Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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From time to time I quite enjoy fiddling around with the wonders of HTML and CSS. Last year a few playful hours gave what I still consider a cool way to redo my homepage. You can peek at it – non-workingly – here. Unfortunately I never found the time to go through and actually update all of my site to the new design. Somehow I’ve managed to accumulate quite a few pages by now and updating them would be more work than I wanted to do.

So I thought it’d be a nice opportunity to do a page-design for my former flatmate Birgit, who got her own website recently and wants to use it for advertising her work. Making up a website from scratch that just consists of a few pages is probably as good as it gets.

It didn’t quite. To begin with there were all sorts of restrictions, like that the site should be ‘professional’ rather than ‘funky’ because it’s for business. Then it will have to look reasonably good in the world’s most popular web browser, which meant some testing had to be done (and Windows machines had to be touched). So that spoiled the fun part of the work considerably.

What was fun, though, was using the nods I got from people like Dave at tools like Blosxom and Markdown. Despite the site not being a blog, I could easily abuse them to make them user-editable and even without too much pain for a non-HTML savvy person.

While this isn’t perfect (e.g. there seems to be no pretty way to handle <dl> style lists in Markdown and no way to put named anchors in the text), it’s still quite good. And having a non-HTML savvy person be able to edit her own pages is brilliant. She likes it at least. Even better, it means that I don’t have to read her texts and thus won’t be tempted to ‘recommend’ improvements and thus be distracted with what really isn’t my job.

The downside of the project was that I definitely have a non-professional attitude at that kind of work. Having the person whose web-site you’re making sitting next to you is just nerve-wrecking. I could really do without constantly changed ideas and requirements. I can equally well do without having to argue that this other new ‘great’ idea (e.g. animated menus) is utter rubbish for a web site and that just because some other site is having it, it doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile. A bit more trust in my skills and judgement would’ve been nice.

I could also witness Birgit use my flatmate Daniel’s computer when we did the Windows testing – I thought it’d be better if I didn’t touch it. And I was amazed how many problems she had with that. She didn’t even know that you can close windows using Option-F4. Hey, even I know that from the jokes that are made about it – but she’s actually teaching computer usage… To make things more fun, Daniel has the Dock in his Windows at the top of the screen and auto-hiding. So the whole exercise started with the computer ‘not working’ at all until the Dock was accidentally found. Somehow, a bit later the Dock stopped auto-hiding for some reason, but the windows were arranged in a way that the close button and the menu bar were beneath the Dock. So they couldn’t be used or even closed anymore. Quality software…

[Another quality exercise would be to ask Windows users which version of Internet Explorer they are using. They don’t even know where to look for it – and neither did I.

Finally, the site seems to work. But it’s far from what I would have liked. Specifically I dislike the use of Verdana for everything (which actually doesn’t look too bad on the Mac but seems to look very thin on Windows). I dislike the centred design and the fact that we had to have the useless ‘logo’. Making the window too narrow will cause the text to spill into the margin (somehow Internet Explorer doesn’t deal to well with relative widths and max-width) but I figured that no Windows user would have such a narrow window anyway…

March 28, 2005, 20:20

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