Pig Work

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Weblog of Freelance Designer Steven Clark
aka nortypig in Lenah Valley, Tasmania

31/5/2005

The Daily Grind Part ‘X’

Filed under: — 4:18 pm

Having vented my spleen in a veritable brain vomit lately I’m apologising to anyone who might feel I’m on a real soapbox and playing Lord High and Mighty. It’s everyone’s Web and to each their own I guess. Be nice to thy neighbour, Norty Pig. It’s nice to clear the air occasionally.

The Pig Pen, my other blog, is going very well at the moment. Hopefully it’ll keep going that way too. It’s just a links blog of stuff I run across in my daily grind but it’s kind of taken over and I’m running with it. If it works great but if I lose my freedom then I’ll have to look at it again.

I got interviewed by a Uni journalism student on distributed computing, something I probably don’t know a lot about. That’ll be an interesting read. I’ve got a PowerPoint presentation on SPML hanging around here somewhere but can’t seem to find it.

Its noticable that nobody’s commented at all on the Holy Cow article, too. I wonder why? No opinions?

If any of my regular readers are interested in the web standards movement at all - what do you really think of all this kerfuffle? I’m not always right you know. Opinions are actually welcome on this blog.

Do I at all come across as standing on a box talking down? I hope not.

30/5/2005

Holy Cows of CSS Style and Beauty

Filed under: — 5:26 pm

I’m sitting here wondering about sites such as CSS Beauty and Stylegala and whether or not I should be even thinking ill of the veritable web standards sacred cows. It’s akin to facing one’s peers at a firing squad and saying ‘To Hell with Mussolini". I’m just a toad on the toe of an industry byline - So what the hey!

This follows from my last post about non-validating DOCTYPES, in a fashion. This is a real problem and I can see that what breaks the back of the web standards argument is that they, we, the industry so often use ‘not best practise’ websites to highlight our ‘best practise’ ideals. Yes I mean like Stylegala and CSS Beauty, exactly. There are quite often sites there that either don’t validate their DOCTYPE or have CSS errors or you can’t even validate the CSS file at all. Is this really good enough?

Now why would governments, large organisations and especially competitor web dev firms pay any more than lip service to validation. And web standards in fact. So all hail the likes of these two (and there are no doubt more) icons of CSS glorification, both beyond criticism in the web standards arena. But I ask you this - if a sites CSS file returns a big red ERROR from the W3C’ s CSS Validator, how can it be a virtuous example of the wonders of CSS done correctly?

In fact if you check Stylegala it validates to XHTML 1.0 Strict but has several errors in it’s CSS… while CSS Beauty at the moment doesn’t validate as XHTML 1.0 Transitional and still has very basic font-family warnings in the CSS validator.

No I don’t expect anyone to be perfect and you can flame me for being disheartened from the cause. It’s just time to sit back and look at several holy cows and ask if they’re not feeding the idea that near enough is good enough in this area. Why shouldn’t some web dev think just whacking on a DOCTYPE and saying ‘Hey it’s XHTML 1.0 Transitional with 208 errors compliant!’ is adhering to web standards. The Holy Cows support it.

OK it’s not my web and you can build what you like but this one really needed to be highlighted. How about only putting something up there if it actually meets the criteria. I now demurely jump off the soapbox and go for coffee wondering if Zeldman, Meyer, Molly, WaSP, Dave Shea, the Web Standards Group, and other industry heavyweights think the current trend on these sites is really setting a desired example.

Update:
I also notice CSS Vault fails to validate as XHTML 1.0 Transitional with 3 errors and it’s CSS file fails to validate. A recent reviewed site called Paumanok Review has an XHTML 1.0 Transitional DOCTYPE but returns 3 errors while it’s CSS file fails to validate.

So what is the message we’re getting in the trenches?

28/5/2005

How Many (X)HTML Errors Are Too Many

Filed under: — 3:57 pm

It’s a constant sea of large corporate and bigwig websites that run well short of the mark in the W3C Validator. Another instance today is the new look Telstra site sporting an XHTML 1.0 Transitional DOCTYPE. And once again a massive 234 validation errors amass at it’s massive webbed feet like a great puddle of kiddy vomit on the way back from the beach.

So I’m wondering how this happens? Obviously a lot of these errors could be cleaned up by fixing the ampersands and so forth or addressing the code in their templates. Nothing is really unfixable is it?

While I affirm Telstra’s positive move to go for an XHTML DOCTYPE, and Transitional is hopefully on the way to Strict, I wonder if the ever-repeated habit of having these DOCTYPES with massive amounts of errors is the fault of the company or the developers? How many developers are there flogging off major contracts who don’t know scoff about DOCTYPES or web standards but say “Yes Sir” to nail the contract. What’s worse, because they don’t care they don’t want to learn. And what’s the point of putting up a DOCTYPE like that with no intention of meeting it?

As an aside, I’ve been reconsidering my direction for Norty Pig under the shadow of such companies. It’s a bit disheartening and I’m tired of competing as a web standards advocate. I do what I do cos I do it well I guess. We’ll be doing less web design and more web publishing at Norty Pig in the near future and I won’t be chasing contracts along web standards lines. To be honest nobody’s really interested in best practise web sites and I don’t want to make crap sites with tables for $500. So I’ll do the very odd job that finds me but I’ve stopped actively hunting new prospects as of this week.

Return to hobbyist, blogger, part-time bullshit artist, and whetting my toes in web publishing… only freelancing on request from now on.

25/5/2005

Art Schools Should Be Pro-Blog Advocates

Filed under: — 10:55 am

Like a broken record I’m often raving onto people about what they might get out of blogging and at Hatched 05 I reiterated a common theme. Artists should be blogging and art schools really should be providing information to young artists about a potentially free publishing mechanism where they can put there work, ideas and processes to a world audience.

Unfortunately curriculums are slow to evolve. At a university level there often seems an emphasis on technical ability in a field of study to the detriment of professional or real world development. Like say when an art school talks about art, exhibitions and methodology. But then fails to mention the options in regard to current technologies. In fact many of the artists I meet seem to be somewhere between techno-virginal and outright technophobic. Not all but definately the majority.

So what should art departments be doing? They should be getting people in to talk about all of their web options - domain registration, free and paid hosting, blogging issues, and providing easy to understand practical workshops. This is nothing complicated. If there ever was a medium that was specifically useful to poor and struggling artists it would have to be the web. So what about it? The web isn’t all about paying thousands of dollars for static galleries that need to be updated anymore. You can blog. With RSS people can subscribe to and easily find your blog. And did I mention that you could do it for FREE.

So art schools and artists - specifically - need to discover this technology with a new found abandon. Tell students how cheap hosting can be, how effective having your own domain name is when you want to be found, and how easy it is to get started. It’ll also provide a record of artists lives, development and historical relevance as time passes.

24/5/2005

Back On Deck And Incoherent

Filed under: — 7:20 pm

Hatched 05 at PICA in Western Australia was a great time had by all. Linden’s work, a set of 8 sugar-lift etched plates titled Pacing, was regarded quite well and her paper presented to the symposium in pleasingly non-pretentious terms. Let’s say paradigm wasn’t mentioned once - so we were assured.

We went to the Art Gallery of Western Australia and I will probably always remember two things - an amazing latte and banana muffin and those amazing William Kentridge 12 foot high bronze statues. If you don’t know he’s a very famous South African artist who creates sculptures and prints (and probably more).

The Fremantle Arts Centre was quaint but not particularly to my taste and the Fremantle Prison wouldn’t let us into the maximum security section without paying about $11 each so we skipped that bit. Why pay to go into a prison - are they insane?!

As a 16 year old I spent 9 months as a Junior Recruit doing my Year 11 at HMAS Leeuwin in Fremantle wearing a Tingira badge and running around with a black beret. The place is called Leeuwin Barracks now and is Army but for the last 18 months it’s been open to the public. So that was great. I noticed the canteen no longer sells masses of soft porn to 16 year olds but makes lots of money off selling liquor to soldiors. The coffee was instant but not bad for $2.

But mostly I found Perth was about as unfriendly a city as this fair country could offer and I lost count of the number of quite rude people who worked in shops, drove taxis and generally inhabited the city without a soul.

Meanwhile business is up and running at Norty Pig and we’ll be having a few minor changes in the short term to meet some minor changes in direction. We’re looking at starting an art zine, maybe tackling a tourist e-zine, perhaps creating some online marketing and advertising opportunities. Oh and there’ll be plenty of blogging and just a little bit of Wild Turkey.

17/5/2005

Hatched 05 And Away On Holiday

Filed under: — 9:57 pm

Another little jaunt across the country will see us leave Tasmania tomorrow morning for six days in more amenable Perth, Western Australia where my partner Linden Langdon is exhibiting her last year’s honours project at the national Hatched 05 exhibition and symposium. That was a mouthful and yes she’ll be speaking about her project at the symposium on Saturday between noon and 1.30pm.

Linden’s exhibit covers issues concerning incarceration, isolation and suicide. Her work on display at the exhibition is called Pacing and consists of 8 steel sugar-lift etched plates capturing moments of an inmate walking up and down in their cell. Come and check it out if you’re in the neighbourhood.

Perth, or actually Fremantle, was where I served 9 months of my short naval career at the sunny age of sixteen so it’s kind of a homecoming for me - 25 years on. I’m actually that old yes. Work here will just have to stop for a while I guess as it’s a real and proper holiday we’re going on and not a work weekend, we’ll be visiting galleries and socialising and sleeping in if we want with the children safely tucked up in Hobart.

So I won’t be posting or reading emails until this time next week. In the meantime I’m sure you’ll find other digs to inhabit until Pig Work (and Pig Pen) comes back online with fresh spirit and gusto.

I’ll be back here on the computer Tuesday the 24th bright and early looking at both blogs and some uncompleted work.

16/5/2005

And All That Malarkey Redesign

Filed under: — 8:55 pm

It’s been up for about a week now and I’ve had a peek and a look and then finally sat down and thought about it. That’s the new Andy Clarke And All That Malarkey redesign. My thoughts were probably a ramble of the following (and not that uncommon).

Initially my browser platform was Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1 on Windows XP so you could forgive me for thinking what the hell is this guy on about. This confusion was compounded by seeing the design overwhelmingly cheered by most of those in the inner circle and I wondered quietly if Andy was getting the old A-Lister’s-handshake - where everyone just say’s yeh yeh and you must be great cos you’re an A-Lister.

Looking at the Black and White design I wondered why Andy used rollovers, or if he’d used CSS then why not use sprites to get an instant rollover - that’s those top images in the navigation bar (top left). But what they hey I guess nobody is perfect. And I couldn’t say I liked the fonts or the full width lines on some pages. Mind you graphic design isn’t my strength element and I couldn’t hold a candle to this guy in an arena of “Design or Die” - I think I just invented a new TV Program as it happens (big smile).

Then I realised several of these user’s had been commenting on colours like red and blue. Now that got me interested. I’m caught with my pants down here because like all good standards guys I should’ve been looking in Firefox but had been there only in Internet Explorer 6. Norty me. Flashing up Firefox revealed a far better website. Finally I decided to actually read Andy’s last four blog posts in my RSS aggregator. Mmmm…

I particularly liked the methodology employed here, the creation of the elements separately from the layout was something I’d read about some ways back and thought deserved merit. Often the layout is stifling when you really need the design elements first. And I enjoyed his sense of story - my partner being an artist I understand art is as much about story as anything else. The use of CSS attribute selectors to get the best out of compliant browsers was interesting. And I kind of get the IE in black thing after all. Its kind of different and in any design being different is the pot of gold that makes you stand out in the masses.

So I tip my hat to Andy Clarke for his new redesign. He can explain his own way around it with his blog entries:

14/5/2005

Marketing With RSS

Filed under: — 9:17 pm

High profile Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble has a couple of posts up about RSS which I thought were interesting. Or perhaps I just like them because I agree so wholeheartedly with him on this issue that it needs to be repeated to every client or potential client who walks in the door. The first article titled No RSS feed? It’s a genetic marker for “lame site” discusses why it’s necessary to have an RSS feed for any business site. His second article More about RSS and marketing sites hits the nail on the head. Most marketing sites exist to build relationships.

Perhaps it’s just me (and Scoble)? Why can’t a lot of other people see the potential for making more money off providing a simple RSS feed that is low effort, low cost and potentially quite lucrative? Of all the things I can offer a business who wants a new website this is one thing that I’ll put on the table to stunned silence. RS what?

The key is probably education. Education of businesses and developers that this is an effective and better relationship tool than providing an email mailing list. You ask for RSS feeds - it doesn’t spam you.

Echo PHP Date From MySQL Output

Filed under: — 2:06 pm

When you store a date in MySQL it goes in as a not too friendly looking date and time and when you pull it back out again it’s going to need to be formatted. So what’s the deal? Well it depends on how you want to display that date on your pages but here’s where to start.

After you pull your rows ($row) out of the array of database entries you need to write

$the_date = date("d M Y", strtotime($row[0]));

echo $the_date;

where “d M Y” corresponds to the PHP date formatting you would like to display on your page. Similarly, $row[0], is relative to what place in the array the date exists. This example assumes it is the first place.

Basically the PHP strtotime() function does the work for you here and you don’t need to use stripslashes pulling the date from MySQL because it’s not user input. Hopefully that’s the simple answer you needed to know about outputting PHP dates from MySQL.

Bloggers Covering Local News

Filed under: — 11:46 am

Blogspotting, the weblog of BusinessWeek Online, ran an article today asking Can blogs cover local news?. I don’t know about anyone else’s opinion but I’d have some serious concerns about bloggers officially replacing or becoming a part of the news reporting service

  • Lack of accountability and enforcable ethics in blog journalism
  • Potential for error or bias to creep into the report
  • The lack of censorship or creditable editorial responsibility
  • The potential for corruption increases if the blogger was ‘the’ news authority

While it’s the role of bloggers to keep the big bastards honest and be the unofficial watchdog of news services, I can’t see that we’re equipped morally, ethically, and accountably to fulfil the authoratitive function of official news broadcasting. Who would tell me not to say somebody I disliked may have committed the armed robbery of the local bank?

The news, biased from the big end of town as it is, is the best we’ve got. Imagine a world where there was no journalism as such and just blogging news. Where would you sort fact from fiction? How many bloggers don’t even bother to research?

While it is a great Utopian idea that with freedom of speech we will overthrow the order of things the reality is somewhat more sedate. Everything has it’s place in the world and blogging is interesting exactly for what we do now. I, for one, don’t want to become the local news.

13/5/2005

Do Web Development Courses Suck

Filed under: — 1:15 pm

The question has to be asked and I guess a recent post by Tim Murtaugh gave it the legs for me to write about. Do web development courses suck? Tim’s conversation is pretty hot and I’ve commented a few times myself but thought I needed to air my laundry in my own backyard on this one.

My resume shows that I’m both Technical College trained and I’m a second year student studying part-time for a Bachelor of Computing degree in Hobart, Tasmania. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on web development but I’ve attended a few courses over the last three years. Overall I agree that most courses have sucked in the way of teaching outdated methods simply because curriculums change very slowly. The University of Tasmania still teaches table layouts, insists on using frames in assignments, hardly mentions CSS, and basically sucked on that score. But they soared in explaining the underlying technologies and provided a level of detail required for a deep understanding of the subject matter. My technical college courses were delivered online and were industry best practise - although the bums on seats classes held by the same technical college had a very low bar. Unfortunately you can’t make someone read 100 pages properly so students may or may not have different levels of understanding when they graduate from either institution. I did find that many self taught people could make pages work, said on their resume they knew PHP, and yet missed basic fundamental knowledge which surprised me.

Of the students I’ve studied with there haven’t been many who’ve been prepared to listen, adopt new ideas, and drop their previous hacking web dev ways. Basically you get out of the courses what you put in. Did they pass the competencies? Well hell yeh. And that’s the disappointing thing. But they walked in saying they’d already built websites and only needed the certificate. That’s the crux. Someone can explain colour principle or the effective use of active whitespace but if you don’t understand it, or don’t try, then they’ve missed the boat already. Often these students were already web professionals making a living and saw no need to change practises.

Finally into the equation jump the larger web development firms who often want staff who use DreamWeaver and require table based sites. Why? Well what if you, the CSS guy, quits during a project? You’d hold them to ransom. Also, several people will often work on the same project passing pages back and forth. They need a reliable common ground to develop in and if it requires tables that’s what they’ll use.

I’m actually having a year off Uni to develop my business Norty Pig and have spent more time blogging here and at my links blog Pig Pen than working. I hear companies can’t find people good at XHTML and CSS… hey I’m good at it and willing to work at the drop of a hat.

If you’re an organisation that needs an XHTML / CSS guy give me a call or leave a comment. I’ll get back to you for sure.

10/5/2005

Spam Blacklists - Do They Work

Filed under: — 8:35 pm

Like many hapless souls I seem to get some bizarre return to sender emails that insist that some half baked email address via this site has spammed them and been returned. To be frank, even if I knew how to make another man’s penis reach to the end of the bed I’d hardly be telling the opposition! I’m just another pawn in the email spammer’s game of cat and mouse on other people’s servers. Apparently they use third party servers to hide their identities. Is that right? As far as I can tell they’ve done this for quite some time with a small trickle of returned emails coming back to pester me.

I can’t remember whose site it was but a few months ago I tried to leave a comment on their weblog, it may have been Andy Clarke’s Malarkey but I’m not sure now. Anyway I was refused comment due to being on some kind of spam list of black-banned IP addresses. So I went to the spam list’s site and looked for any of my URLs on a big long list - and no I wasn’t on it. So what’s the deal with these lists? Are they just Joe Bob’s like me making up lists of supposedly naughty sites? Are they lists of third party victims whose servers have been compromised?

In my email box today there was an email from an irate someone ranting about how I’d supposedly sent them spam and future spam would see me prosecuted… that’s kind of funny. One time I was dumb enough to send such a letter and a full six months later the exact same cut and pasted verbal assault arrived into my inbox. Not this time though but it’s happened.

Is there just a chance that law enforcement somewhere can track the spammer? Hint: the spammer wants to make money so makes themselves contactable! Hint: although they hide their IP they must have a bank account to put money they get off your account into for safe keeping! Anyway you get the drift. As usual it’s not the spammers getting blacklisted on dodgey lists its probably everyone else. Something to think about. Umm who’s chasing that Online Poker (no I won’t link to it) and Texas Oldem? Hell Texas Oldem is sometimes advertised legitimately on DeviantArt! OK they’re scum until they offer us money… I get it.

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