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October 31, 2002

Boo To You, Too

Nearly forgot to do a Halloween theme today. Luckily the all-CSS layout allowed me to whip this up in about fifteen minutes. The horse's eye is a still from The Ring, which is probably the spookiest film I've seen since Session 9.

More Accessible DHTML Menus

The horizontal navigation bar used here on is actually an unordered list of links. I used CSS rules to flatten out the list and create the rollover effects. In browsers that don't support CSS, the nav appears as a normal list.

Dave Lindquist has taken this same basic concept one step further with these awesome DHTML menus. Both the dropdown and expandable tree variations are simple lists built with 100% valid XHTML. CSS and DOM scripting are added to extend the functionality. Dave even goes so far as to use ACCESSKEY attributes to make parts of the menu accessible via keyboard shortcuts. The result is a more widely accessible menu that doesn't sacrifice the whiz-bang functionality of DHTML. Try turning off the CSS rules (with a handy "Toggle CSS" bookmarklet) while viewing the menu demos and you'll see a plain, fully-accessible list. Better yet, run it through Delorie's LynxViewer to get an idea of how a non-graphical browser would handle it. Sweet.

October 29, 2002

Dreaming Of Violets

I am indeed an industrious little bastard.

I've been following Shannon Campbell's site for a while now, partly for her sass, partly for her incredible songwriting chops.

A little while ago I downloaded one of Shannon's MP3s, a little demo called "Dreaming Of Violets," and imported it into Home Studio '02. I tweaked and compressed the track, played around with some reverb. I saved the track and forgot about it.

A few weeks after that, I added a bass line. I saved the track and forgot about it.

Weeks after that, harmony vocals. Saved. Forgot.

Then last night, I pulled out the ashiko and added a drum part. Then I squashed it all back down to MP3 and emailed it to Shannon. Then I nervously bit my fingernails for a few hours.

The verdict is in: she likes it!

Dreaming Of Violets redux (2.5MB) Shannon Campbell, guitar and vocals. Yours truly on drum, bass and harmony vocals. Pretty cool to do a duet with someone I've never met in person.

Postscript: I should point out that while I live in the Bay Area, Shannon is in Harrisburg PA and soon bound for South Carolina.

October 28, 2002

More CSS Than Can Be Handled Safely

Nearly 800 table-free CSS designs, courtesy of Meryl who is thankfully mirroring the original archive from, which has gone AWOL. Admire, view source, learn.

Valid Progress

The new beta W3 validator — the more I play with it, the more I wish it provided a SOAP or XML-RPC interface. How cool would it be to have HTML and CSS validation tools built into Blogger and Movable Type? Or a Mozilla extension/IE add-in that validates the page you're viewing and warns you of errors that might affect your experience? See, that's the problem with web service APIs: eventually, you'll want one for everything.

Update: Tom Gilder points out that the new validator provides an (undocumented?) XML output option, and Simon Willison creates a proof-of-concept XML-RPC proxy for the service. This was probably all finished before I got up this morning. Bootstrapping at its finest.

Update #2: Heh, looks like the W3C has noticed that we've discovered the XML output. This message is now appended to each validation report:

This interface is highly experimental and the output *will* change -- probably even several times -- before finished. Do *not* rely on it!

Please respect their wishes and don't abuse this feature.

October 26, 2002

Better CSS Than Mine

These sites do great CSS:

Where to get templates to do great CSS yourself:

October 23, 2002


Can someone out there do me a huge favor and hit the Walkingbirds site with IE4 and send me a screenshot? You'll have my eternal gratitude. Update: Thanks everyone, I have plenty now :)

October 16, 2002


Little bit of buzz out there about the forthcoming implementation of contentEditable in Mozilla. Some have branded this discussion a flame war. I disagree; the thread gets a little hot towards the end, but there're many good points raised. One thing is for certain: people want this feature. Like, yesterday.

Some of the conflict seems to be centered around the fact that the implementation will mirror that of Internet Explorer, and whether Mozilla should be playing catch-up with Microsoft instead of sticking to W3 standards. To my knowledge, no W3 working group is discussing how to implement editable content directly in a Web page, so the question remains: do we follow IE's de facto standard, or wait for a standards body to hammer out one?

Well, it's not like this hasn't happened before with the innerHTML property and the XMLHttpRequest object. The MS implementation is robust and widely-deployed. Do we really have to reinvent the wheel?

Not implementing a CONTENTEDITABLE attribute because it violates the (X)HTML spec is an acceptable excuse. Not implementing in-browser editing features because M$ dr00lz! or no de jure standard exists is not. Especially when potential users are clamoring for it. Extraspecially when the browser in question is being positioned as an application platform. Kudos to the Mozilla engineers for making the right choice: mirror the IE implementation and prevent further fragmentation of the technologies.

If and when the W3 catches up, the decision will already have been made. Them's the breaks.

PS: this whole diatribe was an excuse to use my new word, "extraspecially."

October 15, 2002


Over 180 dead in the Bali bombing. It's being called Australia's 9/11. Numerous countries lost citizens in the attack. Strangely, the Web is silent. At this moment, the top links on Daypop are to Microsoft's fake "switch" ad. Ooh, scandalous.

Each month, this site logs several thousand unique visitors from Australia and its neighbors. To you, my deepest sympathies.

Not Worried At All

Moby keeps a fun photojournal, which further cements the image in my mind's eye of a lucky nerd caught up in the Hollywood glitter. Includes a mirror shot.

Moby's weblog: not as compelling, but at least he's trying. More celebrities should have weblogs.

October 14, 2002

Room To Move

I spent part of the weekend learning about audio compression and limiting, and after tinkering with the mixes of several songs I have a new-found respect for people who do this stuff professionally. A tricky bit is compressing the signal enough so that it has enough presence, without taking away the dynamics that make it sound interesting.(Of course, I couldn't help but fall into the newbie trap of applying compression to nearly every track, resulting in a very loud and overlapped mix with no clarity. It's a new toy, after all.)

Which leads me to believe that the key to a wide, clear mix is in the EQ. When too many instruments share the same frequencies there tends to be a lot of white noise and weird phasing and stuff which blurs the boundaries between instruments. I'm always fascinated by albums that seem to have more "room to move" sonically, with lots of interesting bits that don't squash each other (good examples: Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral, Roger Waters' Amused To Death, Peter Gabriel's Security). Sure, you can always use stereo panning to separate things out, but I never seem to have the same kind of sonic space in the final mix. Everything seems to be a bit too cramped. And since I know next to nothing about the audio spectrum, I tend to make poor EQ choices.

Add to this a less-than-optimal monitoring environment (a lousy set of earphones, stuffy sinuses, a noisy computer and "ear fatigue") and the result is six different mixes of Gravel Road Requiem, none of which I like.

I dunno, I'm new at this.


October 11, 2002

Sometimes They Listen

A few days ago I posted to the WaSP blog about how the hot new Danger T-Mobile Sidekick mangles sites built with valid XHTML and CSS. I wrote, "Here's hoping that the engineers in charge of the Sidekick's browser component take notice." Apparently, they are.

Wired Redesigns With CSS

Wired has redesigned with an all-CSS design that looks fantastic. No tables for layout. Due to a few glitches in the markup, the page falls short of full validity as XHTML 1.0 Transitional. Seeing as how most of those glitches seem to come from tag soup-spewing ad servers, we'll go easy on them. Gutsy move for such a high-traffic site. Wired discusses the details and rationale of the redesign on the site as well, explaining how the designers saved bandwidth and increased accessibility.

October 9, 2002

Games On The Web

Better late than never: Game Neverending: a rather adorable DHTML- and Flash-driven MMORPG. Brought to you in part by Eric. Never...enough...paper...

TRIGLAVSee also: TRIGLAV, an astounding single-player Diablo-style RPG, entirely DHTML (AFAIK), with some of the most amazing graphics I've ever seen in a Web-based game.

October 7, 2002

Number 9 With A Bullet

Image of John OtwayThe BBC reports that a song by obscure cult singer John Otway cracked the UK top ten, simply by involving his fan base. Otway pressed a limited edition disc of 11 songs and asked his fans to vote on which song should be released as a single. Advance orders of the single propelled Otway into the number nine position in the UK, alongside Oasis, Avril Lavigne and Pink.

October 6, 2002

Fray Day 5 SF CD

The Fray Day 5 SF CDEarlier this year I pinged Derek about an idea I had: why not take the audio of Fray Day 5 SF and create a CD out of it?

He wrote back almost immediately: He'd had the same idea. So now it had to happen.

Over the summer I edited and sequenced the tracks while Derek brought his distinctive design flava to the packaging. The result is the Fray Day 5 SF CD: nearly an hour of live storytelling, poetry and music from that night. The CD is now available with all proceeds going to support the Fray Organization and continue its tradition of personal storytelling.

I should probably point out that the CD contains a live Walkingbirds performance, a song called "Fall Off The World," written by Laurie, that you won't find anywhere else. Only about a hundred CDs were pressed, making this a super-gosh-darn extremely limited edition item.

So if you want to demonstrate your unrestrained, fanatical, give-a-pint-of-blood hardcore devotion to the skull-crushing folk-pop tsunami that is the Walkingbirds, and help ensure that a rather cool event continues to happen, well, what more incentive do you need?

October 4, 2002

Music In The Modern Age

'Sensitive artist' poseSlowly but surely, the pieces of a full-length Walkingbirds record is coming together. I have eight songs set aside, working on them when I can.

The Internet is a marvelous help. One song really needs to be in 6/8 time, but the drum program I use only does variations on 4/4. Hey look, there's an upgrade available that not only handles 6/8 but odd time signatures as well. I pay ten bucks for an upgrade. The whole transaction, from firing up the browser to install, takes about ten minutes.

I can't afford to hire a designer, so I'm doing all the graphic design myself. There's a royalty-free photo on that would be perfect for the CD label. I'm already a registered user, so I download it and have a mock-up in Photoshop done in twenty minutes. Even though I'm not required to, I send a note to the photographer with a GIF of the label, thanking him and promising him a free copy and full credit in the CD notes. He's estatic. Did I mention he lives in Italy?

The drum track sounds a little too electronic. I need better drum samples. Typing "drum samples" into Google leads me directly to, which is as far as I can tell, a bunch of guys who record live drummers, encode the recordings into WAV files, burn them to CD and sell them on the Internet. I preview a few samples, and order a CD of 2000 samples for 30 bucks. I still need samples to work with while I'm waiting for the CD to arrive, so I hit, which leads me to a few nice snare samples I can use right away.

Mixonic does short-run CD pressings. Usually, you can't get a run under 1000 pieces (which means that you usually end up with boxes of unsold CDs under the bed for years to come), but Mixonic will gladly press only a handful. I upload my label, using their online CD designer tool to add text. I have yet to send them a master CD, but I could just upload CD-quality MP3s to my account as well, which allows me to alter the sequence of the songs. I save the CD design in my account, pending the completion of the record.

Mixonic also offers order fulfillment, and provides each user with a "selling page" which is basically a shopping cart for buying records directly from the manufacturer. They dupe just enough to fill each order, so there's no inventory to manage. CDBaby and Amazon will carry my record too, if I send them a few copies.

I have an idea to make an enhanced CD, with a Flash or Quicktime startup page that points to lyrics and bonus tracks and stuff. How can I do this? Google turns up dozens of tutorials on creating multisession CDs. I drop a note to Mixonic; can they do enhanced CDs? I get a response from a live customer support person: sure we can, cool idea, just mail in the master and mark it as a hybrid disk.

And in the meantime, I need to work on these songs. The Web can help me with that too. Here's a rhyming dictionary (here's another). There are online songwriting communities. Tons of newsgroups. Fake book directories. Here's a huge guitar chord dictionary.

All these tools at my fingertips. Wish I had this ten years ago. Gotta wonder, though, how long it will all last.

Hopefully long enough to get my record done.


October 2, 2002

Cockroaches and Twinkies

Salon: Radio killed the radio star. "So I thought I would go and stick my nose in. Find out what tear gas smells like. I wanted to shake my fist at the people who ruined radio for the rest of us. The problem is, I'm not huge into confrontation. So instead, I got a press pass." An insider view of how radio consolidation helped kill off Gavin Magazine.

Silent Talking

Poking around the web again. Here's Tony Levin and Bill Bruford jamming live.

October 1, 2002

Waiting For Mary

While browsing through the website of Pere Ubu (which wins the "most snottily fake-pretentious band ever" award hands down), I found the following snippet from 1996.
While we've tried as much as possible to make these pages look reasonably good (or at least readable) in as many different browsers as possible, they will probably look best in browsers that support a fair amount of the proposed HTML 3.0 spec such as Arena, Netscape 2.0 and browsers based on the 2.0 version of Spyglass' Enhanced Mosaic (including Microsoft's Internet Explorer 2.0). Some pages do make use of Netscape specific tags, but we've tried to use them in ways that won't look too terrible in most other browsers.

The lack of a simple standard way to make pages with margins in HTML is one of its most egregious difficiencies. Many of Ubu Web's pages use centered tables to create margins, which unfortunately looks all messed up in Netscape 1.0, because it supports the <CENTER> tag but doesn't support HTML Tables. These same pages should look fine in browsers that ignore both <CENTER> and Tables (though they won't have margins). Some other pages here use <BLOCKQUOTE> to create the margins, but this is a cheap trick which mostly only works properly in Netscape, so we'll try to fix it eventually.

And they even close their P tags!


Believe me, it's not hyperbole when I say that the new Peter Gabriel album is excellent to the point that religions could spring up around it.

In other news, Google has apparently tweaked its ranking algorithm and is knocking bloggers out of the top spots. For about a year I trailed behind cartoonist Scott McCloud as the second-most Googlish "scott" until for some reason I pulled ahead to number one. Weirdly, this happened while I was on vacation and not updating this site. I stayed one as the top search result for "scott" until yesterday, when Google's tweaks bumped me down to fifth place.

So now a number of people are screaming about how Google screwed them. To which I say: whatever. Google is supposed to return relevant results to your search, not just the most popular or linked-to. I mean, why on Earth should I be ranked above McCloud, Orson Scott Card and Coretta Scott King? Because I write about bees on my website?

Relevant results. My stuff is in the top results for "DHTML Mozilla," DHTML Netscape 6 and "SOAP in Mozilla." And while I'm not the top "scott" anymore, I am the top "scott andrew" and "scott lepera." Which is as it should be. I make specific contributions when I can, and everything else is fluff.

Google has the right idea. Ya gotta earn your keep.