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.