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January 31, 2001

Hey, what's that over there? Why, it's Discovering DHTML In Netscape 6, Part I, written by yours truly. This article covers much more ground than First-Aid For the 6.0 Browsers, and focuses on writing code that is compatible with NS6 and IE5. Check it.  10:50 AM  


January 29, 2001

A weird, sci-fi nightmare I had last night:

Had it always been here? I'm part of a team of soldier-astronauts. One of them is George Clooney, the others I don't recognize. We're standing in a crater on the Moon. The sky is black and, my God, it's full of stars.

There's a set of footprints leading off towards the distant rim of the crater. We follow them, taking great leaps in the low gravity.

(By the way, I'm the only one not wearing a spacesuit. I'm dressed in normal clothes, no helmet, yet breathing comfortably. George and the rest of the team are in these huge armored space-marine-issued suits. If you've ever read Joe Haldeman's The Forever War you'll know what I mean.)

We get to the foot of the crater rim and there's a rock-hewn staircase winding up the sheer cliff wall. At the top, hundreds of feet above, is a white dome of glass, lit from within. Inside the dome, in sillhouette, is a sharp, craggy peak of rock.

At the top of the peak a single figure stands, motionless.

I gesture at the trail of footprints which lead up to the foot of the steps, then up at the figure. "He must have made these," I say.

George Clooney shakes his head. "No. You made them."

I must have looked utterly, utterly bewildered, because George grins and says "you really don't remember, do you? Let's go." (My dreams are often filled with this cliché dialogue.) He motions us forward.

We're about one-third of the way up the wall when I look down at the floor of the crater. I can see the trail of our own footprints leading away into the distance, but I can see no ship, no outpost, nothing to indicate our point of origin.

What the heck were we doing out there in the first place?

We reach the top of the cliff and the steps continue up the rocky crag, entering the dome at its base. From here, the dome is immense, several hundred feet tall, and vaguely egg-shaped. It's lit from within, but there's no visible light source. I can see white clouds swirling at the top.

The figure at the top is clearly humanoid. Arms outstretched. I think I can see garments flapping from it's shoulders. Otherwise, it remains still. Why am I suddenly afraid of it?

We enter the dome. The soldiers produce strange weapons that make a soft whine.

We continue up the steps. Halfway up the crag, we enter what can only be described as an orchard. Apple-tree-sized plants with smooth, smoky blue trunks and branches bearing clumps of dusty red berries. They're planted evenly in rows and grow straight up towards the ceiling of the dome despite the extreme angle of the rocky hillside. We continue up the path through the orchard.

The orchard eventually thins out and the steps become a series of short switchback trails that zigzag up the remaining distance to the summit. The rocks are much bigger here, and the soldiers are bunnyhopping up the trail, securing each ten yards. A wind starts to blow as we near the top, and I look out and down and realize I can't see the walls of the dome anymore. The white clouds of mist and diffused light give the illusion of great distance and it's like I'm looking into fog, or a big white nothing.

The wind blows harder and I hear the flapping of cloth.

The path disappears completely and now we're scrambling over huge boulders. George suddenly jumps behind a rock and motions for us to halt. We drop to the ground. Two soldiers take positions on either side of me, weapons raised. I realize now why I don't have a weapon. I'm a guide, not a soldier.

George remains motionless, his weapon leveled at something beyond the rock. A long moment passes, then he stands up, lowering his weapon. He motions for us to come forward.

"It's not real," George says. "It's a dummy. A scarecrow."

Beyond the rock is the summit of the crag, still another ten yards above us. At the very top is indeed a scarecrow. Two pieces of wood lashed together as a crooked cross, with tattered black sheet draped and tied to create the illusion of shoulders and a waist. Three more pieces of wood are tied together to form a strange triangular head, like an upside-down coathanger. It's twelve feet tall. The black sheet flaps in the wind, which has suddenly turned very cold.

Everyone stands silently for a very long time.

"Okay," George says grimly, "back the way we came. Move. Now." But there's a note of resignation in his voice, as if realizing a fatal mistake about which nothing can be done. The implication is clear. I've led them into a trap.

A sound catches my attention and I look away.

There's a small stand of the strange bluish trees, just to my left and ten feet down the slope. I am eye-level with the topmost branches. There's something in one of the trees, watching us.

An animal, about the size of a large raccoon. It has fine, soft fur, like a cat's, and is the same smoky-blue color as the tree it perches in. It has a long, grinning dog-like face mounted on an impossibly thin neck, and maintains its grip on the branch by means of a furry prehensile appendage which may or may not be a tail.

It watches me with horrible, marble-shaped eyes the same color as the dusty red berries.

I have a moment of lucidity at this point, but it has a weird, terrifying effect on me. I realize that I'm dreaming, that I'm not on the moon with a platoon of space marines led by George Clooney, and the dome, the orchard, and the scarecrow all constructs of my imagination. None of this is real.

Except for the creature. My mind refused to accept the creature in the tree was anything but real.

All else was illusion except this otherworldly thing which had somehow inserted itself into my dreams and was now watching. Or worse, controlling. Yes. Here, then, was the real threat. The creature in the tree was running the show, in my head. Where did it come from?

Has it always been here?

The creature moves a bit and suddenly another doglike face is looking at me. The creature has two heads. Both are smiling, bemused.

At that point I experienced a moment of such complete and profound terror that I awoke gasping.

The dream had been so tangible, so utterly convincing, I wonder if there was any chance that any part of it was real. I wonder if George Clooney had a similar nightmare last night, about leading a platoon up a lunar rock face with a little guy wearing cargo pants and sneakers. I wonder if my footprints are on the moon. I wonder if there are things in dreams that are not dreams themselves.

I didn't go back to sleep for a very long time.  9:32 PM  §


January 25, 2001

I get it now! Lenny and Carl are the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of The Simpsons. I love a good epiphany

In other news, the DHTML Toolkit has been put on hold for a little while, while I wrestle with other projects I've been putting off (anyone know a good SQL book?). Actually, I've been thinking about merging the concepts of the DOMWindow with the Netscape 6-enhanced BrainJar DHTML library. Mike's library is solid, easy to use and it probably wouldn't be hard to combine the two...hmmm.

Some lyrics have been posted at the Walkingbirds site. Everybody sing along.
  2:28 PM  §


January 24, 2001

Cool CSS tricks! Steve Champeon shows us how to change styles on the fly over at Apple's developer site.

Before I came to San Francisco, I was the "editorial tech guy" at a news and entertainment site in Cleveland. That is to say, I made sure the machines and software that took the newspaper feed and repurposed it for the web kept doing what they wuz s'posed to do. This was in the days before "distributed content management systems" became the hot web app -- which meant a lot of directories crammed with stories dating back as far a four years with no means to search or otherwise manage them. The rest of the tech crew and I did the best we could with some crafty Perl scripts and a hot-glue gun.

The real challenge in taking a newspaper to the web is figuring out fun ways to get their ancient legacy systems to talk to you. By the time you get to it, the person who installed it has quit, the manual has been lost, and nobody really has the time to deal with it. And here you come along with your crazy Internet talk and your nutty Internet ways (and your silly Internet goatee and Cibo Matto t-shirt) to further gum up the works for everyone. Se habla XML? Not likely. It usually went something like this:

Them: "What we'd like to do is take [some sort of content that's nigh impossible to put on the web] and put it on the web."

Me: "No problem. I'll just write a script."

I am reminded of all this while reading Joe Clark's screed on the problems with convergent media, which really has nothing to do with my story at all. (link via Zeldman)   4:48 AM  §


January 22, 2001

Okay, the Walkingbirds are now Netscape 6 ready. Or should be. Errors? Please tell me.  3:25 PM  §

If you've reached this site by way of K10K, welcome. The article in question is over here.

Yes. I am tired of being stuck in the middle. I am tired of being expected to coax IE5 functionality out of Netscape 4. Functionality it was never intended to have in the first place. I am tired of hearing phrases like "we have to create a seamless, identical experience across all browsers on all platforms" from people who have no clue who their audience is, and who have no idea what a waste of time and resources such a task is. I am tired of being asked to create miracle wonder-applications while being denied access to the best tools to create them.

Oh great, now I'm angry again. Want to cater to all users? Fine, there's nothing wrong with that. Just stop asking me to make it "work the same" in Netscape 3. Ain't gonna happen.  1:01 PM  §


January 20, 2001

Uma makes contact!

scott, we're here in los angeles.
slowly writing and recording at home. we may have solo
and/or group cds out before long.
we'll let you know what's happening.
thanks a lot for the e-mail -- chris and sally
  2:44 PM  §


January 18, 2001

Happiness! Four years ago I caught this awesome band called Uma at a club in Cleveland. I went out a few days later and bought their album Fare Well, which has been in my portable CD case ever since. Just so we're clear: I love this album. Love love love. I never get tired of listening to this album. Great songwriting, if you're into that thing. Of course, the moment I became a true-blue, crazed street preacher-type fan, Uma disappeared from the face of the planet, leaving me to wonder what the hell happened.

Today, buried at the bottom of a Google search, I found a single link that led to the Official Uma Homepage! At least I think it's the official one. Why they bothered to do one of those ugly little cobbled-together AOL homepages is beyond me, especially when there are rabid fans (like me) who are also web developers (like me) who would have gladly built a site for them and given a pint of blood to boot (like me).

Still, finding this site was like finding an Easter egg, a forgotten 20 bucks in your winter coat, or a secret staircase.

Anyway, to sum up: Uma good. AOL homepages bad. X-Files over.  9:05 PM  §

See, now, the whole problem with the X-Files is that it too closely resembles its earlier self from the first seasons, back when nobody cared. Before David Duchovny was declared a hottie, it was just another show about people running around chasing ghosts and aliens and stuff. Without Duchovny's puppy-dog sex appeal playing off Anderson's repressed scientist straightperson, the show is only slightly better than it's happily deceased imitators like Dark Skies, FreakyLinks (which I like to call X-Files 90210), The Burning Zone and even Millenium (a show I watched obsessively. Nevermind).

Thing is, I like Robert Patrick, but his hardcase characterization of agent John Doggett is more suited to NYPD Blue. He's effectively taken over the role of cynical where's-the-proof? sidekick, leaving Scully to say such enigmatic things as "you're right, agent Doggett. No man could have done this. Unless it wasn't a man at all... [knowing stare]"

But you knew all that already.  6:55 PM  §


January 16, 2001

Poking around Grant MacKenzie's site unearthed this list of quality assurances, which to me, reads like a to-do list for any good web development. (Please raise your right hand and repeat:)

All documents created will be designed to be both visually appealing, and functional.

Ease of navigation and ease of access to the site content will be determined through inexpensive independent usability studies.

All documents are run through Tidy to ensure clean W3C compliant code.

All document links will be verified.

All document markup and scripts will be designed to be "readable" and annotated with comments in such a manner to facilitate easy ongoing changes to the documents at a future date.

All documents will attempt to fulfill the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in order to make Web content accessible to people with disabilities.

All documents created will be DOM compliant. The documents created will be able to be treated as "objects" and therefore can be scripted and integrated with com compliant applications, for example databases.

PS: don't bother holding this site up to those standards.  4:41 PM  §


January 15, 2001

Sometimes, you just gotta eat crow. Mmmm, tasty crow.

The crow in question is Opera 5.0. I while back I said that while Opera is fast and furious and supports most of the HTML and CSS specs, it lacked a scripting interface similar to Netscape 6. Oh, so wrong. I re-installed Opera 5.01 and it does indeed support such fun stuff as getElementById, getElementsByTagName, etc. (Thanks to Willem Broekema for the gentle clue). I am elated, because this means you can script for Netscape 6 and IE5 and have it work about the same in Opera.

So, why didn't it work when I first installed Opera? Beats me.

That's the best crow I ever tasted.   8:19 PM  §

New for you: updates to DHTML First-Aid For The 6.0 Browsers and Scripting For The 6.0 Browsers. Plus, I've decided to retire Seven Deadly DHTML Sins as advancements in browsers have made it outdated and I have no desire to maintain it, sorry.

No myth! Some people actually do surf with JavaScript turned off! You are using <NOSCRIPT> tags on your pages, right? Right?  3:28 PM  §


January 12, 2001

Tutorials and resources galore at Zvon.org. Like XML? Bookmark this site.

Another developer throws down the gauntlet. Mike Hall's popular BrainJar site is now only supporting DOM-compliant browsers. You'll need IE5 or Netscape 6 to view it. Isn't it about time you upgraded?

That said, we're hosting a copy of Mike's BrainJar DHTML library updated for NS6. I'm providing the library (with Mike's permission) as a courtesy to current BrainJar users. However, Mike is no longer supporting the library, and cannot answer questions about it. Come to think of it, don't bother me either; I'm working on my own library here.  5:46 PM  §


January 11, 2001

Recommended reading: Grant MacKenzie's Style The DOM, an overview of how to use JavaScript and the DOM to dynamically change font styles. Check out the Back-To-Font Colorpicker while you're there.

Ironminds is preaching the good news:

Let us pray.

Kurt, if you can hear us, please see to it that help is sent soon. We fear that we might perish if forced to suffer another Insane Clown Posse record. Please deliver us a savior that forces us all to repent and confess that Kid Rock does in fact suck just as hard as Skid Row, that The Marshall Mathers LP is as trivial and cliché as Sports Weekend (As Nasty as They Wanna Be Part II), and that Ricky, Brit and Christina will all in fact end their careers fighting with Macaulay Culkin for a role in the new Donnie Wahlberg movie...
  3:40 PM  §


January 7, 2001

The DOMWindow in IE5 Mac.  Not good.Just because a browser has excellent standards support doesn't mean it can do everything. For example, just take a look at what IE5 Mac does to the DOMWindow; the scrollbars stay put when you drag the window. Ouch. Sorry, Mac users. It appears that the Mac likes to keep the native GUI components exactly where it drew them -- not a standards problem, but more likely the way Mac handles it's UI rendering...*sigh* (Thanks to WaSP-er Steve Champeon for the heads-up).

Speaking of Macs...I'm almost ready to release a set of DHTML utilities for Netscape 6/Mozilla/IE5 which should take the chore out of creating elaborate scripts (like the DOMWindow). I need Mac testers. Wanna help? Drop me a line.  9:17 PM  §


January 5, 2001

We're busy, busy, busy working on a draft for a series of tutorials for DevX about using DHTML in Netscape 6. It covers a bit more ground than DHTML First-Aid For the 6.0 Browsers. I'll post a link if it actually gets published.

Speaking of which, Zeldman confirms what I already knew but couldn't describe: both IE5.5 and Netscape 6 screw up the CSS-1 box model:

IE5.5/Windows [takes] "width" and "height" to mean the extent of the content plus any border, while CSS-1 clearly puts the border outside the specified height/width...Netscape 6 adds the width of any border element before applying the border, even if you set padding to 0.

In other words, if you're adding a border to a <DIV>, IE plops the border inside it, robbing your content of space. Netscape 6 actually widens your <DIV> without asking. This is the problem I encountered when building the DOMWindow. Attention browser developers: borders go on the outside.  4:54 AM  §


January 2, 2001

That's the thing about spending the holidays in a new city. Generally they turn out okay, but there's a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, as if you had missed out on great party because you accidentally threw out the invitation with the junk mail.

Don't get me wrong. I had a great holiday. Christmas was about as good as it could get, considering that I live 2000 miles away from my immediate family now. We still had stockings, a mini-tree and Bing singing carols on the CD player. We didn't have snow, but that's okay. It just takes some getting used to.

The first year in a new city, you still don't know anybody. Your social infrastructure is gone, and has to be rebuilt. And that's hard for some people, especially when complicated by the fact that you still might not know where everything is yet. We spent the Fourth of July watching fireworks from the window of our hotel in Berkeley, mainly because we didn't know the area well enough to go where all the people were. Next year, we reassured ourselves. We'll make up for it next year.

If you're not used to living in a big American city, holidays can be downright scary. I was secretly glad we didn't make any plans for Halloween this year. Not that San Francisco is anywhere near as dangerous as, say, Detroit on Halloween night. But still, I'm not comfortable with the thought of being stuck in the middle of somewhere I didn't know the fastest way out of.

This New Year's was no exception. On our way to the impossibly packed waterfront to watch fireworks, I grew extremely wary of the groups of young Eminem wannabes taunting drivers at every intersection: C'mon bitch! Let's see what you got bitch! You wanna go, bitch? Drunken men are climbing out of their vehicles to respond with their own bitch-isms. Megan is talking to me about something but I'm not really listening, because all I can think of is: palm-heel strike to the nose, then run like hell. Gotta keep my hands outta my pockets in case I need them. Can Megan run in those shoes? Where's the nearest cop? Great, there aren't any. If I keep my keys out maybe I can jab this guy in the eye if he tries anything.

This was not how I wanted to spend my New Year's. It was 11:30 when we said, heck with this, and started trudging back up the hill. Next year, I thought.

So instead, we spent the last dwindling seconds of the millenium on the sidewalk outside our apartment building. Neither of us had a watch, and we would have missed it completely if not for the solitary group of people partying it up across the street, in a window two floors up, in the building opposite ours. Three...two...one..! We were the only ones on the street below, so they directed all their joyful exuberance directly at us. Everything was okay again.

So New Year's wasn't a total wash. It certainly wasn't any less different or exciting than previous ones. We broke out the wine and cheese and stayed up until 2 AM watching silly community cable programming.

Later, Megan pointed out something I hadn't thought of. They say whatever you're doing at the stroke of midnight on New Year's is supposed to be an omen for the whole new year to come.

And what were we doing? Trying to get home.  5:36 PM  §

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