Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Building websites is fun

.. when you do it the right way


I know this blog entry is close to self-indulgence, but it is just a self inflicted boost for my self-confidence. Heck, every now and then you have to tickle yourselves.

OWI Van Lieshout
If you want to laugh, you have to tickle yourselves.
A new website

The website that we launched yesterday is a big cooperative effort from the entire department and each one of us has put in their respective special skills into action. This has resulted in a completely fresh site that is ready for the next couple of years.

We have moved away from an all ASP site with frames and table-based layout to fully fledged .NET site with our own framework that spits out clean XHTML and CSS.

This last bit has been my main focus in the project. I must say that I am proud of what has come out of it. There is room for improvement, as always. On top of that one learns new things every day and these new things have pointed me to little bits of code that can be improved.

Let's make things better

Now we have finally finished our deliverable we are fixing the inevitable small issues and are already looking at improvements. During the build we compiled lists of these and now we can at last start making them.

In my area of XHTML and CSS I have started working changing the layout. The site was designed with 800 by 600 pixels as an already overdue requirement. So, right now I am tweaking the site's CSS to make it a 1024 by 768 pixel design. Much to my enjoyment I have already one of the templates working in Firefox and I only have hack a bit to make things work in Internet Explorer.

A couple of things make feel very good today:

  • The speed at which I have made the changes
  • I have also made some changes to the implementation (background colors and images) are now on more logical elements.
  • By changing the implementation I have reduced the number of background images and made some considerably smaller.
  • To top things of I have not changed one bit of the XHTML. Meaning that I can drop the changed CSS files and background images on the server and implement the new size!

That's why I am pretty proud of myself.

Yes we went live

.. and without any major glitches

Yesterday was the the biggest milestone in the project that had this weird end. The website that we have been building for the last year and in the time before that exploring in several Proofs of Concept. It had been a struggle at times with new technology, getting specifications sorted out, having a deadline before we had any specifications, struggles within our department, new people, struggling with a not very performing CMS and going through burning hoops to get it to perform etc. etc. You know, the usual stuff that happens in any major project. For some reasons they always happen.

Yesterday we had breakfast with champagne to celebrate the event and after that we were allowed to "enjoy the achievement a bit", which meant just staying in and doing as little as we did over the last couple of weeks.

Only the usual little problems popped up that kept some of us from really "enjoying the achievement a bit".

I think we pulled off quite an impressive job, but also think that we have just set a first step on a long road ahead.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Project timeline

.. I have never experienced one like this

The insurance company I work for is on the brink of launching it new improved website. I was involved in developing the site in particular the XHTML and CSS are largely my work and I also did some of the C# coding. The bulk of the framework was created by our architect in such a way that developing parts of the website was a breeze.

Now we are about to finish this long running project I can do some reflection (our architects has done enough of that already).


In a normal world in a normal IT project towards the end of it you will find people working hard making long hours and run around trying to get the highly necessary features in before the deadline. In a normal world this is what makes up the last couple of weeks of the project life cycle. It's part of the fun. It's the final blast before we can open up some bottles and admire the product we created. Then after three seconds of leisure it's onwards to a new challenge.

In a normal world in a normal IT project towards the end of it you will find people working hard making long hours and run around trying to get the highly necessary features in before the deadline.

Note, in a normal world this would be the case.

Are you normal?

Since there are hardly any normal companies or even IT departments a project never really runs as planned.

Our website project never ran as planned, since we never were really sure it was planned. Perhaps someone had the master plan, but he kept it a secret in a very dedicated way. So, in a sense it is possible that everything went according to plan. Hmm, that is a discomforting idea.

So, we are not normal, over here. I knew that, but it is just a confirmation. People who work in projects enjoy confirmation. The need it, constantly. Projects are usually riddled with exceptions and issues and conflicts and a constant factor in a project forms a stable basis for happy, hard working project members.

People who work in projects enjoy confirmation.
Constant factors of projects
Projects are always late
This is something we have successfully achieved. Originally we would go-live on 13 September (luckily no year was mentioned, so we could be several months early). 1309 will always be some special for us.
Scope creep always happens
Yep, been there done that. On the one hand we squeezed in some Flash bits late in the project, on the other hand a wrapper and caching services were created because the CMS could not perform as we would have wanted.
Planning is usually infuenced by something trivial
Well, the content of a website is not something I would call trivial but that was how it was treated in the planning. It turned out that this was what was worked on until the last minute. In fact it is being worked on as I type this and my guess is they will still be doing this after the launch.

So, this makes the project quite normal.

What is worrying me

The thing that is worrying me is that in a the great many projects I have been involved in at different companies in different roles is that there always was the constant factor of the "almost-finished-rush" just before the final milestone of a project. You would find to be converting data, making final changes since the production environment was completely different from what it was designed for or you would find yourself moving boxes or telephones or other heavy stuff.

In this project I am becoming completely disoriented. In the last five to six weeks I have solved maybe seven bugs found by our testers and seven bugs found by myself or the other developers.

I miss that rush. That rush usually prevents you from thinking straight. You have to press on to solve issues and meet the deadline and you hardly have time to think about how to solve them.

Now that rush is absent we have time to go over and over the website and we spot many small issues and also bigger ones. Pages that hardly contain any content and things like that. But still, at most annoying for a visitor but it will not cause errors.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The spread of the fox

.. is it still spreading?

Now, I am blogging about browsers. Let's revisit an older post. In January of this year I posted about the spread of Firefox as reported by the XiTiMonitor. There are new numbers available. Let's compare the old and the new ones.

The old numbers

The new numbers

Overall we see a little increase in percentages, although some countries have dropped a little bit (Ireland, United Kingdom). This is mainly caused by the fact that XiTiMonitor now used measurements of an entire week and not just one Sunday as in the previous report. And in this report they also show that the share of Firefox usage in the weekend is slightly higher than during the week. Firefox support in companies is still a problem.

Other countries have gained a bit more than average, Romania, Ukraine.

Here is link to an English version of the XiTiMonitor Firefox survey in PDF.

So, is it spreading?

I think that the numbers in this latest survey are more to the point. (The previous 'Sunday-only' numbers were rightfully questioned by

I think, it shows that Firefox has taken a steady beachhead in Europe. The trend will show in the next reports as we can then compare the same type of numbers.

Is browser A better than browser B?

.. or is it poor website coding?

Sometimes a small post can trigger a comment and sometimes a small comment can trigger a post.

What is this about?

Yesterday I wrote a small post about a website that collecting a million reasons to use Firefox. I thought it is a funny site. I do not think that all these reasons are based on facts or whatever. Just plain fun. Period.


Some people's toes are always stepped upon. I was just showing a random list of quotes. And I received a comment.

The safest Browser is actually Opera. As for the other reasons, get the facts:

Anyhow, I do not think that that site mentioned shows the 'facts'. Yes, it does adds a grain of salt to most 'myths' although not all the myths are myths.

As a web designer / developer I was triggered by the so called myths about W3C Standards compatibility. IE would support those better because it shows more sites 'correctly' than Firefox. This is a very subjective approach. If according to the code as described by the W3C Standards a menu should be below the content and thus be unclickable in Firefox and if IE uses another interpretation and shows the menu on the left side fully functional: which browser is better?. I think that the web developer did a very poor job. Do not blame the messenger. It could very well be that the developer developed for and tested in IE only.

Bottom line

I am quite fond of Firefox. I have Opera installed as well and IE 6 and IE 7 and Flock and Lynx. Yes, I am developer. I always start out with designing in Firefox and then see if it looks good in the other browsers. From there I move on to an Apple and test it in various browsers there as well. My principle: Design for the best, test for the rest.

I have become addicted to Firefox and a list of extensions. I have always found that Opera was a bit too different in GUI and I never felt completely at ease on first sight. And the ads that existed in previous versions just put me off. When Opera dropped those I was already addicted to Firefox. Now I don't see enough reasons to switch.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Blogging and workload

.. a strange interaction

This week on A List Apart Ryan Carson wrote an interesting article: The Four-Day Week Challenge. In it he describes that he and his wife used to work long hours five or more days a week and never really had the feeling they finished anything. His wife proposed to work less; four days a week and limit the number of hours. This seems strange, but it worked for them. Read the article for the details.

Now my situation

We are at this moment working towards the release at the end of this month of a completely new web site. Normally one would expect that during those final weeks every developer is working franticly to reach the date, fixing bugs and adding the inevitable last minute extra feature.

But no, not here. It is oh so quiet on the western and eastern front.


During these doldrums of work I have virtually stopped blogging. (I have forced myself today in to writing some stuff again).

Apparently, when the workload is less I can not seem to find time or inspiration to wrote for my blog. This seems weird.

Must be a great theory and an article in this phenomenon.


Since writing this post I am blogging like a waterfall again. Hmmm, weird, considering that I still have a negative workload.


You have been merged

.. goodbye?

Today the insurnce company I work for has merged with another insurnace company. This was already in the works for some time, so not really a shocker.

The implications will probably felt the most in health insurance portion of our part of the merged company as the other company was much bigger in that area. I feel relatively safe being in the e-businnes department for now. But YNCT what the future may bring. They might decide to relocate the head office in which I work.

We'll see.


Firefox? Why use Firefox?

.. you need a reason?

Anyone out there still does not get it: why use Firefox for browsing the web? You nee a reason? What about a million reasons?

some random contributions
  • Its said to be safest
  • It's being actively developed.
  • It's Microsoft-free
  • Itis modifiable
  • at first the safety...then STUMBLE
  • fully customizable
  • i think the logo is sooo cute
  • Extensions!!!
  • Im takin back the web?
  • because i like a browser that crashes randomly whenever
  • CSS Compliance
  • It's free and was built for Linux. Why not?
  • Adblock + Flashblock + Abe Vagoda Status = Firefox wins

Mine is #1978.

Add some more.