Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Standards are hot again!

.. but to me they remained cool

With outspoken criticism from many in various forums and blogs on the use of web standards and XHTML and CSS the discussion never seems to cease. If I bluntly summarize the critics I think they say “Why use difficult things like XHTML and CSS? It's just too difficult for me to understand and I can get the same result by using twenty nested tables and a few spacer GIFs!” OK, as we say in Dutch this may be a little “short through the corner”, but still, from where I stand it's close to reality.

CSS & web standards illiterates
Why use difficult things like XHTML and CSS? It's just too difficult for me to understand and I can get the same result by using twenty nested tables and a few spacer GIFs!
Recent buzz

Recently there has been some buzz around standards that make them hot again. Eric Meyer has produced three clear articles with suggestion on improving the W3C. Over on Vitamin an article explains why standards still matter and what we (the good people) can do to promote the use of standards. And just today A List Apart added another good entry in this arena.

These articles and all the resulting comments show that standards are still hot (and never really cooled down) and that standard conscious web designers are a growing and active community. And that in the near future standard compliant web sites might become the standard.

Soooo ...

If you are still using the old table based design and don't care for document types and closing all tags and are of the opinion that if Internet Explorer shows it right it must be right then maybe it is becoming that you should start worrying if you shouldn't learn to build websites the proper way. It is difficult at first. It was to all of us. But doing the right thing never hurt anyone.

If you don't care and you don't want top change. Well, just simply fade away. Goodbye to all you spacer GIF loving people.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Coincidences do not exist

.. if it does it is only a coincidence

Last year we were watching a looming magical date. The date that was set as the launch day of the new version of our website. It was September 13th 2005. After that date was set some people starting to think about what the new website would be like, what functionality was needed.

As one sees it was another one of those projects where the end date was set first and then what needs to be done is scraped together. With limited resources you know you head straight into trouble. And we did. We overshot the magic date by eight months.

Here comes the coincidence!

As one of my team mates found out just this week September 13th isn't just a random date. Over on Wikipedia is still an article (article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedia's deletion policy!) that claims that the 256th day of the year is Programmer's day. And the 256th day of the year is 13th of September (or the 12th in a leap year). This can not be a coincidence.

Programmer's day is a holiday on the 256th day of the year celebrated mostly by computer programmers. The date is significant to programmers as it represents a byte of data's capacity being that of an unsigned 8-bit integer, or 28.
Programmer's Day usually falls on September 13, though on leap years, it falls on September 12.

Supposedly another clue for intelligent design, but to me the date of September 13th will be a beacon of bad project planning.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street

.. in a minute

On 9/11, a couple of days ago, Keith Olbermann, an American news anchor gave a commentary indicting the Bush Administration's shameful and tragic response to 9/11. The entire text can be read over on Yahoo! News.

Take some time to read it. It sums it up pretty nicely, I think.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Building good websites is not easy

.. but it can be learned

Recently there have been some discussions on various sites about the flaws or irrelevance of CSS and XHTML. John Dvorak started with his article against CSS. Many others have reacted to that and so did I. More recently Emil Stenström started with an article titled 'Why XHTML is a bad idea'. Now all we need is an article that says that JavaScript is a big nono.

Even though I think that the current W3C standards for XHTML and CSS are not perfect and totally not up to date I feel that we just have to work with the tools at hand. And we should also strive to get better tools, better standards.

That's all very well

But my main problem with the two articles is that I sense that both writers come up with the objections against CSS and XHTML because they have (had) difficulty learning it. Using CSS and XHTML is too close to programming, in their opinion. Therefore we shouldn't use it. Therefore it is flawed.


Well, maybe we should call it programming after all. I mean, using CSS is implementing a bunch of rules that say when a page element with this type of tag or this ID or that class it must be floated to the left or it has a blue background. In a very concise format every rule in CSS is a IF THEN statement. In XHTML we give meaning to the content by wrapping it up in tags and adding classes or IDs.

When one has a look at CSS Zen Garden one can see what is possible by changing the IF THEN rules, the CSS. If you take step back you are basically looking at a different presentation of the same data (= the content of the page). Continuing along these lines: every different design can be seen as a different report based on the same data.

And building reports is also close to programming IMHO.

My point

To further clarify my issue with both these articles the following quote.

Emil Stenström
Still the W3C pushes for XHTML as the new standard for the web. Despite how hard it will be for beginners to get things right.

I see writing XHTML and CSS as writing code (and I am not the only one) and I see it as part of my job as web developer. (I also code in C# and JavaScript.) Writing code or programming means that there are rules that apply. There is syntax you must adhere to. If you don't follow the rules then the results are hard to predict.

In the early days of the Internet the rules for HTML were not as strict as now and you didn't have to close all the tags like in XHTML. Browsers were and still are helpful and forgiven with broken HTML. Internet Explorer is very friendly in that respect.

But because there are rules (for XHTML and CSS) does not mean that that is bad. The rules are there to provide the same set of tools for browsers developers and web developers. So that I can expect my code to be presented in the way I intend in any browser. If it doesn't the usually I made a mistake or the browser in question interpret these rules different.

You need to know the rules to play the game

These rules, the standards are what you need to know to use the tools correctly. That takes some learning. Learning takes time and you need to invest in that. Sometimes it can be frustrating when things don't seem to work in the way you want. When this happens lean back and think of another way to do what you want.

But you must be willing to learn and keep learning. That is the point. Nobody says it easy or that will be easier. It may very well become more difficult when more and more things are added to the standard.

Like going to school again and again

Working in this profession means learning, learning and learning. Every day. So, if you want to survive you will have to invest, you must be willing to learn. Over the door of my old primary school it said (roughly translated):

He who wants can.

I think the aspect of learning almost every day is one of the things that keep my job and life interesting. Also the more I learn the better I understand that there much more to learn. In the last years I have been working more and more with object orientation and design patterns. I start to recognize this within the web stuff as well (Model View Control = Content Style Behavior = HTML CSS JavaScript). And with that recognition I start to see where I have done things in an awkward way. In short the more I learn the more I know that what I have done in the past was not done in the best possible way. I would do things different now. I think I am improving always. Slowly but surely, by learning new stuff and learning how to use that the right way.

Simply saying that the old stuff is enough to do what you want is not enough for me. When I feel that there is potential for improvement of my product in some new technology then I think it is justifiable to invest time to learn it. If it turns out that it does not help to improve the product or makes it even worse then still I have learned something: not to use it in this situation.


I am moving away from the start of this post. Returning to it now quickly.

The articles I mentioned and the following discussions where mainly about technologies being flawed because they were difficult to learn and implement. I think this the wrong way of looking at them. CSS and XHTML are powerful tools despite relative little available syntax and commands (compared to something like C#). Putting them to use requires quite a bit of knowledge. Especially if you want to use it to its full potential.

The hurdles you have to overcome along the way (like the browser issues) are not a ground for stating that the CSS and XHTML are flawed or just sticking with the old stuff. The world is changing so change along with it and yes that requires learning new stuff. Every day a little bit.

Five years ago the world changed

.. or didn't it?

Today it is exactly five years ago that planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. A further plane crashed in Pennsylvania. The world was shocked. It would no longer be the same.

Many people died that day and in the following wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It all seems so pointless.

Sometimes I doubt that the world changed that day. It was the culmination of things that happened in the years before that. And it still goes on.

A day to remember

Just sit behind your screen for a few minutes and think about how to make this world a better place to live for everyone, for every persons, regardless race, nationality, religion or sexual preference or wealth or whatever.

Give peace a chance!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Back at work

.. vacation is always too short

Getting used to vacation takes about half a day. As soon as I have left the street in which I live in my car fully packed with tents, sleeping bags and kids that's when the vacation spirit kicks in.

After coming home and getting back to work it takes much much longer to get used to being back at work. I find myself looking out the window and dreaming about Pippi.

Sweden 2006
August 2006 -Some Photos

Luckily the power company decided to help me out a bit yesterday. They created a beautiful power failure just before one o'clock and our wonderful IT department has power backup for the servers for a maximum of 30 minutes. After 30 minutes they bring down the servers and bringing these back up takes about two hours. Add to that the expected duration of the power failure of two hours and we were excused if we could not longer do any work. Well, I only had one meeting of half an hour (which was moved forward immediately) and being a developer I could not do anything. So I left early on my first day. Thanks Essent!

For today I hope Essent or some careless dragline driver helps me out again.