I decided to take the opportunity now to catch a few hours' sleep while I still can. Other than the fact that I have to do this on willpower, while my wife only has to ride out what her body does to her, I am very sensitive to my biorythm, on account of my Diabetes. And my body is telling me in no uncertain terms that it expects to be asleep. Right now, please.

2003 06 20

Base | Home | Britt


The real work starts

This has been an unusual day. My wife has been having contractions that are getting closer, but only ever so slightly. I know, because being an utter geek and staying close to form, I sat down and whipped up a spreadsheet on which the times of the contractions could be recorded, for the intervals to be calculated and plotted on a graph. I even did some statistically unholy modelling to predict when our child would be born. We were looking at 21:00-ish tonight for some time, but over the last hour the projection has shifted well into the night.

Where we thought that it had all started this morning, we now know that that was really only the prelude. Much fiercer contractions started around 20:00. They are roughly 5 to 10 minutes apart, but they last for several minutes and the expectant mother is increasingly incapable of doing anything other than lying on the couch and trying to keep herself together. From what we have learned from the numerous sources available to young, informed parents-to-be, it is going to get a lot worse before the job is done.

To illustrate that women in labour are not necessarily immediately turned into helpless basket cases, her mother and her joined forces to go out, buy and put up some shelving in the nursery. Late in the afternoon, I might add in admirational tones.

Where we live, delivering a baby at home is fairly normal and from what I have read, it is done in a growing majority of births. That includes ours. What makes ours probably just that bit more special than most, is that her mother will be present during the birth. By local culture standards, that is not unheard of, but definitely not common either. In fact, a generation ago it would just not have happened. But that goes for my presence as well.

My wife's mother and two brothers have come over and seem to be planning to stay until we kick them out. It is a good feeling to be surrounded by family at this sort of time.

Base | Home | Britt


The first contractions

My wife woke up in intermittent pain: the prelude to the first contractions. Support troops were called in and the waiting starts now.