Monthly Archives: March 2004

Invalid Gnome

I get Chris Pirillo’s Windows newsletter (currently called “Windows Fanatics”) in my inbox this morning and was shocked that he seemed to assert that Lockergnome was going back to its old style, or lack thereof. Maybe it’s just Chris’ flourishes, but several things gave me cause for concern.

Remember what the Web was like when the BLINK tag roamed the earth?

Off to a bad start. We all know there’s only one good use for <blink>.

There were only a handful of browsers, and it didn’t take much to make a page “look good” on all platforms.

Maybe I missed these times. I remember pages “Made for Netscape” or that “Require Internet Explorer.” I remember having to essentially code two sites to work with two radically different browsers. I remember single-pixel GIFs and tables nested ten deep and bad typography. I try to forget, but I can’t.

It doesn’t take much to push the envelope, but sometimes (as we discovered) the envelope pushes back. You might recall the somewhat-simplistic design of our site before we dove head-first into Cascading Style Sheets. Despite its shortcomings and lack of finesse, the sucker worked – and we had few complaints.

I find that surprising. Here’s one: it was one of the ugliest sites I’d ever visited, and the bizarre look turned me off from subscribing to the newsletters even when I had heard several recommendations, because I assumed they must be unprofessional. I’m not trying to be mean, just honest.

Lockergnome.com is about to become less confusing as it goes back to more a basic code structure. We’re going to unbury the menus and options and chalk up the past few months to experience. I’m not saying that we won’t employ fancy scripts now and again, but we’re refocusing our new(er) layout on the thing that most likely brought you to us: the content. Right now, Jason’s putting the finishing touches on the overall structure and functionality…

The attraction of Lockergnome is the content, and the site could use better information architecture, but I hope this does not come at the expense of clean, fast-loading, semantic code and the distinctive aesthetic the site currently has. Though I’m not crazy about parts of it, their current design is pretty good in my opinion. It has some very nice elements that are impressive to me both as a web developer and a consumer. It’s not perfect, but a darn sight better than what was there before.

Is this going to be a step backward? In a way, yes. I’ll certainly miss certain aspects of our ultra-hip CSS implementation. However, until 99% of the installed browser / e-mail client base supports the same standards, we’re gonna leave the fancy-schmancy stuff to other online resources.

Mind pointing out these fancy-schmancy online resources so I can read them instead?

For what we do, and how we need to do it, advanced “hacks” just don’t work well.

What about web standards? Graceful degradation? From a purely business and marketing point of view, is the couple of percent of users on browsers so limited and hardware so old that they can’t appreciate modern web pages (and not just yours, also ESPN, Wired, PGA…) a demographic you want to cater to at the expense of the other 95%?

Furthermore, the old Lockergnome got eaten by spam filter several times because its markup was similar to the spam I got. Since the redesign, nada. Maybe it’s just my Bayes scores or installation of SpamAssassin, but I can’t imagine my setup being different from many others. If a newsletter falls in the spam box and no one sees its ads, does it make a penny?

I doubt it.

I could just be worried over nothing, their redesign could be impeccable markup combined with simpler CSS that works better than their current across browsers and platforms. The only reason I put my thoughts to words is that I’m on the cusp of several decisions. I’m examining my subscriptions; they recently cancelled the Linux channel (which was quite good) and the Web Developer channel is in a state of flux (it was pretty bad for a while). Also the affordable Gnomedex is coming, though my decision on that will probably be more influenced by its speakers. On one hand I have a lot of faith in the Lockergnome team to do the right thing, but the standards-lover in me is just terrified of the prospect of a site going backward. Not to mention the masses who subscribe to the newsletters that will draw the conclusion that “CSS isn’t ready for big sites yet,” in 2004. I can think of nothing further from the truth or more subversive.

Clever Virus

Just in case anyone has seen this one going around yet, it is the most clever and well-done spoof I’ve seen in a long time. I have been getting dozens of these and they are humorous because I run my own email systems, so the email just doesn’t make any sense. However I’ve gotten several questions from people I host asking what this means. Here’s what the email looks like:

To: m@wordpress.org
Subject: Email account utilization warning.
From: management@wordpress.org

Dear user, the management of WordPress.org mailing system wants to let you know that,

Our antivirus software has detected a large ammount of viruses outgoing
from your email account, you may use our free anti-virus tool to clean up
your computer software.

Please, read the attach for further details.

Attached file protected with the password for security reasons. Password is 88315.

Cheers,
The WordPress.org team       http://www.wordpress.org

So if you get this, please ignore it like you ignore all attachments that you aren’t expecting.

More on the Gnome Regression

Another newsletter, another reason to worry. Here’s the quote:

We’ve spent a lot of time and effort on our cutting edge CSS layouts and, while they are definitely fancy-schmancy, they detract quite a bit from our core efforts which are great content and easy access to it. So, as Chris put it in yesterday’s Windows Fanatics, we’re taking a mulligan and calling a do over. Lockergnome is changing looks one more time and moving to a more traditional layout and coding structure. This, my friends, successfully filled the rest of the time between when we last graced your in-box and now. I’ve been locked in my office, nose to the grindstone, hacking out automated content updaters, link rotators, and convoluted include structures hand over fist. Now here’s the part that’s going to get resident Web-Gnome, Foofy Mathews, on a plane to throttle me in my sleep… All the layout is based on tried and true HTML tables.

Dave and Paul have already added great thoughts to the discussion, so I’m not going to address the “tried and true” web techniques of the mid-nineties again. My previous optimism is waning, and I hope someone at Lockergnome is listening and will come out of the echo chamber and let us know what’s going on.

Update: I’ve written an update that explains why I care.

Protect Your Wireless Traffic

On my giant todo list for SxSW this year was double-checking that all communication I would be doing over the wireless network would be secured against possible sniffing. Most of my traffic isn’t a problem: I use SFTP with CuteFTP Pro and Dreamweaver MX 2004 to update sites, terminals are (of course) SSH, and all my incoming and outgoing email is over SSL. I’m worried about the errant website login, and maybe AIM. Better safe than sorry, right?

Well Mr. Haughey is going to be using VPN through an inexpensive third-party provider. Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? I thought about setting one up on my server at home (or maybe the colo) but then I remembered that I have a VPN account through UH that is very fast. They require using the VPN software to connect to any of the Cisco access points they have all over the campus, in fact I’m on it right now. Problem solved. I would still like to bring back the secure Photo Matt though.

Essential Software

My laptop is approaching a level of instability that only a truly borked Windows installation can match, so I think it’s time to make a list of my essential software so when I format and start over I don’t forget anything important and have to install it in a pinch later. So here is software I use on a daily basis and find important enough to reinstall:

Fin! Now if I can just find the restore CDs for my laptop, I’m good to go. Wish me luck.