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.

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Gallery: 3-3-2004

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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.

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Gallery: 3-5-2004

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Gallery: 3-6-2004

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Gallery: 3-7-2004

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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.

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Humor

Standards Jokes

You’ll either find this incredibly funny or find it incredible that anyone could find this funny. From the HTMLDog Dogblog:

Q: Why did the XHTML actress turn down an Oscar?
A: Because she refused to be involved in the presentation.

Q: Why was the font tag an orphan?
A: Because it didn’t have a font-family.

Q: Why do CSS designers have too many children?
A: Because they employ lots of child selectors.

Q: Why was IE5’s 3-metre wide cell in the insane asylum smaller than IE6’s 3-metre wide cell?
A: Because the width of the cell included the padding…

Q: Why was the XHTML bird an invalid?
A: Because it wasn’t nested properly.

There are a few more in the comments over there. This made my day.

Lockergnome Critique

Paul Scrivens has written one of his famous critiques of the Lockergnome redesign. He covers the redesign point by point with far more detail than I have, taking a multidisciplinary approach. He loses his cool at one point, but try to understand this is incredibly frustrating.

What’s strange is there hasn’t been a peep out of Lockergnome regarding any of this. Aren’t they plugged in to customer feedback?I think a simple statement or clarification would do a lot to clear things up. Though in the comments some people have used names of people at Lockergnome, it isn’t at all about that. This is simply a matter of supporting companies and organizations you can respect and routing around ones you can’t.

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Gallery: 3-12-2004

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Gallery: 3-13-2004

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Mix CDs

The drive up to Austin was made all the more enjoyable by the mix CDs Kymberlie gave me last night at the H-Town Bloggers pre-SxSW party. Kymberlie runs a thing called Burn It which is like a giant secret-santa type mix CD exchange. If her CDs are indication of the quality, I’d love to participate next time.

Mix CDs are so fun because they provide vignettes of someone else’s tastes, the best and most interesting. Mix CDs are like linklogs of music.

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Gallery: 3-14-2004

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