the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

Website refresh

yesterday and today

in General Rants , Thursday, February 08, 2018

Well this has taken a while. I started working on a redesign of this website around about May 2016. The basic idea has survived, and is pretty much what I’m releasing now, finally, nearly 2 years later. The basic concept was quite straightforward: I wanted to shift the focus a little more towards my photography, to reduce clutter, and to refresh the design a bit. The execution was anything but simple. First of all, I had to sort out the underlying technology, and apply various updates. That broke stuff, in all sorts of ways, mainly badly written code that wouldn’t work anymore. So I had to go through my rats nest of templates and scripts and clean them out. Actually this led to an interim update about a year ago, when I put the cleaned up version of the old design online. Of course there was no outward benefit to this.


The home page earlier this week, and the home page today.

But then I could start working on shifting to the new design. I spent ages faffing around with stuff like web fonts, and even on a completely new concept using Koken. I had decided to completely rework the photo gallery part, and in particular revisit the contents from scratch. Just selecting and preparing the photos was an endless task. I had decided to add a new “Photo Diary” section, which is basically a blog with pictures and very few words, but of course I needed content for that too. And tellingly, the actual dates on the first two entries are really from Autumn 2016. I could maybe have stopped there, but no, I then decided to add this “Destinations” concept, which provides another way to discover and explore content. I’m quite pleased with that, in fact.

And so on and so forth. All this wasn’t helped by having very little time to work on this, usually just a few minutes here and there every week, which didn’t help with continuity, or remembering what I was meaning to do next. Finally I’ve arrived at a point where it seems complete and stable enough to throw it out there to sink or swim. There are still a few enhancements I’d like to add, mainly to do with the visibility of visitor feedback. I also need to make some further technical upgrades, but hopefully it will be relatively painless this time.

I don’t think I’ll be putting myself through this again. If I ever do another major upgrade, I’ll use some cookie cutter thing like Squarespace. Following this DIY approach has the benefit of allowing me to present everything exactly in the way I want it, albeit constrained by my abilities, rather than to fit in with some generic concept. And since I’m largely doing this for myself, that still makes sense, but only up until the point where it becomes unsustainable, and that point is quite near.

I’m sure there are bugs, glitches and gotchas all over the place, but I can’t procrastinate forever. Either it works well enough, or it will be time to call it quits. Hopefully the objective of providing a better platform for my photography has been met at least in part. Then it will have all been worth it.


Sidetracked, again

quiet round here, innit?

in Site Admin , Sunday, October 02, 2016

Recently, for whatever reason, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of visitors here (UPDATE - this might have something to with it). This coincides with a major drop in my posting frequency, which is unfortunate. So I thought maybe I should explain.

Earlier this year, around April, I asked a person whose opinions I respect for some feedback on my website. The outcome wasn't the glowing praise I hoped for, and in particular the observation that "it's a bit stuck in time (2000 to be exact)" stung a bit.

So I decided to redesign it. And, of course, I bit off far more than I could chew. In theory it should take me two weeks or so to do a redesign, but in practice, I have about 6 hours a week from which I could take time to do it (and that 6 hours also includes photo editing, keeping my computer working, lounging in front of the TV, or generally collapsing on the couch after yet another fabulous 12 hours away at the "day" job). On top of that, the publishing software I use was urgently in need of upgrading to a newer version. Any upgrade of Expression Engine is a bloody nightmare, but this time practically every plug-in I use broke as well, so it took about 1 month elapsed time to sort that out.

I then realised that a long history of quick fixes and "improvements" to my existing code had made it unmaintainable. So that needed to be cleared up. One more month passed by.

Then I could start thinking about how to redesign the site. So, I tried looking at a few other sites for inspiration. Not much luck there - the vast majority of photographer's web sites are boring as hell, with exactly the same layouts, "clever" off-the-peg galleries with all the bells and whistles, which do all they can to ruin the viewing experience, and very, very little to encourage return visits. The quality of the photography is irrelevant at this point. I did look at a few website services, bot the only ones that passed even basic requirements for me were Squarespace and Koken, and both those have showstoppers. Woken is one I'm watching for the future, though.

I've also been told that there isn't enough focus here on my photography. Well, ok, good point. So I'm trying to address this in three ways: 1 - improve the accessibility and presentation of existing content, 2 - improve my curation, 3 - introduce a completely new channel for more ephemeral collections, called "Photo Diary". Oh, and put some emphasis on my very short list of publications. Unfortunately all of that is a lot of work.

So, now, at the start of October, I have more or less completed the structure, and I'm working on the graphic design. Below is a snapshot of what the new front page looks like, right now. I've no idea if it will stay that way, or if it will ever come to light. So that's why I've been quiet recently.

Home new wip

Anyway, it's only photography. And barely that, really.

Internet Explorer negative margin bug

filters are not your friends

in web design , Friday, December 17, 2010

I think this is worth mentioning: I spent the better part of today trying to fix a layout bug in Internet Explorer 7, where a negative margin was applied to a floated image container. The image was cut off at the edge of the containing element.


This is actually a well known-bug - in theory - and a reliable fix is to add a “position: relative” CSS rule to the floated container.  But it didn’t work.

After a lot of research and tearing out of hair, followed by careful debugging (aka “wildly flailing about”), I discovered the reason.  The containing element had a Internet Explorer proprietary filter applied to it, to give a semi-transparent fill:

  filter:progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.gradient(startColorstr=#59000000, endColorstr=#59000000);
/* For IE 8*/
  -ms-filter: “progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.gradient(startColorstr=#59000000, endColorstr=#59000000)”;
border: none;

On removing this, everything worked perfectly.  So I just used a semi-transparent PNG as a fill image instead.  Probably more efficient anyway.



the world of Wazzamba

win your dream trip!

in General , Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I joined the team working on the Wazzamba virtual world back in April 2009. And now we’ve launched in the real world.

Wazzamba is a virtual world with a twist: it includes built in games which allow you to build up a score to compete for real world travel prizes. Every week, we award 4 prizes. So far we’ve given away quality, all expenses paid trips to China, New York, Las Vegas and San Diego. Forthcoming destinations include Spain, Rome and Australia. And actually winners can select an alternative if they don’t like the headline.

The virtual world itself so far has 6 “cities”, each sub-divided into areas, for example Sunset Strip in LA (you can see me there on the left with my friend Marilyn). And we’re growing.


You can also find various adventures, or quests, set for you by NPCs (non-playing characters) usually gifted with dreadfully punning names, courtesy of my unhinged colleagues Tim & Sven.

So how do we make any money out of this ? Well the idea is you pay a subscription to take part, at “silver” or “gold” level. The higher the level, the higher the number and value of prizes you qualify for. But you can play - and win - for absolutely nothing. Zero, free, peanuts. Although we’d be terribly grateful if you didn’t.

My part in all this in theory involves building up a mobile channel, from a mobile-enabled web site up to an iPhone application. But I’ve also ended quite heavily involved in building our Facebook applications and presence, as well as a blog built on Wordpress.

It’s early days yet and Wazzamba is not fully mature. But it’s certainly worth a few minutes of your time. My avatar there is called Ostakokur and has great dress sense. Don’t forget to say “hi” if we meet!


Mobile Design and Development

at long last a definitive work on mobile development

in Mobile , Monday, August 17, 2009

Mobile Design and Development, by Brian Fling, is hot of the presses at O’Reilly. In fact the publication date isn’t until next month, but it can be read in digital form at Safari Books.


I’ll say it right away, this is a 5-star, thoroughly excellent book. The biggest puzzle is why it has taken so long for somebody to write the definitive text in this space, but anyway, Brian Fling has nailed it.

Written in a deft and engaging style, with a touch of weary cynicism about the old operator-dominated order of the mobile space, and the legions of executives who neither get it, nor accept that anybody else does, this is an absolute must read for anybody getting into mobile development of any kind on any device. I really get the impression that every page has been obsessed over, that the author really, really cared about getting it as good as he could - which I’m afraid to say is not too common in the field of technical books, and especially some about the mobile web.

The author covers pretty much all aspects of building mobile applications, from a discussion of the ecosystem (which should be a real eye-opener to newcomers), to the all-important topic of context, to mobile-specific information architecture, usability, interaction and visual design. Despite the big changes heralded by the iPhone and it’s competitors, the book is right up to date, including discussion of WebOS and Android.

What I really like is the way he avoids sitting on the fence. Rather than surrender to the calls for lowest common denominator design, he encourages designers to be creative and take risks. In my opinion, there’s a strong argument for going out on a limb aiming to build an application people will upgrade their phone to be able to use, rather than be dragged down to level of 120 by 160 pixel monochrome devices - who’s owners are unlikely to be big data services users anyway.

Some parts could be a bit clearer. For example, when the author discusses the concept of teasing the content to improve user experience, I’m pretty sure I know what he’s talking about, but the illustration given (figure 7.6) is so unclear that I’m half sure it’s an editorial error. Or it could be a case of over-channeling the lauded, but in my opinion, unnecessarily opaque, Jesse James Garrett.  Surely an actual example with page screenshots would be a better way of getting the point across ?

I’ve been working in this field for over 7 years, and I’ve experienced most of the frustrations described in these pages. There isn’t actually much in this book which is really new to me, but seeing things spelled out so clearly is refreshing and encouraging, and provides some very timely reminders.

If you’re developing for any mobile platform, iPhone included, you will be well rewarded for the you invest in reading this book. Brian Fling has suffered so that you don’t have to ... well, not too much anyway.