Monthly Archives: March 2004

Jay-Z Construction Kit

The Jay-Z Construction Set is a toolkit with all of the necessary software and raw material to create a new remix of Jay-Z’s Black Album. It includes nine different variations on the Black Album, over 1200 clip art images, and a couple hundred meg of classic samples and breaks.

It’s the Jay-Z Construction set, as featured in the New York Times. Taking Grey Tuesday to its natural conclusion. I came across this via Mr Haughey, who should be ostracized for mixing Kenny G with anything. Wasn’t the Louis Armstrong incident bad enough?

Oh, and their hype blog runs WordPress.

New Gadget Weblog

I always liked Gizmodo before, but I stopped visiting for ethical reasons. The currency of weblogging has always been the personal voice of the writer, not the weblog itself. I followed a link to Gizmodo the other day and it was nothing like I remembered, and I thought to myself “When did this jump the shark?”

Well apparently the soul of Gizmodo, Pete Rojas, is now blogging at a new gadget weblog, Engadget. It looks great so far and I’ve added it my daily visits. Weblogs Inc. looks interesting in general, and worth watching.

It’s Worse Than You Can Imagine

At first I was optimistic that the Lockergnome redesign wouldn’t be that terrible, I mean they have smart people there. Then the evidence mounted that there wasn’t going to be any good hybrid approach. Why go backwards? Is it a joke? Is ruining their website some twisted form of RSS evangelism?

Earlier today a comment from Simon said:

Well, the redesign appears to be out now and it�s much worse than I expected – blockquotes for indentation, paragraphs with non-breaking spaces in them for added vertical spacing – tag soup if ever I�ve seen it. Yuck.

He expanded his thoughts illustrated by the code snippet:

<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<table border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" width="778"
bgcolor="#FFFFFF">
<tr><td align="left">
<div id="footer">
<blockquote>&copy; 1996-2004, Lockergnome LLC. ISSN: 1095-3965. All
Rights Reserved. Please read our <a href="/about/privacy-policy.phtml">
Privacy Policy</a> and <a href="/about/terms-of-service.phtml">
Terms of Service</a>. Web site hosted by
<a href="http://www.webair.com/cgi-bin/in?51">Webair</a>.
Email newsletters powered by <a href="http://www.whatcounts.com/">WhatCounts</a>.
Domain registered at <a href="https://www.gnomedomains.com/">GnomeDOMAINS</a>.
</blockquote>
</div>
</td></tr></table>

One can only assume that the newsletters will be following suit, and no one wants that kind of filth in their inbox.

All joking aside, I am going to be unsubscribing from all Lockergnome newsletters. I am not under the illusion that my action will be anything more than a number blip to the people there, but principle of the matter is I don’t have a lot of respect for them anymore. How can I take web development news seriously from an organization that is in the wrong decade code-wise? Even worse, they had something great and threw it away. If enough people were to do the same and unusbscribe they might take notice, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

I might even be forgiving if their markup (which is invisible to the user when it works) devolved but the site was much easier to use or aesthetically pleasing, but the site has degraded in every conceivable way. I decided I could tolerate the design long enough to unsubscribe, but couldn’t even find that on the site. Google brought up a cached page that no longer exists which pointed to the correct URI, which incidentally still has the old design. So if you also disagree with the recent direction things have taken, unsubscribe from Lockergnome.

Looking for something to fill the void? It didn’t come to mind the other day, but I highly recommend the SitePoint newsletters for web development topics. Blogs are also great, but sometimes it’s nice to get something in yoru inbox. I’m open to suggestions for other newsletters.

Update: I’ve written a new entry that explains why I care.

Code is Food

Even if you normally skip my “geek” entries, please read this.

Scoble sees I’m unsubscribing from Lockergnome and says:

I’m more pragmatic. Can I look at the page in my browser? Can I subscribe to the RSS feeds? If so, why does it matter whether the code underneath was done with tables or CSS? Call me a fool, but I judge web sites by whether or not they have content and experiences that enrich my life, not whether the code underneath them fits my expectations.

Robert isn’t a fool, we obviously have a breakdown in communications though. I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be shocked at the code snippet I posted and Robert doesn’t understand why anyone would care. In fact there is probably a large segment of my audience here who doesn’t have a clue why I get so worked up over this stuff. All morning I’ve struggled trying to think of an analogy that captures the essence of what is going on here.

It became more obvious to me that HTML and CSS code and the health of the web has many parallels to the food you eat and the health of your body. HTML is the ingredients and CSS is the world-class chef that takes the ingredients and arranges them in an attractive, delicious way.

So lets take your token bad markup—multiple nested tables for layout, badly nested tags, font tags all over the place—this is McDonald’s. If I’m on a road trip and need a quick bite, I’ll drive through because it’s convenient and ubiquitous. Though it’s obviously bad for you, it’s not going to kill you if you have a Big Mac. However if you try eating it every day, your body revolts and starts to deteriorate rapidly (original article).

Within a few days of beginning his drive-through diet, Spurlock, 33, was vomiting out the window of his car, and doctors who examined him were shocked at how rapidly Spurlock’s entire body deteriorated.

“It was really crazy – my body basically fell apart over the course of 30 days,” Spurlock told The Post.

His liver became toxic, his cholesterol shot up from a low 165 to 230, his libido flagged and he suffered headaches and depression.

I think the Big Mac is a pretty good example of bad ingredients crappily presented. Bad markup and no CSS.

Now lets move away from McDonald’s to a fictional restaurant like McDonald’s but without the nice clown and all the charities. This company has the same sort of mediocre food but also mistreats its workers, has lax sanitation standards, puts farmers out of business, has slow service, and uses slave labor overseas. Now in additional to the health reasons for not eating at this restaurant, you have a number of ethical reasons. Why should you support any restaurant that is so contrary to principles that you believe in?

That is the web. Think of your poor browser, which has to work incredibly hard to try and interpret what is essentially markup gibberish and shape it into something it can present to you. The worse the markup is, the slower the page is going to load and the more likely it won’t be presented as the author intended. RSS and syndication doesn’t do a thing to solve the problem, it just tries to shield you from it. (Let me mess with my RSS 2 feed until its at the markup level of their page, and see if your aggregator even still reads it.) Robert of all people should know that the quality of code on most websites wouldn’t be accepted for a second inside of any of Microsoft’s products. Longhorn is not being built on crappy code held together in an ad-hoc fashion, it’s being built on standards. Why shouldn’t the web expect that same level of robustness?

Sure some people don’t care about whatever markup is behind the web pages they visit. Out of site and out of mind, right? (Very apathetic American.) But I care, and it’s because of people who care that the web has moved beyond the near-unusable mess it was 5-7 years ago. On one level I care about the health of the web, the long-term viability of the sites and pages and documents that are shaping our culture and society. On a deeper level I hold a number of principles that the web should be efficient, standards-based, and accessible. No site is perfect, but some try and some don’t.

Lockergnome regressing from the standards-based is more than just a bad business decision, it is essentially giving the middle finger to the community around the world that cares about these things. Their lack of communication on this issue beyond a few flippant remarks in a newsletter is insulting. They either don’t care or are ignorant, neither of which I’m inclined to tolerate. I’m not even going to address the point, as other have, that they are supposed to have a web development newsletter.

I’m not just unsubscribing, I’m boycotting. There comes a point when you see blatant disrespect for things you care about and you can either sit back and pretend it doesn’t bother you or you can speak out. It’s two different types of people, and if you’re one of the former then you should examine the effects of your apathy.

To recap, Lockergnome just isn’t just serving bad ingredients with bad presentation, they’re the restaurant you visit every day for its great service and food that one day changes into a dive with spoiled food and flies in the kitchen, and then tells you that keeping the place clean is too “fancy-schmancy” and that they don’t need to keep using fresh food because no one will notice anyway and it’s too much trouble. The next day you see them on the news for rat droppings, food at the wrong temperature, and slime in the ice machine.

Of course at some point the analogy breaks down because I don’t know of any food that is incredibly cheap, tastes great, is very healthy, and stays fresh forever without refrigeration. That’s well-formed XHTML and CSS.

So that’s why I care. I don’t expect everyone to care that much, but at least understand why I do.